Successful entrepreneurs describe how they used pop-ups to grow their businesses

This article titled “Pop-up shops: a springboard to start-up success” was written by Jon Card, for theguardian.com on Friday 10th November 2017 10.26 UTC

Pop-up stores have been around for as long as retail, but have assumed a new relevance in recent times. According to a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), the pop-up economy generated £2.3bn of revenue in the 12 months to August 2015. Pop-ups have become an antidote to the failing high street and a way for landlords to avoid empty shops. But they also spur entrepreneurial activity, and startups view them as a springboard to future retail success.

Alice Mayor is the founder of gifts and souvenirs business We Built This City, which now has a store on London’s Carnaby Street. She opened a pop-up store – her first – on the street just before Christmas. “I pitched directly to the landlord and it was a mutual meeting of minds and timings,” says Mayor. “However, they only gave me three weeks to make it all happen. At that time, I had nothing but a logo and an idea.”

Over the 18 months that followed, Mayor and her team embarked on a “pop-up adventure”, with four additional stores in the city and a Christmas outlet in Camden until, a year and a half later, the company put down roots at 56 Carnaby Street and turned it into a permanent store. Mayor says being close to the action was the deciding factor.

“Footfall, footfall, footfall,” she says. “You need a healthy and consistent stream of traffic every day to make your [rent] money back. But most importantly you need to fully test the concept, so you’re informed about your next steps.”

Mayor spent time in Carnaby Street getting to know the area and talking to other independent retailers about their businesses. “Have a very clear idea of why you believe your pop-up is going to work in your chosen location and demonstrate this to the landlord in your pitch,” she says. “In my experience, landlords are looking for concepts that are going to drive new footfall to their street, create a PR buzz and help other tenants to succeed.”

Mayor says landlords are pragmatic and don’t want to have empty shops. They also realise there are big financial differences between start-ups and large corporations. “Landlords know you’re starting up on a shoestring, so they’re looking for pop-ups that are committed to installing an impressive interiors plan and aesthetic for customers,” she says. “Remember, you’ll likely to be helping a landlord bridge a gap in tenancies, so it’s a two-way negotiation.”

Rosie Ginday is the founder of Birmingham-based desserts company Miss Macaroon, which began by selling online, directly to corporate businesses. Ginday wanted to expand into bricks-and-mortar retail and decided to ease into the high street with a pop-up store at Touchwood shopping centre in Solihull. She says pop-ups provide businesses with invaluable market research.

“They were an easy way for us to compare the data we’d gathered through years of sales,” says Ginday. “It allowed me to experience the kind of conversations that customers, potential customers and the public were having with me and the rest of the team.”

She says that ensuring a pop-up is attractive is crucial, and businesses have to be careful they don’t look amateur. However, solutions don’t need to be expensive: “We decorated our store with macaroon towers and macaroon wedding cakes, and built large structures out of gift boxes to add height and catch the eye of passers-by. We had all of these items in the business, so we kept the costs low.”

The company ran the store for a period of five months in 2016 while it negotiated a lease on commercial premises in the Great Western Arcade, Birmingham. She advises business owners to think about the key metrics they want to measure and to use the pop-up as a venue to interview customers. “Be sure of what you’re measuring – is it sales, conversations, contact details or the number of people who have heard of your brand before? Set the space up to test different methods to increase what you’re measuring,” she says.

But pop-ups aren’t just the domain of retail businesses – they can also act as a means of marketing. Octopus Energy created a cheeky pop-up bar in Soho, called The Fat Cat, to poke fun at the pricing tactics of the big six energy firms. Punters were enticed into the bar with promises of £3 drinks, but, after their first beverage, were subjected to unexpected price hikes. “Our pop-up was unusual. It was not a way to sell our product, but actually a social experiment designed to make people stop, think and challenge the norm,” says CEO Greg Jackson.

Pop-ups can also fit into all sorts of places, and some entrepreneurs take an experimental approach. Tiffany Arntson, co-founder of healthy lunch pots business Hilo, arranged a 23 sq metre (250 sq ft) pop-up by one of the exits at Old Street station, east London. However, Arntson and her team had to work quickly to get ready. “For the first one, we only had three days to develop graphics,” says Arntson. “While more time would’ve been nice, it’s easy to overthink things.”

Arnston’s approach is similar to that adopted in the software industry, where products are launched in beta – with a view to adapting them following customer feedback. “Pop-ups are an opportunity to live prototype, shaping your offer in line with customer interaction. We constantly tweak aspects of the store. Next week, we’re putting in a table and stools, so customers can eat in, as opposed to being 100% ‘grab and go’.”

There were some slight mishaps – the business ran out of its weekly stock by the first Thursday – but Arntson took enough commercial confidence from the pop-up to sign a permanent lease at Broadgate Circle near Liverpool Street station. She is also continuing with pop-ups and sees them as a way to develop staff. “They help our teams build sales skills and allow us to have quality chats with customers, something deliveries don’t provide.”

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Lead Image: Rosie Ginday began her Miss Macaroon enterprise selling exclusively online before opening up a high-street retail outlet in Birmingham. Photograph: PR

This article titled “Pop-up shops: a springboard to start-up success” was written by Jon Card, for theguardian.com on Friday 10th November 2017 10.26 UTC

Pop-up stores have been around for as long as retail, but have assumed a new relevance in recent times. According to a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), the pop-up economy generated £2.3bn of revenue in the 12 months to August 2015. Pop-ups have become an antidote to the failing high street and a way for landlords to avoid empty shops. But they also spur entrepreneurial activity, and startups view them as a springboard to future retail success.