Our attention spans may be on the decline, but that may be a good thing for the here-today-gone-tomorrow shopping experience that is on the rise: welcome to the pop-up shop.
Worldwide, the pop-up idea has become a hot trend not only for small-scale entrepreneurs and high end retailers, but also for online-only businesses who are seeking to experiment with a physical storefront.
Pop-up shops and pop-up events usually last anywhere from one day to one weekend to one month, while some appear only for a specific holiday weekend or season. Typically seen as a low-risk, downsized version of a regular business, most pop-ups won’t involve complex contracts and permits, nor will they contain the infrastructure necessary for a full-scale operation.
To add to the coolness factor, the short lifespan of a pop-up shop or event also gives your business an exclusive feel, a sense of urgency. You can send the message that ‘if you don’t buy or experience this now, you may not have the chance again.’
By allowing businesses to test out a new kind of customer, a new location or a new product, a pop-up shop can be a fun and relatively straightforward experiment that any driven entrepreneur should consider. Opening a pop-up store can be like breaking out of the mold and showing customers a whole different side of your business.
Or, a pop-up shop can also serve as the first, tentative step toward a full-scale business, as it was for Katie Patterson Larson.
After a year of running the creative reuse organization Art Salvage from her home in Spokane, WA, Patterson Larson was able to move the business into a small pop-up space located inside a local crafter’s studio.
Having a pop-up space has given Patterson Larson and her team the ability to “grow the organization slowly and more organically. While we weren’t ready to open a store yet financially–and because we were still building a volunteer base that would help run the operations of a store–we were ready to sell donated art materials and offer classes on a part time basis. We also wanted to see how the community would embrace the idea of creative reuse before taking to risks involved in open a store.”
Art Salvage recently opened up a larger pop-up shop in the same building, which Patterson Larson feels is a “big step in the direction we want to be going.”
Many creative entrepreneurs have embraced the rapid setup and relative ease of running an online store. But if you’ve only been selling on Etsy or from your own website, a pop-up shop in the real world can introduce your business to new customers and give them a chance to touch and try out your products–the old-fashioned way of shopping. A pop-up shop also lets you interact face-to-face with your customers, which is an excellent way to get feedback on your product and better understand your target market.
Rotterdam-based artist Robert Knoop usually sells his art only through his artist website, but he decided to join a pop-up store because he had the feeling that his work might sell better in a physical store where they could be properly displayed. He was right. During a recent month-long pop-up store, organized by a group of local artists and held in a vacant storefront, Knoop sold quite a few pieces.
“It’s helpful to see how people react to your work,” Knoop says, “and to see what works or not. But it’s best to do this in an anonymous way, so that they don’t know you’re the artist. It’s also good to practice talking to people about your work, or the work of other artists.”
While you might view those “other artists” as competitors, they are also your colleagues and can help make the pop-up store a more successful experience.
Although the pop-up was busy for the first few weeks, Knoop says the group was able to counter what would have been a slow period by swapping out artists to create an evolving presentation in the space.
Orlando, FL-based photographer Tamara Knight agrees that partnering up with other creative entrepreneurs or other small businesses to hold a pop-up can be a win-win situation.
For the “Mother’s Day Mini Sessions” held by her studio every year, Knight teams up with a local business so that both can benefit from the pop-up event. This year, Knight partnered with the Makeup Lounge, a cosmetics shop, to hold the event at their location. The Makeup Lounge stayed open to its own customers, as the staff was able to work from a different room of the shop. Each sitting, which was booked ahead of time, cost $100, and customers went home with two 5×7 prints. Knight brought in her own backdrops, lights, props and assistants.
“This way the Makeup Lounge got exposure to new clients, I got to shoot in a new location, and the charity benefited the most. We raised $1,625 for Harbor House of Central Florida this year,” Knight says.
The space for your pop-up store or event doesn’t always have to be a typical storefront—it can be as creative as your business.
In fact, the space itself can serve to represent your business if you want it to. Pop-up stores around the world have found homes in train and subway stations, art galleries, cafes and restaurants, parks and beaches, even mini vans and boats.
But you don’t have to spend countless hours scouting out a place on your own. Boutique marketplaces like Go-PopUp, RepublicSpaces and TheStorefront are evolving to meet the real estate demand spurred by the pop-up trend, helping connect entrepreneurs with the perfect empty or underutilized space.
As cool as it sounds to say “yeah, I have a pop-up shop”, it’s also important to have the right expectations going into the experience.
After operating a holiday season pop-up shop to test out a free-standing physical retail presence, Melissa Mash, co-founder and CEO of Dagne Dover handbags, admits that entrepreneurs should be prepared to lose money, “and you may be delighted if you get close to breaking even. But don’t make a classic mistake and think that people will just flock to you and purchase. It takes time to get traffic in the door.”
Which means selecting your venue, location and the length of time for the pop-up is something that needs careful planning.
“That can make a big difference in the success of a pop-up shop,” Patterson Larson says. “The work that goes into setting it up might not be made back in a day of sales. The loading and packing up of your products can be time-consuming and exhausting, particularly if you’re on your own or have a small staff.”
Knoop went into his first pop-up experience with others because it helped him to “learn the tricks and find out any potential problems.” He also suggests making the products on offer as diverse as the people who will walk into your space.
But perhaps most importantly–you’ve got to make sure people know that your pop-up exists. Getting the word out doesn’t necessarily have to mean more time and effort than you’d usually spend on marketing your business. If possible, rely on your pop-up partners and the network you already have in place for your business.
Knight found that marketing her pop-up event was the easy part. “I marketed to my audience, while the retail location spread the word to their clients, and the charity posted the information about this event on their social media,” she says.
The potential of the pop-up space for creative entrepreneurs is huge. Just make sure that you’re clear on your goals going into the experience so you can come out of it a much wiser entrepreneur.