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How to run a successful pop-up shop

by ‘They Made This’ & ‘The Pop Up Club’ 


If you’ve always wondered about doing a pop-up but weren’t sure, this article is for you. Pop-ups are going to be a bigger part of the future for retail than they already are, because they give small businesses access to prime retail addresses for a short time, so are low-risk. You don’t need to commit to a particular location and you don’t need to sign a lease, all you need is your stock and a lot of creativity and energy. And because the whole thing is temporary, you can try out new ideas, so you don’t jump into something that’s not going to work.

You’re also going to have direct contact with customers who can offer you feedback, which will help you refine your ideas for the future. Pop-ups are advantageous to landlords as well – with the attraction of short leases for small businesses, they may just be the way to thriving high streets in our towns and cities. Finding a pop-up space gives you a blank canvas – you can certainly fit it out like a regular store but why not take the opportunity to offer more of an experience?

The concept of temporary shared retail space is not new, it’s been around for hundreds of years in the form of fairs and markets. In fact the Vienna December Market was the fore-runner of the Christmas market so many of us are familiar with, and first ‘popped up’ in 1298. Pop-up retail as we know it today though, started in the late 90s when media entrepreneur Patrick Courrielche created The Ritual Expo in Los Angeles in 1997. It was a one-day event that brought together music, food and fashion, and was branded the ‘Ultimate Hipster Mall’. Hugely successful, large brands took note and over the next 20 years the winning combination of retail store and immersive experience, has continued to evolve.

With the decline of the traditional retail model, flexible retail space and pop-up stores are increasingly seen as the solution. But why are so many big names in retail failing? Brands now have to go beyond product to be seen as authentic, something that small brands are well-versed in because the product is usually inextricably linked to the founder and their values. We’ve also seen online shopping figures increase due to the pandemic, so to go to the shops is now an experience which has to be truly worthwhile, it has to be something memorable and which can’t be replicated online. This is valuable to local councils because it drives footfall and can make a town, city or even a village, a shopping destination.

They Made This was set up by Aine Donovan and El Jones and showcases the artwork of 50 designers and makers. They have had great success with various pop-up shops but now stick with two regular sites, Dukes Lane in Brighton and Monmouth Street in Covent Garden. Both Aine and El’s advice is to ‘go for it’ if you’re considering a pop-up. 

The benefits of running a pop up

As shared by Aine and El…

Gives your brand credibility

Giving your brand a physical space, even if it is temporary, gives your brand credibility and helps people see more clearly what you do when it’s all together, under one roof. ‘Recently someone came into our London store and they said, “Oh, we just saw your store in Brighton, we were there at the weekend,’’ says Aine. Your brand becomes recognised and sits at the front of the customer’s mind, because they’ve seen it and experienced it in real life.

Helps drive online sales

‘Bricks drive clicks’ is the phrase Aine quotes. Using your space to exhibit and introduce people to your work or products is not always about a quick sale; you’re creating an atmosphere and hopefully making an impression. El’s tip is to be armed with business cards, ‘We give out thousands of business cards, because people will come in and they’ll see a piece of art, but they want to go home and discuss it with a partner or a friend. And then you’ll see an online sale – it translates later in the day or later in the week.’

Offers exposure to new audiences

You may feel like you know who your customer is but popping up in different places helps you learn more about your business and who it appeals to, which may surprise you. ‘Initially we thought Shoreditch is the place for contemporary graphic art and photography,’ says Aine, ‘And actually we were wrong – I mean, we were right, people do love it in Shoreditch, but people love it in Brighton, they love it in Hammersmith, they love it in Monmouth Street, and that was really encouraging, it gave us so much confidence to keep going.’

Acts as a ‘set’ for creating content

Aine and El used an early pop-up they had in Hammersmith to generate content. Through this they were offered space in Covent Garden because a member of the team at Shaftesbury (see below) found them on Instagram and was so impressed with images of their set-up. They also had Gok Wan post a photo of himself on Instagram outside the Covent Garden shop with an impulse buy – you never know who might drop in!

‘Initially we thought Shoreditch is the place for contemporary graphic art and photography,’ says Aine, ‘And actually we were wrong – I mean, we were right, people do love it in Shoreditch, but people love it in Brighton, they love it in Hammersmith, they love it in Monmouth Street’

Can offer a real experience

Pre-Covid, the They Made This spaces could be used for printing workshops and other events. You could use your space for all kinds of ticketed events, but you can also simply create moments of theatre for walk-in customers. Can you give a demonstration of how you create your pieces or maybe offer bespoke items that can be personalised in a short window of time?

Pop-ups are a lot of fun and can give you so much knowledge and experience, but they’re not for the faint-hearted. Aine and El’s advice is to bring a tonne of energy because setting up and down is like moving house. You also need to leave enough time to publicise – it’s easy to get caught up in logistics but ultimately, you need people to visit you (and don’t forget those business cards). Plus, investing in a dongle is vital to ensure you have WiFi is vital and can take card payments.

Don’t forget that the more you do, the more well-known you become. Aine and El said “yes” to all opportunities and that meant that they were able to get first dibs on better spaces. When these opportunities do come up though, they’re often at short notice, so you have to be ready and willing to move quickly. The rewards are more than worth it! 

‘Do you have products that are easy buys in the £10-£30 bracket? This is a price point which doesn’t demand the average shopper to think too much before they buy. They can invest in your brand then, making it more likely they will buy a bigger product or spend more in the future.’

Another pro when it comes to pop-ups is Tillie Peel of the Pop-Up Club. She had her own vintage clothing brand and couldn’t afford to run a shop so she started doing markets. She knew that she wanted her own space though, and so pop-ups were an affordable option. Once she started doing them, she realised what a great sense of community could be generated by small businesses if they were given the chance to set up in city centres. It doesn’t just benefit the business owners, but also the landlords who may be struggling with empty units, and the local community who may feel like the high street has lost its spark.

Here are her top three things to consider:

Think about your price points

It’s worth having some ‘easy buys’ in your collection which are relatively straightforward to make and have a good profit margin. These are often a brand’s bread and butter, and allow for the bills to be covered while spending more time on the pieces that take longer to make.

What makes your brand stand out?

And how do you really tell your brand story in a temporary space? How do you encourage people to remember you afterwards so they can look you up and find you again? Think about displays and price tags. You want your branding and story to be prominent. A great example of someone who does price tags well is Pippa at Home, who makes soft toys out of recycled clothing. Each of her tags is handmade, features the individual animal’s name and lets people know what each one was made from (the previous life of the product) to really bring it to life. It adds value. She makes her website URL and social media handles clear so customers can easily find out more.

Test out products and ideas

Use your pop-up as a platform to try out new product ideas. Start by making just a few depending on your budget and test them – if they sell quickly then you know you’re on to a good thing! If you want to open your own shop one day, this is also a great way to test out and get a grasp on the financial side of things.

How do I find a pop-up space?

If you’re interested in running a pop-up you could get in touch with:

The Pop-Up Club

The Great British Pop-Up


DS Emotion (email [email protected] for the latest spaces available)

Or, if you know a number of local businesses who would love to club together, you could seek out empty premises locally and set up your own pop-up collective. There’s nothing to stop you creating a pop-up community in your town or city, and as Aine of They Made This puts it, ‘You become addicted to the experience of someone new coming into the shop.’ Once you’ve started, you won’t want to stop. Trust us, it’s the future!

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