How to Set up a Pop-Up Shop When You Have an Online Store

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It’s a big world out there and between the internet and real-life businesses, online stores have a lot of competition. It’s important to stand-out, be different, and memorable.

Pop-up shops are a great opportunity to make a splash with your brand. But where to begin? We’re here to give you all the exciting options (and the necessary admin) that will guide you through what you need to know for going from online store to physical store successfully. You’ll be rocking your own pop up shop in no time.

What Is a Pop-Up Shop?

A pop-up shop is a temporary retail spot that a business uses to get its brand and products out. The most successful pop-up shops use creative and unusual strategies to make a mark both locally and online.

They’re popular because:

  • They bring attention from local people and press
  • They provide a buzz both in person and on social media
  • Customers can test products
  • Business owners meet customers face-to-face
  • They’re much cheaper than traditional stores

Pop-up shops can be a lot of fun. What’s involved in making the best popup shop you can for your products and brand? Let’s go through some of the basics.

Partygoers dance in a bubbly carwash at Kia's popup shop
Kia’s pop-up at New York’s Electric Zoo used car wash foam parties, a DJ, a drive-through, and other exhibits to create one of the most talked-about pop-ups in history.

How Much Does a Pop-Up Shop Cost?

There is no fixed price for a pop-up shop. Depending on how creative you can get, plan on spending from $1.5k to $100k. It depends on:

  • The type of pop-up – Are you going for a huge, dedicated space, or are you sharing with others? A kiosk? Part of a larger event?
  • The location – A space in central New York or another large city will be pricey versus a farmer’s market or a small-town retail space.
  • The preparation – What do you need to get ready for the event? Are you promoting on social media? Do you need signs and graphics? Fabrics, prints, displays?
  • The size – A large dedicated space will cost much more to run (especially heating/AC) and many pop-up spaces are charged by the square foot.
  • The length of time – Pop-ups run from a day to up to two months.
  • Staff numbers – How many people will run the shop? Are you bringing in other collaborators, influencers, brands, or local celebs? Do you need people to run lights or any other tech?
  • Packaging – Will your products need dedicated packaging? Boxes? Bags?
  • Insurance/utilities – How much liability insurance do you need? Are the light/sound/water bills separate to the rent price? Who is in charge if something goes wrong on the day?

Though these are most of the important costs, there may be others, so be certain your budget is solid and well-researched.

Advice from the Experts

Top Tip: In some areas, if your pop-up shop lasts longer than 28 days, you might need to get special permission from a local government body.

How to Set Up a Pop-Up Shop

To make sure you’re operating the best pop-up shop possible, it’s important to know the steps you need to take.

#1. Decide on Your Pop-Up Shop Type

The sky’s the limit, and the more unique, the better! Above anything else, your pop-up should compliment your business, appeal to your target market, and not be too close to your competition.

When deciding on the type of pop-up location, don’t be afraid to think out of the box. For example, if you sell non-perishable snacks, a pop-up in or near an automotive parts superstore might appear like a weird choice, but who doesn’t snack in their car?

Little shop in a big shop – Setting up in an existing store is great if you’re smaller, newer, and need a bigger reach. Just make sure if you’re on someone else’s territory, you know and follow their rules and avoid disruption to the shop or their customers.

A booth, counter, or kiosk – A flea market, trade fair, shopping center, farmer’s market, or consignment enclave, gives you plenty of foot traffic. It takes less time to set up, but beware – customers in places like flea markets will bargain and might be unwilling to pay a lot of money.

Vacant storefronts – Most landlords are happy to rent vacant spaces out just to get some money coming in. Just be certain that the space is safe to use and isn’t legally tied to a particular use different to yours. They usually accommodate large products, changing rooms, tables and chairs, wall space, etc.

Galleries, cinemas and other used spaces – These spaces bring (sometimes literally!) an audience and can often serve as an attractive background for your shop. If your products are a little high-end they’re ideal locations for a high-end audience.

Mobile – Shipping containers and pop-up shops on wheels make people curious. You can cover more ground. They’re great for products that are quickly sold and/or consumed. If your target area hosts a big event, you can catch people walking by too.

Instagram post showing woman posing outside Hello Kitty Cafe mobile popup van
The Hello Kitty Cafe is the kawaii-ist mobile pop-up shop in the world and it works really well on social media.

No matter the type, there’s a list of things to think about when booking the space. Though this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s a good place to start:

Costs – Does the space include things like insurance, utilities, security? Is the quote for the space complete or are there hidden costs? Is the price guaranteed or can they alter it?

Contracts – Does the contract reflect what was agreed? Are there any changeable clauses? What does the lease limit in terms of capacity, use, opening times, etc.? Anything in the contract about if something goes wrong on either side? Cancellations and alterations?

