Part Two - What no-one ever tells you about participating in a Popup shop

Participating in a popup event is exhilarating, exciting and nerve-wracking. In the best scenarios this can lead to long-standing opportunities which run much longer than originally planned (such as our winter event in Glasgow’s beautiful Princes Square that should have finished in the following January and eventually ended nine months later in the height of summer!)

Sometimes popping up on the high street doesn’t match expectations for everyone involved and part two of the popup series focuses squarely on what no-one tells you about participating in a commercial venture, focusing specifically on the co-ordinator’s side, who’s job it is to keep the whole event running smoothly and present a professional retail environment to visiting customers.


The tough stuff first

Participating as a featured brand

Be reliable, answer emails and telephone calls promptly and don’t agree to take part if you can’t keep to timescales, drop off/pick up information and are liable to falling out of contact.  If you know that’s you then chances are it’s not going to work.  If you are too busy to commit to regular communication and updates, nominate someone in your team to be the go-to contact for a member of the popup staff and a pre-agreed plan of action for necessary communication updates is your best plan.  If you work set hours and turn off your means of communication after, say 5pm, but your popup stockist is open until 10pm, create an agreement whereby you don’t miss out on any potential late night shopping sales through the outlet not being able to contact you for something that made the difference between a sale and a fail.  

Decide what it is that you’re looking for from participating in a popup.  Is it instant sales?  Brand awareness? To increase your customer base?  All of these are achievable but not guaranteed.  Take a look at what you want to gain from it versus what is realistic from the location, customer profile and footfall.  The realities of a store with multiple brands featured is that there will be a success scale of top sellers and some brands will take longer to click (and from our experience the top seller often changes on a weekly basis).  


You’ll know the phrase, ‘there’s no I in TEAM’ and it’s a cliche because it’s true!  It can’t all be focused on your element of the collaborative process if you have chosen to participate and you are required to fulfil whichever contractual obligations you’ve agreed to.  Emailing or calling for a daily sales report or sending in a mystery shopper to suss it out are realities of what can occur but take a moment to decide why the shop is there and what your actions will achieve.  Worried about sales?  Arrange a chat when there are useful figures to discuss such as footfall, verbal feedback and customer engagement with your display. Feel the need to mystery shop to gauge the feel of the store and it’s staff?  It’s your right to do this but remember that mystery shoppers can often be easy to spot and if there’s an agenda attached to why they are visiting it can be far easier to spot then you may give the staff credit for.  An open and honest dialog is by far the best starting point and both you and the shop owner want to generate sales, increase profile and grow you businesses.

Give credit where credit’s due (on both sides) and if something needs to change, change it!  If an element is not working it can be adapted and sometimes it’s as minor as re-visiting a product display or more complex, such as accepting repeat customer feedback that a certain design feature is not quite hitting the mark and needs more R&D.  If you feature in a popup in a prestigious location and want to share it online with your followers, don’t give the impression that it’s your popup alone or omit the name of the shop to create the illusion that it’s focused on your brand as it appears disingenuous, lacking in professionalism and rather shortsighted.  How are customers going to find you when you failed to mention who it is that’s actually stocking you in that particular location?  An innocent attempt to make your brand look more established could unintentionally look ego driven and not give credence to those who put in the hard graft, signed the contracts and took the risks.  Be kind and don’t mislead your following when it’s not a solo venture.

Most misunderstandings or miscommunication boil down to three things; not listening to what was said, not reading the details in full and not giving an opportunity enough time or nurturing from both sides.  Keeping your new stockist hidden from your audience surprisingly happens more often than you’d think and one isolated social media announcement will only be seen by those who were fortunate enough to catch it.  Market all of your outlets regularly, as they should be marketing you.  Even if you don’t physically see a mention of your brand online, bear in mind that they will be chatting with interested customers on your behalf, receiving emails about your brand that they will forward on to you as customers (bespoke purchases being a perfect example) and you may not have given credence to the level of custom that you are receiving indirectly from brand association.  

If you agreed to take part and you have a fee to pay - PAY IT!  Hindering the cash-flow of the popup is not helpful and reflects poorly on your company.  If you have money troubles in your own business be a grown up and let them know.  You can create a payment plan or look at other options but running away from it and trying to ignite arguments to mask your lack of funds and stall for time won’t cut it and you’ll only end up looking like you’re floundering.  People are kind and understanding when we each behave respectfully and responsibly in business.

If you are running out of stock or have sold out of certain items, let the popup know and don’t wait until customers are looking for sizes/lines and staff are trying to locate you for an answer while the customer waits at the till.  Yes, this will happen on occasion, but good communication can make it avoidable.

