If you’re an e-commerce retailer, a pop-up store could be a low-risk way to try out a physical store presence, give customers a chance to touch and see your products, promote your brand or even clear old stock. Business Lounge spoke to Scott Williams, from pop-up equipment supplier instant retail, to find out what you need to know.

1. What is a pop-up store?

A pop-up is a store that appears within a very short time (often installed over a weekend or overnight). It opens with a bit of a fanfare, is often well promoted via traditional and social media and then seems to close just as suddenly as it opened. Pop-up merchants tend to use the mystery of their temporary installation to build up curiosity and urgency. They may enhance the excitement by choosing an unusual or unexpected location and fit-out, with bold graphics, special guest appearances or entertainment.

2. How long does a pop-up store last?

A pop-up can run from a few days to a few months, depending on the goal. Sales events tend to be fairly short term; other pop-ups may be linked to special events, such as the Australian Open Tennis or Spring Fashion Week. You can often tell how long the pop-up intends to stay by the quality of their installation. Short-term pop-up stores often tend be low budget / low brand statements. The length of other installations may be strategic – as a teaser until a new (permanent) store opens or for a determined period to undertake market research. Some pop-ups are built in a kit or mobile format, so they can travel to various locations or re-appear over time.

3. What kinds of brands or businesses are doing pop-up stores?

The most common pop-ups around Australia are fashion brands, opening temporary retail outlets in high-traffic locations. Many are start-up businesses, but some established labels, such as Ellery, are regular players in pop-up, too.

Others are e-commerce retailers who see benefit in an occasional physical presence. Customers see and feel the products, the business can move excess stock and it’s a great way to collect qualified details for your database.

We also see corporate pop-ups, showing their brand and products in a non-sales environment, rather than hard sell. Nike, Toshiba and Sunglass Hut have all done pop-up stores recently in Sydney – not as sales events but more as brand promotions.

Did you know?

From cash boxes and receipt books to cleaning products, Australia Post offers office supplies that are essential for your pop-up store. Purchase office supplies online and have them delivered to your pop-up location, or pop in to a local Australia Post Business Hub.

4. What are some common reasons to try a pop-up?

A small business owner might use a pop-up store to test their
business model, try a location before signing a long lease or
research their demographic and product mix before launching.
An established, larger business may be more strategic, aiming to
build customer awareness, do a brand or range promotion, or undertake research into their locations and demographics. Pop-ups
are a relatively simple, low-cost, low-commitment way to get in front
of customers and offer great opportunities for trial (and error).

5. How long does it take to plan and start a pop-up?

Pop-up is a fairly new concept in Australian retailing, so there are not many dedicated suppliers or experts in the field. It can take quite some time to research and decide upon locations, shop fittings, media promotions, graphic design, staffing and the paperwork required (leases, permits, insurance and so on). Even the little things like arranging a new EFTPOS facility can take a few weeks with the bank.

My advice is to start as early as possible, do your research well ahead of time and ask each supplier how much lead time they’ll need to service your pop-up store, then plan accordingly.

6. How do you go about finding a suitable location?

I’d say that the hardest task with doing a pop-up is finding the right location! The places that work best are ones in highly populated areas with plenty of foot traffic – in or near the CBD or inner-city suburbs. Research locations early – get a feel for what areas might work for your product and talk to the local traders, council and real estate agents. Watch for new tenancies and new vacancies, and consider why different businesses are starting up or leaving – is the neighbourhood healthy for a pop-up store?

Agents can keep your needs in mind when they’re negotiating with landlords – if an agent knows you’re interested in a certain property at a certain time they may just act on the opportunity to put you in there. Some commercial agents avoid or dismiss enquiries for pop-up spaces because they can be a lot of work for little return. However, it is an opportunity to show the landlord the agent is hard at work, finding a tenant. In the current economic climate, many properties lie vacant for quite some time. The shop you’d choose for a pop-up in a few months may still be available when you want it but if it isn’t, the agent will know you’re interested and may have other locations to offer.