Lease – Is the lease the correct one of purpose? Does it bind you for the correct time? Does it allow the space to be used for this purpose? Are there penalties mentioned if either side breaks it? If it doesn’t look like you need it to, are you able to alter it (and will they penalize you for this?)

References – Are there any other businesses you can contact about this space or landlord? Do they have a good reputation? Have they been in legal conflicts before?

#2. Choose a Location

Your pop-up shop is first and foremost an experience. You’re taking people to a place to feel a certain way then take action.

So you have to choose a specific location. Once you have a budget, think about your ideal customer and their loves, hates, and expectations. Then think through these questions:

  • Where do your target customers like to spend their time?
  • What days and times do they like to roam, like to shop?
  • Are there complimentary businesses and activities that seem like natural partners for what you offer?
  • Does the location show off and even add extra value to your products (ie swimwear by the coast, funky sneakers in the city)?
  • How secure is the neighborhood?
  • Is the location interesting and/or attractive (which you’ll need for social media)?
Large modern room set up with chairs for an auction
Mass Art chooses a massive, art-friendly location its customers already loved for an art auction.

Advice from the Experts

Top Tip: Check if you need special licensing or certification if you decide to serve food, and both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.

#3. Decide on the Details

Life is in the details. But instead of thinking about the best events you ever attended, think of the worst. What were the little details that made it awful? Forget the details, and you might turn off your customers. So think of things like:

Parking and accessibility – Is there parking and public transportation to the area? How much parking is available and is the lot secure and affordable? Disabled accessibility gives you a huge advantage too – nearly 25% of the population is disabled and if you accommodate them you can drastically increase your market share and meet a need the vast majority of your competitors don’t. Just make sure word gets out about it!

Cleanliness – No one wants to be disgusted by a shop, especially where there’s food or drink. If the space is filthy when you book it, ensure the landlord cleans the space before you sign a contract. Otherwise you might be stuck staying up scrubbing the night before launch.

Opening hours – When are your ideal customers most likely to shop? Does the neighborhood come alive on the weekdays or the weekends? Are the opening hours realistic for you and your staff?

Decorations – The more special your launch, the more memorable it will be. Decorations not only entertain your guests, but they can be souvenirs, speak about your brand, and can be an opportunity for collaboration with other brands you’re fond of.

Advice from the Experts

Top Tip: Don’t forget about the time of year. Is there a season that best suits your brand and products? Would your target audience avoid coming to your pop-up shop if it’s too cold outside?

#4. Brand Your Pop-Up Shop

Signage and branding is important. It grabs attention, encourages social media content, and contributes to the total experience.

Though some spaces provide signage basics, chances are you’ll have to bring your own. How much will you need? A good logo can be used on your signage (and packaging/bags/displays) and clearly marks your brand and pop-up shop. Include business cards – though lots of people don’t ask for them, they’re very inexpensive so worth having around just in case.

People walk out of a popup shop that looks like a large blue Adidas shoe box
The Adidas pop-up shop made the most of signage and created a trend.

#5. Promote Your Pop-Up Shop

The best pop-up shops create a buzz before they’re open. But clever and thoughtful marketing is more than just creating a dedicated hashtag for your event.

There are many ways to promote your pop-up shop, starting with attracting customers to your online store. Banners at the top and pop-up countdown clocks work really well on websites. Also market in your social media, hiring influencers to get out the word and/or attend your event, and email marketing.

The most important thing is to keep your target audience and ideal customers in mind. If you keep them at the center of your strategy, you’ll reach them.

Remember to not only bring your friends and family into your promotion strategy, but also include the brands you’re co-working with and the brands who have helped you in your preparations. Your suppliers, collaborators, employees, designers, entertainers, the landlord, whoever – they’ve all got their own followings. Why not coordinate with them so not only are you tagging them in your content, but they’re posting content about their contributions to your pop-up.

Advice from the Experts

Top Tip: Each social media platform has ideal marketing content and times to post.

Summary

Of course we want to focus on how fun and entertaining pop-ups can be, but at the end of the day, they’re there to do a lot more. They give you a chance to get to know your customers, and spread the word about your products and your brand. For many, it’s the first step in scaling their ecommerce business.

As long as you keep your target audience in mind, choose the best type of event in the ideal location, and follow the steps for maximum success, you’ll be on your way!

FAQs

You’re an online business owner so chances are you are better than you think at negotiating! There are lots of strategies to help, but if you work out several options ahead of time, you’ll feel more confident knowing you can walk away. 
Whether you want DJs, artists, models, party planners, dressers, or restaurants and bars, everyone is more likely to collaborate if you outline how your collaboration can benefit them. And no, we’re not talking publicity/exposure! People can’t pay their bills with exposure. Have a think about what their non-money currency might be. Would they trade their services for your product? Do you have a different talent they could use?
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