R.O.I. (return on investment).  Perhaps a controversial area as some feel that a physical presence should see a return on investment but you’re setting yourself up for some pain if you view participation in a shop as a monetary investment that you should see financial gains from.  Ideally, yes, you'll leave with money in your pocket but just because you're in the vicinity of major retailers does not mean you'll match their level of sales. Brands are often told ROI is simply about numbers but there is an unquantifiable marketing/branding benefit as you’ve increased your presence, brand awareness and placed yourself in front of new customers.  You’re effectively paying rent for space to participate, not buying stocks and shares.


Why it’s worth it

In addition to online and in store sales, brands featured with us have experienced:

  • Increased sales on their own websites through the association with a W.E. event
  • Received bespoke orders through window shopping customers who visited a W.E. popup and asked to be put in touch with or made direct contact with the brand
  • Received work opportunities based on their association with W.E. and our accessible luxury provisions
  • Contacted directly to feature in international events after being scouted through W.E. 
  • Contacted directly for celebrity events after being scouted through W.E. 
  • Contacted directly by new wholesalers and physical stockists after being mystery shopped in our popups
  • Scouted at our in store events which lead to new stockists 
  • Discovered untapped opportunities with fellow W.E. feature brands which led to product collaborations 
  • Selected for PR and press opportunities through the association with W.E.
  • Generated sales both in and out-with the W.E. umbrella through features on W.E. associated channels

This proves that the power of association goes far beyond a cash register.


Running a popup on your own

Surround yourself with a team that you can trust and remember to take breaks (as in real breaks where you recharge your batteries, not just coffee breaks where you caffeinate yourself up in preparation for the next few hours of shop floor work).  Take it from those with first hand experience; unless you are fortunate enough to have the funds to employ a team to work for you or there are enough of you to timetable the workload, chances are you’re decamping to the retail space to work from there for the entire run.  

Enjoy when friends, family and supporters come to see you but remember that it’s your work space, you’ve paid for it and if you don’t monitor your essential daily tasks and get carried away with chatting for hours on end, you could snowball your workload.  Be kind, patient and make time for visitors and guests but do yourself a favour and run a diary to ensure nothing falls between the cracks.  

Even with a short term temporary popup you’ll experience unsolicited visitors trying to sell their wares; from physical objects and publications to those who are looking for an immediate business deal there and then.  You’ll no doubt experience it all, so agree a set timescale in advance that you are willing to set aside for unsolicited visitors (including your preference to set a future meeting date, if necessary) and while it’s polite and almost always beneficial to engage in a brief initial chat (you never know what it could lead to), have a member of the team take their details or hand them a business card after an initial chat or you could very quickly see your opening hours become one long meet and greet rather than the sales outlet intended.

Introduce yourself to your neighbours and you’ll very quickly gauge which outlets are key for supporting each other in times of retail need, ranging from last minute post office runs to toilet breaks!  W.E. have popped up in one of Scotland’s largest outdoor retail parks, luxury indoor malls & physically on the high street in a popular shopping destination in addition to supporting a selection of our brands at invite-only events where the popup element is contained within a luxury shopping room.  Each and every time getting to know your neighbours is a great way to offer mutual support, network and help each other out in all matters of business scenarios.  At best we made a business friend with a huge UK based satchel company opening in Scotland and looking to us for some Glasgow-centric information and at least we were happy to help out with a spare till roll, change for a waiting customer or taking in a package until a nearby premises had opened.

Agree your opening hours in advance and if they are pre-arranged, work out your timetable of essential daily tasks to ensure that they are achieved before or after peak customer engagement hours.  We’ve experienced both and each has it’s pros and cons but one thing that is pretty consistent throughout retail is that early mornings can generally be quieter and while it starts to quieten naturally after 5pm, there can be customers who aren't aware of your closing times and may choose to browse for fun, completely unaware that you are about to lock up.  Don’t be afraid to politely ask if you can help them as you are closing and they’ll most likely make their decision to purchase there and then.  Keeping quiet and hoping that they’ll notice you’re preparing to close almost never works and you’ll probably see more customers continue to come in.  We used to swear that closing the door at 6.55pm acted as a magnet for last minute customers! 

Finally and, most importantly, don’t take the popup process too seriously!  Laughter and good times make for the best experiences and viewing these opportunities in technicolour rather than black and white makes for happy memories.  Although we are all working towards targets, milestones and quarterly results, life is for living and your popup is in place to drive your business forward and should be a memorable experience.

Strive for your goals, and believe you can achieve them.  In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt;

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams