How to set up and run your own pop-up shop

Your pop-up shop has to have two things: a short life with a start and an end date; and a really good idea. Pop ups are perfect for innovation, prototyping and testing, so think about how to make your shop stand out. The old high street is dead; pop ups can help find a new use for them. Can you reinvent shopping? Can you repurpose the space? Can you rejuvenate a high street? Create a short, A4-sized plan with a clear, simple idea and easy, measurable targets. Keep it agile, with flexibility built in so you can respond to opportunity.

Just some of the designer goods on display at Poundshop 5, part of an ongoing project that gives designers a platform for their wares, provided they sell them for just £1, £5 or £10.

Just some of the designer goods on display at Poundshop 5, part of an ongoing project that gives designers a platform for their wares, provided they sell them for just £1, £5 or £10.

Once you know what you want to do and have a plan, the next step is to find somewhere you can set up and run your pop up. There are certainly plenty of retail spaces available, but it’s not always easy to get the keys, chiefly because it’s a letting agent’s job to get you to pay rent. So join business networking groups and the local Chamber of Commerce, and make friends before you ask for a shop – you may end up getting it at low cost or even for free. Alternatively, look at shopping centres; these usually have one manager and they can make a quick decision. Offer the person who manages the space some real benefit: a tidied, redecorated shop, an increase in footfall for neighbouring shops, great publicity in local media, and a high profile on social networking sites, say.

Pop-ups shops are affordable, but they’re not free. You should be able to get the space rent-free (provided you’ve made friends, as above), but you will have to pay business rates. As your pop up is filling an otherwise empty space, you might be eligible for a discount and many business rates are often less than you’d think anyway – simply phone your local council to check. You’ll need to make a contribution to the landlord’s utility bills, too. It’s also a good idea to buy whatever you need in local shops and make friends with local shopkeepers. Try to get as many people involved as possible, so you have a pool of volunteers, but do pay essential staff, on a set fee as freelancers, rather than taking on employees.

The next – and most important step – is to attract customers through your door. You want your shop to look smart, but you can still be creative. Decorate in neutral colours, and use simple furniture either borrowed or bought from charity shops or furniture recycling projects. Look at shops like Urban Outfitters to see how good this can look. Create clear zones within the shop: maybe a comfortable, social area, an admin corner and a visible sales point.

Traditional marketing is too slow for most pop ups. It’s worth getting flyers printed and distributing them around the local area, but for speed and cost social networking is going to be really useful. As soon as you start planning, set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page for your project and start gathering supporters. Talk to other pop-up people on Twitter, as they’ll be supportive and help you with promotion; search for hashtags like #emptyshops and #popuppeople. You should also contact local media – if your pop-up shop has that big idea, they’ll be keen to give it some coverage.

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