What to Consider When Opening a Pop-Up Shop

Katie O’Brien owns True North Living, a furniture store located in Oklahoma City. But this holiday season she’ll run a second store in town—a temporary furniture shop operating within a village of pop-ups striving to bring local shops to holiday shoppers in a central location.

This special event, called the Oklahoma City Holiday Pop-Up Shops, features a new set of retail shops for shoppers to experience each week throughout the month of December.

Pop-up stores are nothing new. Halloween stores and fireworks stands are great classic examples of pop-up shops. Every year these types of stores appear for about a month or so and then disappear without a trace.

Across the United States pop-up stores have become more popular within all types of retail specialties in recent years. They’re positive for many local communities and their entrepreneurs. Cities are able to fill vacant real estate that would otherwise sit empty. Entrepreneurs can test selling their products without making the long-term commitment of leasing commercial space.

As with anything in life and especially retail, this trend isn’t without its own specific challenges. Here are some key considerations associated with pop-up retail:

Location

Choosing a good location can require a lot of research and a little bit of hope. Even the most promising locations aren’t always successful and that’s why retailers will sometimes use the pop-up format to test out potential permanent locations.

Check local zoning laws. If the activity you want to run is forbidden at the location that you want to use, then what’s the point in signing the lease? Make sure you check your city’s zoning ordinances before signing a lease for a pop-up space.

In its inaugural season last year, the OKC Holiday Pop-Up Shops event was smaller, involved fewer retailers and was staged at the Myriad Botanical Gardens downtown. In this first year, organizers and retailers alike were testing the success of both the concept and location.

“It was an experiment last year, an experiment that went well,” said Allison Bailey, independent retail consultant and pioneer of the pop-up shop movement in Oklahoma City. “We’re taking what worked and improving on it to create an entire pop-up shop village.”

In its second year, this month-long village of pop-ups will be held in a new location in the growing Midtown area, have more participating retailers than its first year and most shops will only be open for one week at a time. 40+ retailers and restaurants are expected to participate.

Inventory

It can be tough, especially for small retailers with a single location, to spare enough inventory to make the customer experience worthwhile at the pop-up without leaving their main location’s inventory sparse.

Morgan Harris, the owner of Oklahoma-city based natural parenting store Green Bambino, is also participating in the upcoming OKC Holiday Pop-Ups and had to order extra inventory to prepare for their pop-up shop.

“We have a brick-and-mortar store, so we can’t take all of our inventory off the floor to take to the pop-up shop, but neither can we spend a fortune on extra inventory,” said Harris. “It’s a balancing act to get just the right amount of the right stuff to stock the pop-up.”

The question becomes how do you control your brand integrity in your permanent brick and mortar locations, when the shop has to be designed, built, staffed and disassembled in such a short period?

The answer is planning and preparation. Approach your pop-up shop from a specific angle. It’s impossible to cart and display all the inventory you can offer in a permanent brick and mortar store.

Define what your business aims to get out of its pop-up store. Are you looking for marketing buzz, hoping to drive extra sales or scouting a location for a permanent store? You have to have a clear goal before you get started. It’s important to disseminate what portion of your inventory will be most relevant with customers, impactful and most motivating with potential customers.

Getting the Word Out

For some pop-ups, they have to start marketing to the public from scratch. Even if the pop-up is organized by an established brand, it’s a new location and possibly a new concept. To launch successfully, an effective marketing campaign, through traditional advertising channels or social media, is important. That can take a lot of time and money, especially for a stand alone shop, for a store that will only be open for a short time.

Retailers participating in the OKC Holiday Pop-Up Shops have a unique opportunity most pop-up shop operates don’t get; they really don’t have to market their pop-up shop. This event has been branded, marketed as a statewide event and covered by local media by the event organizers and this cost is included in the price of shop space rental.

“When you consider how many people will encounter Green Bambino for the first time, the costs involved in renting space in the OKC Holiday Pop-Up Shops is very inexpensive marketing,” said Harris.

Inventory & POS Systems

Pop-up shops are held to the same standard as physical locations and expected to run as efficiently as they would if they’d been up and running for years. Technical issues could result in a loss of sales and hinder customer satisfaction.

If customers aren’t already using a flexible inventory management and POS system that completes transactions from a laptop or digital device, they’ll probably have to use something different in the shop.

“We have to use Square on site (at the pop-up), but have a different POS system in our physical store,” said O’Brien. “The transition is not as seamless as I’d like it to be. There’s a lot of double entry for sure.”

If small to medium-sized retailers plan to open additional pop-up shops in the future, it’s probably easier to switch to a simpler POS system in your permanent stores that will easily and affordably transfer off-site. That will eliminate the hassle of using two different systems to process payments, double entry and inventory management issues.

Staffing

Can you afford to lend associates from your team to man the shop? This is a tough dilemma. It can be really inconvenient to invest time to train temporary employees for a pop-up shop, but also someone has to run your physical locations.

You might have to consider short-term employees. While they will require training, your brick and mortar locations customer experience won’t suffer because they’re short-staffed.

For more on pop-up shops, be sure to check out our last post, Benefits of Popping Up a Pop-Up Shop, and stay tuned for our upcoming post covering 12 tips for opening and running a successful pop-up shop.

To learn more about how ShoppinPal can help with pop-up store and event sales, request a demo.

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