As online shopping continues to change the retail landscape, the age of the pop-up shop is upon us. It’s now common practice to set up shop temporarily to ignite business and find new customers.
“Pop-ups have been great for the business,” says Anna Robertson, who runs YEVU, a not-for-profit fashion label. “There are no long-term commitments, the novelty doesn’t wear off and it’s a great way to test the market.”
A former student of political economics, Anna established YEVU as a way to help empower and sustain small businesses in Ghana. She says that while selling wholesale is not an option – “because of the unique and limited-edition nature of the product” – pop-up stores perfectly suit the needs of her social enterprise.
But it’s not only fashion retailers getting into the pop-up trend. We’ve rounded up the top advice from Anna and two other pop-up professionals – nail art trailblazer Celia Cecchi of I Scream Nails and Caroline Ball of bespoke gift shop Sorry Thanks I Love You – to find out the best way to start and develop a pop-up store.
1. Create a strong brand identity
Part of YEVU’s success came from the story behind the clothes. The 100 per cent cotton garments are made in Ghana by mostly female producers, and the brand’s every effort goes towards creating more economic opportunities for the Ghanaian textile workers.
“I saw a huge under-utilised potential in small enterprises [in Ghana],” says Anna. “I realised that generating jobs and income for people living on the poverty line was perhaps more immediately effective than charity and foreign aid.”
It helps that YEVU’s vibrant West African prints look great. Anna is adamant that the brand’s lookbooks, shot in Ghana, have been instrumental in drawing people in to the YEVU pop-ups, and the designs have proved wildly popular. Her first YEVU line sold out in just a week in Sydney.
Celia Cecchi started I Scream Nails just as the nail art trend was about to explode, and abandoned her corporate job for a world of creative and quirky manicures.
“I feel like our branding was always on point from the start,” says Celia, “and I feel that got people following us on social channels.”
@IScreamNails, the brand’s candy-coloured Instagram feed, has been popular from the get-go, showcasing manicures with miniature versions of cartoon characters, pineapples, even portraits of clients’ boyfriends or pet pugs. By building an online following for her intriguing designs and enlisting the help of other nail artists, Celia created a buzz for her brand even before her first pop-up at the back of the LUPA store in Melbourne’s Northcote.
2. Put the word out any way you can
Celia didn’t rely solely on Instagram to spread the word, but contacted Melbourne publications such as Broadsheet and Time Out and even hit the pavement. “Not only did we build our social media up, but we got out and about dropping postcards in shops and sticking up posters ... it all works!” she says.
Anna of YEVU had another idea. “We ran a small opening party with free beer, good music and happy clothes and it was all-round good vibes,” she says. “Sydney-based press picked it up and promoted the story behind the brand, and the pop-up was heaving from the moment we open our doors.”
3. Plan it out
If you’ve ever done your Christmas gift shopping in Sydney’s Martin Place or Malvern in Melbourne, you’ve probably wandered into one of Sorry Thanks I Love You’s pop-up stores.
“The idea came about when we were living in New York and wanted to send a good bottle of whisky as a thank-you to someone back in Australia,” says co-founder Caroline. “When we started looking around we realised that the options for gift giving online were quite limited.”
As a solution, Caroline, her partner Ant and friend Matt started an online gift store that offers the personal, old-fashioned service and attention to detail of a good boutique. On offer are a huge range of beautiful products including homewares, jewellery, wine and cheeses.
The team was able to secure a coveted spot in Martin Place’s GPO building early on, and has since expanded to Melbourne. Caroline’s advice? “Plan every detail fastidiously and be prepared to be very committed,” she says. “It’s a huge undertaking and a wild ride, but it’s also a brilliant learning experience.”
4. … But sometimes you just have to learn on the spot
“None of us comes from a retail background,” says Caroline, “so while everything we do is very considered, we had to learn quickly and be really agile when setting up the first store. No-one really understood how to use our EFTPOS machine until the first customer came in and decided to buy something.”
5. Offer something your customers can’t get online
“The whole point of having the physical store is that people can actually interact with our range,” says Caroline, whose Sorry Thanks I Love You business is primarily internet-based. “You can actually feel what a cashmere scarf that took three months to spin on a hand loom feels like. You can sample some cheese or whiskey at one our tastings, or see what the 10,000 bees building honeycomb look like.”
While the low overheads of e-commerce are attractive, there’s still no replacing the sort of feedback that comes with having a physical store and dealing with customers face-to-face. “We realised we could learn so much from our customers and improve what we’re able to offer,” says Caroline.
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