How to: launch a pop-up store

10 steps from Storefront co-founder Tristan Pollock

Photo: Courtesy of Tristan Pollock

Ten years ago, we were just starting to hear the term ‘pop-up shop’ but today, the global trend has completely revitalised the retail industry. Meet the man who’s made a career out of the trend, Tristan Pollock. He’s the co-founder and COO of Storefront, an online marketplace making it easy to find and rent retail spaces. Having previously started Social Earth, a social entrepreneurship news blog, he took his idea for Storefront to the AngelPad incubator, before launching to help minimise the pain points of finding, paying and organising insurance for spaces. Since then, they’ve become the go-to destination for retail and more unique spaces, listing everything from Grand Central Station to hotel lobbies and even fashion trucks, earning the title of the “Airbnb of storefronts”.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to launch your own pop-up store, read on for Tristan’s ten steps to making it work.

1. Plan of attack

Pop-up shops may seem spontaneous but we promise you they’re not. Just like any retail venture they need forethought and careful planning. First decide what you want to achieve – are you launching a product, finding new customers for an online shop, increasing brand loyalty or are you just pushing old stock out the door? They’re all great reasons and whichever one is yours should influence the products, prices, layout and little extras you provide.

2. Location, location, location

Location is the most important decision you make, says Tristan. “You want a certain amount of foot traffic and a certain amount of visibility.” But don’t forget to get a feel for the neighbourhood vibe – does it represent your brand and do your ideal customers even go there?

Finding the perfect location is almost easy with many marketplace sites now dedicated to pop-up spaces. Check out council websites (many have started pop-up initiatives), make friends with commercial real estate agents and join a local business group to meet space owners.

3. Elevator pitch

Just like renting a home, you will need to show the rental space owner that you’re trustworthy.

“Have a portfolio site, be up-front with what you want to do,” says Tristan. “Trust and transparency are of the upmost importance.”

Plus think about it from the owner’s perspective. Why should they rent to you for such a short time? Convince them that a pop-up will avoid the space looking dead, bring in income and help showcase the space to potential tenants.

4. It’s in the details

“We usually recommend people use a license agreement versus a lease,” says Tristan. “It’s just lighter. It’s like you’re renting that space but you’re not responsible for the entire space, the utilities and everything like that.”

If you sign a lease, check whether you need to organise utilities, what changes you can make to the space and the allowed opening hours. Don’t forget to organise Eftpos (options though mobile systems like Nomadpos and Square are becoming really popular) and public liability insurance (pop-up options do exist).

5. Marketing

Foot traffic is important but make sure you promote your pop-up because driving traffic there is just as important. Put up flyers, cross-promote with other businesses, and as soon as you start planning, create a buzz through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts.

“Give yourself two months,” says Tristan. “You don’t need to necessarily start promoting two months beforehand, but it takes time to put together a press release, to reach out and get people interested in your brand. You don’t have the time to take it easy and wait five years to gain a following. You need to get people in there.”

6. Map it out

Plan your store design carefully, from the wall colour to the product placement.

“When you’re thinking about store design you think about what you want to convey,” says Tristan. “Do you want it to be a bustling marketplace with all sorts of stuff, really artistic and intricate or do you want to be very clean and design-oriented where you focus on one piece at a time? It comes back to your brand; ‘what is the essence you want to convey?’”

7. Build it and they will come

Your store doesn’t have to be perfect, particularly with the current minimalist trend, but you’ll need shop fittings. You can actually rent pop-up shop fittings (though you may have to pay for builders and transportation) or use simple furniture that you’ve borrowed or bought from charity shops.

Setting up does take time – include a few extra days on your lease to give yourself enough time to move in and out.

8. Staffing

Staff are key to any entrepreneurial venture, but more so with a pop-up when you have a limited to make an impact. Remember to budget for this. Staff educate your consumers and are the driver of a positive brand association. Train your employees on your products’ unique selling points and make sure they understand how you want them to explain these points to customers.

“There’s temporary staffing agencies that do specifically retail. So if you’re a larger company or have the budget, you can have someone staff your pop-up and they’ve been trained and have done retail before,” says Tristan.

9. Do something different

“It’s the second most important thing – once you’re in the right place at the right time – to build that experience that people are going to remember, [that] they won’t want to miss,” says Tristan.

These experiences create a sense of urgency for customers so whether it’s a launch party, runway shows, workshops or a giveaway, be creative and do whatever fits your brand best.

“There can always be more foot traffic; you’re not going to complain if it’s overly full with a line down the block.”

10. Fans of follow-up

As soon as a purchase is made, try and continue that relationship with the customer.

“Do whatever you can do to draw people back to your site – maybe it’s giving everyone coupons saying, ‘Oh, thanks for buying this in store, and here’s another 50 per cent off online,’” suggests Tristan. “Tighten up those cycle times, get people on to your online site, get people into your email list…” so that long after your pop-up has closed its doors you’ll have a fan base eagerly awaiting your return.

Above: Uniqlo’s striking pop up cubes in New York City Photo: Michael Moran/OTTO

Travelling tailor
Above: Vancouver-based Indochino’s Travelling Tailor pop up shop offered custom-tailored suits Photo: Courtesy of Indochino
Above: Quirky handmade wares on display at Etsy’s pop up shop Photo: Maja Baska

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