Once you pop

A temporary pop-up space can achieve quick exposure and allow market research before entrepreneurs commit fully to their venture, suggests Clive Lewis, head of enterprise at the ICAEW

Once you pop

Pop-ups are rightly seen as a win-win: they utilise vacant high-street spaces and give high-profile exposure to new businesses. They also provide a chance for those businesses to test the water and see how their product sells in a live situation as opposed to online. You can remove some of the risk by taking out a temporary shop lease as it provides the flexibility to determine whether a concept will work as a viable business.

Don’t think that pop-up shops are just for retailers though. We all see some shops come and go but the type of businesses utilising pop-up spaces also includes PR and marketing firms, artists or community groups and even restaurants. 

Following the government’s removal of the restrictions on setting up in vacant premises, landlords will be able to temporarily change a shop’s use for up to two years before having to apply for permission. Previously landlords had to apply straight away for change of use, causing delays to the shop being made available and significant costs.

Advances in technology mean setting up and operating a pop-up is now much simpler and does not require a high level of capital. Pop-up shops are set to thrive as a new strategy for retailers looking to innovate in uncertain times. Of course, it’s that same technological advancement that has contributed to a decline on the high street.

There is no one solution to the reinvigoration of the UK’s high streets, which have been under increasing threat from online and out-of-town shopping. It has resulted in increased numbers of vacant shops. And the mix of shops is changing too. New shops that are opening are often charity shops, betting shops and pawnbrokers. A large number of independent stores have shut, leaving shops as a mix of the national chains and downmarket outlets.

Across the UK, shop vacancy rates are around 15%, according to the Local Data Company’s monthly barometer. However, vacancy rates in many town centres in the north and Midlands are now approaching 30%.

The government asked Mary Portas to undertake a review of the high street and has accepted many of the recommendations. The ideal is for high streets to offer a good mix of different types of businesses but for that to happen, town centres have to be affordable and attractive places to trade. The Department for Communities and Local Government has a project to “re-imagine urban spaces to help revitalise our high streets”. This seeks to allow the public places around the high street – the open spaces, streets, squares, green spaces and the network of pavements and pedestrian thoroughfares – to turn local high streets into a destination of choice. 

And the private sector is contributing. StartUp Britain has an initiative called ‘Popup Britain’, which has a temporary shop in Richmond that will be occupied by promising small enterprises for two weeks on a rolling basis. All of these start-up retailers already run online businesses, but none of them have the financial clout to take on a shop single-handed. That’s why StartUp Britain has stepped in to offer a co-working, co-funded space for brands to explore new ways of working – and a whole new audience. From Richmond, it hopes to take the concept to other high streets across Britain, throwing open empty shops throughout land for the benefit of local start-up retailers.

If you are starting a business or want to try a retail outlet in a new location, pop-up shops can provide the means of doing this at a lower cost and with less commitment than signing a lease from day one. The novelty value of pop-up shops can help sales.

But you still need to do the basic business preparation. This includes the following:


• Research the footfall of the proposed location. Decide whether the area has potential to attract new customers 

• Check what other businesses operate in the area and whether they are potential competition. If there is competition, ask how you can differentiate your business. 

• Check the proximity of the premises to customer parking and how customers can collect items purchased 

• Think about deliveries of goods into the premises 

• Negotiate with the landlord about the terms and conditions of the tenancy – the term, the rent, etc. 

• Consider how much you need to spend on refurbishing the shop to appeal to customers 

• Get quotations for expenses such as insurance, rates, etc. 

• Prepare an advertising campaign – local media opportunities, leaflet drops, local newspaper inserts, etc. Consider developing a website and use of social media to drive traffic to the website and the shop 

• If you need to raise finance, prepare a business plan to demonstrate to finance providers that you are maximising the potential of the business 


Getting ready to start a business always takes longer than the owner thinks. So, in your planning, start from the scheduled opening date (such as September in time for the Christmas effect) and allow sufficient time for the above activities with a contingency for the unexpected.

For free advice about setting up a pop-up shop, visit businessadviceservice.com

Clive Lewis
Clive Lewis

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