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For small business owners and entrepreneurs who are just starting out, or for those who are established and want to reach further into their communities (and beyond), pop-up shops are the way to go. Pop-ups take you to the consumer and reduces the work of bringing the consumer to you.

Just as food trucks make it less expensive and more exciting to join the dining industry, and just as farmers markets bring food-preneurs to the people and allow them to test their offerings, pop-up shops allow entrepreneurs to present their products out in the world.

What is a pop-up shop? A pop-up shop can take on many forms. All of them temporary. It can be as big as a temporary lease in a vacant storefront, to as small as a table or booth at an event. Most businesses who use pop-ups do a combination throughout the year. Businesses have even emerged to service the pop-up shop industry, like Boxman Studios, which retrofit shipping containers into temporary retail spaces.

For business owners starting out, pop-up shops are the perfect in-between step on the way to investing in a permanent storefront. Because they are temporary, your brand and product can be tested and adjusted as needed. You also build up a customer base–a literal following–who come out to you when they see your announcements on social media. (More on this later.)

For established brick-and-mortar businesses, a pop-up shop shakes things up and puts you out in front of your community. It’s a great way to bring in new customers, attract new demographics, and surprise your existing customers, perhaps with a “pop-up-only” promotion. This can also be a great way to delegate responsibility to a trusted employee.

For all businesses, research by British Land shows that a physical presence increases online sales in the local community by a huge percentage.

Pop-Up Prep (Logistics)

A successful pop-up takes a lot of advance planning. If online sales and social media engagements are steady, you know you’re ready to pop.

Step 1: Promotion

Yes, promotion first. Start out with some non-specific social media posts so your following is primed to stop by on the big day: “Stay tuned: we’re planning our first ever pop-up shop!” As the planning process continues, post those details as soon as they’re solidified to create excitement. Announce a promotion, like a coupon or special gift, for online customers who visit the pop-up. This can be done with a printable coupon or with something fun like a code word.

Step 2: Timing

When do you want to pop, and for how long? Great times of year to take advantage of increased consumer foot traffic are the holiday shopping season and the summer. You can also do shorter pop-ups for specific holidays like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.

Another way to plan timing (and location) is to research big upcoming events in your area that attract your demographic, like a tradeshow, festival/fair, comic con (or other “con”), or concert.

DON’T scramble to throw a pop-up together at the last minute just to fit a certain time frame or event. You are representing your brand, and sloppiness will reflect poorly on it and turn off your following.

Step 3: Budget

How much are you willing to invest in your first pop-up shop? Are you going to use your own money, or finance it with a microloan or line or credit?

As you plan your first pop-up shop, think about starting small and simple. There are kinks to be ironed out and unexpected complications to confront, which is best done on a smaller scale.

Pop-Up Location (Location, Location)

Just like a lemonade stand, the goal is to hone in on foot traffic. Visibility and accessibility are also key. The perfect location can be the most expensive part of planning a pop-up shop. You can invest more in a bigger and better location that brings in more business, or you can start small and grow slowly.

Unless you’re popping up at a private function, you will need permission. If you set up shop in a public place without the right clearances, you’ll set yourself up for trouble. Do your research into town ordinances and know who owns the space.

You can search online for a temporary location at This Open Space or The Storefront, or contact local events and businesses that match your demographics to inquire about putting up a booth.

Other proven pop-up locations are:

  • Mall kiosks
  • Sidewalks and promenades
  • A store (table) within a store
  • Street-level storefront (temporary lease)

Pop-Up Setup

Unlike a lemonade stand, a pop-up needs to be neat, well-groomed, and branded. Though it’s temporary, it should have an established, confident look.

DO:

  • Ensure payment methods are all working properly and have change on hand for cash customers
  • Fill the space without cluttering it
  • Stick to brand colors in all decorations, clothing, and packaging.
  • Make sure your brand name and logo are visible from far away
  • Make sure all linens are clean and wrinkle-free
  • Make “find us on social media” information easy and visible
  • Streamline the sales process as if it were a brick-and-mortar store
  • Gather feedback immediately via social media and via email

DON’T

  • Have unsightly boxes or setup supplies where customers can see them
  • Forget to collect email addresses
  • Eat while selling
  • Lose momentum between pop-ups!

When one pop-up is in action, have the next one in the planning stages so you can tell customers where and when they’ll find you again.