pop-up shops 101

Planning Your First Pop-Up Shop

The internet is a great place to sell things, but sometimes you need to get your products in customers’ hands to launch your business, introduce a new product, or generate more sales—without the expense and long-term commitment of maintaining a full-time brick-and-mortar store.

That’s why pop-up shops are such a hot trend, with everyone from solopreneurs to Google staging pop-up spaces.

Despite the cute name and temporary nature of pop-up shops, they don’t just pop up out of nowhere. We talked with two entrepreneurs who’ve done multiple pop-up shops about planning, promoting, running, and leveraging pop-up shops for your business.

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What Exactly Is a Pop-up Shop?

A pop-up shop is a temporary retail location inside another retail space like a mall or a big store, at an event, or in an open-air space like an empty lot.

What makes a pop-up different from, say, having a booth at a craft fair? A booth is similar to a pop-up in some ways. Both satisfy the need to market your presence and carefully choose which merchandise to bring, but pop-ups stand out in other ways.

For one thing, your pop-up may be the only one in the space, so you’re not competing with other, similar vendors like you would be at a tradeshow or fair. For another, you can have much more control over the way your pop-up store looks compared to the rules that govern booth layout and design at most events.

And if you market your pop-up right, people will be there to see you and your store specifically, not just to browse dozens or hundreds of vendors.

 

What’s the Point of Having a Pop-up Shop?

Businesses run pop-up shops for a variety of reasons. Some do it to generate buzz about new products, some do it to reach new audiences with their existing products.

pop up shop exampleKerstin Katko owns Ducky’s Sheep Shack, a fiber arts studio and supplier in Long Valley, NJ. Katko said she did her pop-ups to get to know her customers and her community better. “The biggest benefit was getting people to find out about my business, and also meeting so many new people in my town. I did make a lot of sales too.”

Sales can be a great reason to do pop-ups, said Sarahbeth “Yeli” Marshall, owner of Yelibelly Chocolates in Addison, Texas. Her company (which makes the sweets I send my clients each December) used to have its own boutique space but now focuses mainly on corporate and online sales. “I do pop-ups for an additional income stream. Since we are not in a retail store front anymore but a production kitchen instead, it’s a good way to get some additional funds.”

 

Where Can You Have a Pop-up Shop?

As long as you can get permission to use the space short-term, you can have a temporary shop.

pop-up shop exampleSome options include renting empty retail space, renting space in an office building lobby, or using space you already rent or own, if it can safely accommodate shoppers and will draw foot traffic. That’s how Katko started with pop-ups: “The pop-ups I organized were in my studio. I’m on a somewhat busy street so we got a decent amount of traffic.”

Once you find your pop-up groove, you may want to build a regular schedule of pop-ups at different locations. That’s how Marshall expands her retail reach across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “I rotate through various office buildings around the Metroplex. We could probably have pop-up shops three days a week, every week, and rotate them, but I don’t have someone on staff that can do them regularly right now. There are enough office buildings in the Metroplex that allow vendors to come in.”

 

5 Steps to Prepare for Your First Pop-up Shop

1. Find your spot.

Choose a place with lots of foot traffic. For Katko, her fiber arts studio fit the bill, and she’s also rented vacant retail space. For Marshall, office buildings deliver a steady supply of people coming and going through the lobby who want to treat themselves or pick up gifts.

2. Manage your expectations and check the calendar.

Marshall said that with pop-ups, no two days are the same, and holidays can have unpredictable effects on sales. “I set up at a location once and did $500 [in sales] and it was a great day. The next time we set up was on Halloween, which I thought was going to be great for candy sales. I ended up making one sale that day.”

3. Plan your space.

Create your pop-up shop in the same theme as your permanent location or your online store – use the same colors, fonts, decorative motifs. Make the space welcoming. “I wish I had known to have more chairs to invite newly met neighbors to sit and chat a bit,” Katko said of her first pop-up.

4. Select your merchandise.

Especially if this is your first pop-up, stick to smaller-ticket items that people will be more likely to buy on impulse, and maybe leave your biggest ticket-items out of the mix. “I found that at pop-up shops people like to spend between five and $10,” Marshall said. “You might have people that purchase a number of $5 or $10 items together, but they like that price range.”

5. Plan your promotions.

Let people know about your shop well in advance. Share the event information on your website and social media channels. Create a Facebook event and send invites via emails to your customer list. See if you can share your pop-up info on the social media accounts of the space where you’ll be, too. And remember paper? You may be able to drop off fliers or postcards in the space ahead of time with your pop-up event details and product information.

 

What to Do During and After Your Pop-up

On the day of your event, you’ll want to continue with social media updates, but the main event at a pop-up is face-to-face interaction. Take the time to greet your visitors, answer their questions, and—perhaps most important–share the story of how your products are made.

At her first pop-up, Katko said, “I realized people were looking for a connection or the story behind what they bought. It really made me happy that people were willing to buy my handmade creations instead of getting something mass produced, and that they wanted to know the process.”

After the event, write a wrap-up to share on your website and social media and in your newsletter—this can build demand for your next pop-up!

For more details on planning your pop-up, this handy checklist from marketing firm Pop-Up Republic hits all the major tasks you’ll need to complete before, during, and after your pop-up event. And to boost your sales between pop-up events, make sure your shop follows these habits of successful online stores.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.