How to set up a successful pop-up shop

7 min read
Jessie Day

In an age where almost everything digital can also be mobile, taking your shopfront out and about can help you touch more people. Here are the essentials for getting started and making money from a pop-up shop which can be the route to an engaged customer base.

If you’ve been trading online so far, a pop-up shop is a way to take your first steps into physical retail.

Pop-ups give you breathing space because customers are often aware that the space is temporary and they have lower expectations around décor, fixtures and fittings. Your presence is more about piquing their interest in what you have to offer, and driving them to your website for a more detailed look.

They also provide a testing ground for your product or service and lets your look your potential customers in the eye and find out what makes them tick.

And even if you don’t see rocketing sales, you should be much more knowledgeable about your own target customer group and better positioned to engage with them.

Here are my tips for what you need to think about, plan for, action and evaluate, to make sure you've added some serious value.

Who, what, when, where?

Before you start scouting out locations or investing in card payment software, get straight on your pop-up shop business plan.

Whether you keep it to yourself or build one together with your team, having one is invaluable.

Treat it like any other business plan and ask yourself these fundamental questions:

  1. What am I looking to achieve? From email newsletter sign ups to meeting set-ups, contracts, media scoops and product sales, write down a goal for your pop-up shop, and what defines your return on investment (ROI)
  2. Who are my customers, and where do they hang out? If you’re selling to commuters, aim for a location near the train station, not the park. If you’re targeting teens, get to know the favourite local hang outs. It’s important to research and go for a location that will take full advantage of footfall
  3. When should I run my pop-up? Again, plan around your customers. If teens are your audience then the summer holidays may be a great time to set up, but bear in mind that families with younger children will be going away. Pre-Christmas might be great for sales, but is your space equipped for bad weather? Bear it all in mind and plan accordingly.

How to find a pop-up shop location

A decade ago, pop-ups were relatively unknown and finding temporary, convenient space wasn’t easy.

But with pretty much everybody being used to the concept, if not the term 'pop-up' these days, it's a lot easier not just to research locations, but to ask around and see if someone would be willing to let you set up shop for a short time.

What type of location you need will depend on your business and products.

You could go for a shop-within-a-shop, capitalising on guaranteed footfall, or an event space set up specifically for ventures like yours. These are often blank canvases, allowing you to stamp your brand onto the space.

Alternatively, you could have a kiosk in a busy location, such as a train station or shopping centre, or even your own street-level retail space, especially useful if you're test-driving a permanent shop.

Not sure where to start?

The UK is lucky in having organisations like We Are Pop Up to help small businesses navigate all the options.

You can also do your own research quite easily by taking a few days to scout out areas and talk to local shop-keepers or stall holders, or even better, people running their own pop-ups.

Finally, if you like the look of a space but aren't sure if it's available to rent, just ask. Remember, the owner of the space gets something out of your pop-up too, so be confident in your pitch and show them the mutual benefits.

Branding your space

Pop-up shops work best as showcases. So it's worth investing some time and thought in the design of your space, rather than just filling it Apprentice-style with loads of products and thinking 'sell, sell, sell'.

Consider people who are going to come in and look around, but buy online. Or, if your products are offering an independent, artisan point of difference to the chains nearby, show that off in how you’ve set up your space.

Make sure you've got lots of fresh products in the window and if you can, offer samples on the street outside.

To generate more interest, considering throwing a launch party and invite the local press along, again with lots of freebies and giveaways. Don’t forget to email your current customers as well to spread word of mouth.

Get people excited about walking past your pop-up every morning.

By creating a great experience, you're creating something that people will miss once you’re gone, so give them a reason to be loyal and find you online, or even make a pilgrimage to your next location.

More practically, the basics you’ll want to think about are the fixtures and fittings of your pop-up shop, along with furniture, lighting, signage, marketing materials and branded aprons, packaging, carrier bags and display decorations.

If you already have a defined brand for your products or a distinct online identity, this is the time to start extending it to cover your pop-up materials. Make sure the feel of your physical space fits what you have already built for your business.

Branding is worth investing in, as it carries your pop-up far and wide, from the train station to the school gates.

Payments, licenses and insurance

You've sorted your goals, location and branding, but none of that matters if the technical details are missing.

First things first, you need to make sure you're legally allowed to run your pop-up.
This is especially important if you’re serving food or drink, with specific licenses for alcohol and health and safety requirements to meet and maintain.

Planning to play music in your pop-up? You'll need a licence for that too, and hoping you won’t get reported can lead to hefty fines, so don’t chance it.

Next, are you insured? Your online business might be, but now you’re expanding offline, you may need different types of cover.

Public liability insurance is a good starting point to look into, first check to see if it's already covered by your chosen location.

Remember too, if you’re employing people to help at your pop-up, you may need an employer's liability policy. Not having one can land you with a hefty fine, so do your research and understand your responsibilities.

Finally, make sure you've ironed out the technology you need.

Allowing customers to make card payments (including contactless) is essential for most businesses. Mobile solutions for mobile businesses are widely accessible, all you need is a good wifi connection.

And on that note, if you’re setting up a coffee shop, in addition to an internet connection for all, provide lots of power sockets. You'll attract remote workers and freelancers, and always be busy.

Just make sure they're buying lots of coffee too.