How to Open a Pop-Up Retail Shop

Pop-ups have been around for years, most often in the form of seasonal stores peddling merchandise like Halloween costumes or Christmas decorations. However, both large, international chains and small, startup boutiques have recently begun experimenting with the short-term retail concept.

As property owners worked to stay afloat amidst unprecedented property vacancies brought on by the 2008 economic crash, pop-up retail became a win-win for landlords and retailers, says David Ringler, director of marketing and business development for Davis Wince Ltd. , which offers retail consulting services. (Ringler completed a graduate research paper on pop-up retail this month and plans to turn it into a white paper or blog series for Davis Wince.)

Should you decide your business could benefit from a pop-up shop, we hope you find the following steps in this how-to guide useful.

1. Take dead aim at your target market

It’s arguable that understanding what your customer wants is critical to any retailer’s success.

Along those lines, Greg Turner, owner of Fringe Outfitters, a men’s and women’s online clothing retailer launching its first pop-up on Saturday, says “The most important thing to do when opening a pop-up shop is research a location that your target audience desires, has access to, is aware of, or is willing to come to.”

Similarly, Scarlett Kilzer, owner of Cupcake Yum Yum , a bakery that has set up shop at several Central Ohio stores, says finding a location where customers looking for your specific product will “automatically show up” is integral to the pop-up concept.

2. Engage with your landlord

A frank conversation about expectations −yours and your landlord’s− helps ensure that both parties are content once all the paperwork is signed.

Pop-up retail leases are not typical, by-the-book contracts, Turner says.

“I think a good start is to talk with the building’s owner to makes sure he or she is in line with your vision, and both parties need to be of the understanding that they are benefiting with the final handshake,” he adds.

By nature, landlords −good ones, anyway− are keen speculators, says Josh Quinn, owner of Tigertree, a men’s and women’s clothing boutique, and one of the coordinators for Reduction, a semi-annual sales event where several Short North retailers unload seasonal inventory.

“He knows that generating buzz around his space is important and getting people in it creates buzz,” he says, adding that most of the Reduction retailers had never visited this year’s location themselves, but “you saw a couple thousand people shuffle through and see a beautiful storefront between two great restaurants across from a beautiful park” during last Saturday’s sale.

Kilzer suggests a slightly different approach: partnering with a retailer who wants to bring more walk-in traffic to their store.

“Also, take into consideration what this retailer is selling,” she says. “Do you complement each other in some way? Same if you choose an empty space. Do the stores around you complement what you are doing? Will these stores have the customers you need?”

3. Use common sense when selecting merchandise

Essentially, Turner think it’s best not to overthink what you’re selling and offer items that customers have demanded in the past mixed with items that have been highly searched in your online store, if you have one.

However, do think about where you’re selling, as Kilzer says location and product go hand-in-hand.

“Selling dog treats in a location where dogs aren’t allowed might not be a good idea,” she adds. “This is obviously extreme, but you get the idea.”

Quinn made a similar point. A few years ago, he and Ryan Vesler, owner of HOMAGE, another Short North apparel retailer, set up a joint kiosk at The Mall at Tuttle Crossing and it was, in Quinn’s words, “a trainwreck.”

“We did some course corrections that made it profitable in the end, but I don’t think it really did anything for either brand and it’s because we didn’t think about buying, staffing, or the crowd,” he says.

4. Get acquainted with Square

Turner has used Square extensively since launching his business last year. This revolutionary service allows for simple credit card processing through an online application created for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

“I’ve used it at a number of trade shows and trunk tours with my iPhone,” he says. “The application tracks where your transactions were made via a GPS device that is built within it. Payments are processed and deposited into your account within two business days. The biggest downside to the application is the increase in merchant fees after $10,000. Also, if you’re using an iPhone and someone calls you, it can disrupt a transaction.”

There is no cost for setting up an account at, and the card-reader device is shipped to you for free. Square’s processing fees are 2.75 percent for swiped transactions and 3.5 percent + 15 cents for keyed-in transactions.

5. Talk up your pop-up

Considering the fleeting nature of pop-ups, it’s important to get the word out about your shop, and Turner, Kilzer and Quinn all advise using social media to do that.

“We are so knowledge-hungry now and social media makes accessing and sending that knowledge incredibly easy,” Quinn says. (Our Social Side series can help guide you through setting up a social media strategy for your small business.)

Good ol’ fashioned flyers and handbills do the trick, too, they say.

Special thanks goes out to the retailers who contributed to this How-To Guide: