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How to set up a pop-up shop in the UK

16 September 2019 Small Business Advice

Establishing a pop-up shop, café or restaurant can be a great way to grow your business in the real world. Here we offer some tips on how to get started.

Already have an online presence but want to get your business established in the real as well as the virtual world? Or maybe you are looking to get an entirely new business off the ground in your local town or village. 

While opening a bricks-and-mortar store might seem counter-intuitive with newspapers filled with stories about the death of the High Street, it may be there are opportunities to open up a shop, restaurant or creative space such as an art gallery relatively cheaply.

Under proposals from the Labour Party councils would be given the power to seize boarded-up shops after 12 months and hand them over to start-ups, co-operative businesses and community projects. As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told The Guardian: “Labour has a radical plan to revive Britain’s struggling high streets by turning the blight of empty shops into the heart of the high street, with thousands of new businesses and projects getting the chance to fulfil their potential.”

However, Labour’s plans aren’t the only way businesses can establish an offline presence on the High Street without committing to expensive, long leases. Another option is by renting a temporary, or ‘pop-up’ space. Increasingly, businesses are turning to pop-ups as a way of ‘dipping their toe in the water’ – trying out new ideas to see how the public reacts – as well as developing existing businesses.

According to a study from mobile phone provider EE, nearly one third of British businesses (29%) will begin life as a pop-up in the UK with a report from the Centre of Economic and Business Research (CEBR) and EE stating that pop-up retailers contribute £2.1 billion to the UK economy, employing an estimated 23,400 people across 10,000 pop-up shops. 

While food and drink represent around half of pop-up premises (pop up cafés, for example, are a great way to see if there’s a market for a new type of cuisine) there are opportunities in other areas too, including fashion, jewellery as well as arts and crafts. 

But how do you go about opening your own pop-up space if you are completely new to the world of ‘offline’ retail?  Here we offer some useful advice to help get you started. 


Location, location, location

Undoubtedly one of the most important considerations is to choose your location wisely. As with any business, good ‘footfall’ (the number of people passing through a given area at any one time) is absolutely key. 

Without potential customers passing by your premises you are inevitably going to struggle, even with the best marketing strategy in the world. One increasingly popular option is to set up a pop-up in an existing shopping centre. For example, LinkStreet is a walkway between the Bullring shopping centre and Grand Central/New Street Station in Birmingham which is dedicated entirely to pop-ups and which has a footfall of around 750,000 people each week. 

Alternatively you can find pop-up shop locations through agencies such as Appear Here or Storefront or in pop-up ‘malls’ such as Boxpark which operates across several London locations, including Shoreditch, Croydon and Wembley. For more information see here

While prices in central London can be as much as £300 a day or £1500 a week, in Birmingham’s LinkStreet you can expect to pay between £650 and £750 per week for a retail unit.  

Before taking on the space it’s always a good idea to do some research first. Talk to other businesses who have had pop-up shops in the area before and find out how they got on. Also check to see if the area is well served by public transport and if there really is the footfall that the provider tells you there is!


Creating a visual feast 

The cornerstone of any shop, including a pop-up, is a vibrant window display. This is your chance to create a visual feast that will help draw customers into your premises rather than them walking straight past. 

This is easier said than done, of course. While some providers, such as LinkStreet in Birmingham, do provide basic fittings such as magnetic slots in the walls for setting up shelving units, it helps if your pop-up has a central focal point. 

For example, when Mercedes launched a series of pop-ups across the UK, it was able to fit out each as a showroom and even had Formula One cars on display while Renault kitted out its pop-up in Birmingham’s Bullring in a 90s style to mark the 30th anniversary of its Clio car. 

And while this kind of budget may be beyond most small businesses, it is nevertheless a good idea to think about how your shop can best be presented to draw in the crowds. 

For example, one idea may be to rent some retro furniture from a company such as Rustic Hire. Another might be to give away some of your products (ie. free samples of food) or even getting someone to hand out flyers outside the shop if that’s allowed. It may seem an old fashioned approach, but it still works! 


Promotion and social media

Of course these days it’s impossible for businesses to ignore social media. To help you generate a buzz around your pop-up you need to establish your brand on sites such as Twitter and Facebook as well as engage with discussions in online local community groups and with bloggers/vloggers where appropriate. 

Instagram is a great medium for posting up pictures from your pop-up while another option is shooting a video of everything your site has to offer which you put up on a YouTube channel. Organising online competitions, providing discount codes and sending out email newsletters are also great ways to attract customers too. 


Plan your budget 

Last, but by definitely no means least, you need to work out your costs. As well as the monthly cost of the retail space you will need a deposit to put down on the premises as well as money to pay temporary staff. 

You may also need to get a pop-up shop licence (for example if you are selling alcohol) as well as pay business rates, albeit at a lower rate than more established business. 

You will also need to pay for public liability insurance and, importantly, rent a credit/debit card machine from a company such as PaymentSense. See more information on its range here

Setting up a pop-up shop is certainly not easy. However, it can prove a relatively low-cost way to test new products, boost your brand and for online stores to engage with actual customers face-to-face without a long-term commitment.


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