7. What expenses should you expect?

Rent will be a major expense. Other costs vary, depending on how much you’re prepared to do yourself and what support you’ll get from family and friends. You need to consider who will help you set up and staff the store and whether you can borrow fixtures, kettles, brooms and so on.

If you’re thinking of buying the shop fittings (rather than borrowing or renting them), weigh that up against the time and effort required to purchase, collect and assemble the items, then dismantle, remove and store everything afterwards.

Another major expense will be promoting your pop-up store – using a PR agent, listing with the online newsletters, advertising through traditional media, designing and printing graphics and shop signage (front windows, awnings, sandwich boards and so on).

8. What kind of equipment and display items might you need?

The style and quality of display fixtures will depend on the message you want to send to your customers. A shop with old trestle tables and wobbly clothes racks may suggest that your pop-up is very short term (like a garage sale or warehouse clearance). It can also suggest that the products on offer are low quality and some consumers may be wary of shops that will obviously disappear, leaving the impression that there is no recourse for return of faulty items and no warranties.

Generally, the more thought and design that goes into the shop, the better the result – looking more like a professional, substantial and reputable business. Many pop-up merchants rent general fittings (racks, shelves, counters and so on) but purchase display items specific to their products (hangers, merchandising hooks, sign and ticket holders and more). These display items are easy to move, store and re-use at future events. The major fittings can be hired through the exhibition suppliers or instant retail.

Inset of Andy Man pop-up store interior

Case study: Andy Man Leisurewear pop-up store

Entrepreneur Andy Roche started planning his new fashion label – Andy Man Leisurewear – in June 2012. The brand offers stylish men’s and women’s leisurewear – trackies, sweatshirts, hoodies and so on. Roche’s strategy is to be an online brand (Andy Man has an e-commerce site and Facebook page), but to use pop-up stores for an occasional physical retail presence, to make sales and build awareness of the new brand.

With good connections, some luck and six weeks’ intensive planning, Andy Man set up its first pop-up store in Chapel Street, South Yarra (Melbourne). Roche hired mannequins, the sales counter, mirrors and a changing room, and purchased shelving and curtaining to supplement those fittings.

Scott Williams says, “The installation looks funky and fresh – there’s good use of bright white and fluoro orange, green grass mats on the floor and some interesting props and graphics, which show the brand has some character.”

Roche says that Chapel Street is a good fit with the brand’s customer demographic; after the second week of a month-long pop-up, he had sold 150 units and he is already considering extending the store lease for at least another month, if not longer.

9. What are the ingredients for a successful pop-up?

  • Create a professional store appearance, with a contemporary and consistent style of fittings.
  • Make sure your store is well stocked and staffed, with boxes and mess out of sight.
  • Have good-quality, eye-catching signage.
  • Promote your pop-up before and during the event, through local media, flyers, Facebook, Twitter, online newsletters and more.
  • Make your pop-up store memorable with an unexpected feature, unique message or giveaways.
  • Take details of your customers for a database, for follow-up after the event, promotions and future pop-up events.

10. What mistakes do people commonly make?

  • Not enough planning, preparation and promotion.
  • Not considering their range / price point well for the pop-up location.
  • Spending too little (or too much) effort and money on displays and fittings that detract from the actual product.
  • Not having back-up plans for extra stock and staff or not being prepared for the personal commitment, time and effort required.
  • Expecting too much! Pop-ups are not only about revenue, they should also be measured in terms of increased brand awareness, results of market research and lessons learned from trial and error.

11. What are your three take-home pieces of advice for novice “poppers”?

  1. Consider the message you want to send about your product.
  2. Plan well ahead and be prepared to do some legwork and research to find the right location.
  3. Make the extra effort to ensure your pop-up is fresh and memorable, and use the event to connect with customers and build your database.