How to set up a pop-up shop

Updated on 08 October 2015

If you’ve got a great business idea, a pop-up can be a cheap and flexible way to test the water. But how do you get started?

What is a pop-up?

A ‘pop-up’ is pretty much anything that serves as a temporary retail outlet for a business.

Typically they take advantage of an empty or underused space to do something exclusive, distinct or special for a limited period. · 

It might sound like a flash in the pan hipster trend, but the latest figures from the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) show there are now more than 10,000 pop-ups in Britain worth £2.3 billion to the UK economy - up 12.3% on last year.

The pop-up format can be used by established organisations that want to launch a new product, reach a different audience, try out a new location or promote their brand. But they’re increasingly popular with start-ups looking to test the waters for a new venture without making any long-term commitments.

The beauty of pop-ups is that they are quick to set up, relatively cheap, can be lots of fun and are incredibly flexible – perfect for aspiring entrepreneurs short of money and time, but full of ideas.

 If you’re thinking of undertaking a pop-up venture this guide can help you develop a plan, find a space, consider the legal and tax aspects as well as offers tips for marketing the event.

Make a pop-up plan

The first step with a pop-up enterprise is working out what you’re going to sell.

A pop-up can work for pretty much any business idea. I’ve seen pop-up cafes, art galleries, workshops, food stalls, clubs, crazy golf courses, beaches, Halloween costume shops and vintage fashion sales.

Your idea can be more of the same (perhaps because it’s lacking in your local area) or something completely off the wall that nobody’s ever seen before.

A mini business plan can help you organise your ideas. You should set out things like your goals (making money, raising brand awareness, engagement), your target audience and a budget.

Search for a pop-up space

Once you’ve got your goals and budget for your pop-up, you’re all set to start looking at a potential location for where you can set-up shop

There are now loads of websites that list potential spaces for pop-up enterprises available for a day, a weekend, a few weeks or up to six months.

Appear[here] lists shops, markets and other spaces in cities across the UK, while also has loads of potential spots to set up practically any type of venture or event in the UK as well as abroad in cities like Amsterdam and New York.

Spaces include empty retail units, shop shares, cinemas, clubs, galleries, kitchens, warehouses, workshops, railway arches, fields, shopping centres, restaurants, kiosks or even bus shelters and are available to rent for as little as £30 a day.

Alternatively, you can list your requirement with Popupspace, who are commercial property experts that may be able to find a space to match your needs.

Or if you are looking for somewhere free, 3Space has commercial property in London, Oxford, Brighton and Scotland for charities and not-for-profit organisations to use.

If pop-up venues are in short supply in your area, you could seek out empty shops on your high street and get in touch with the landlord direct or try to find more unconventional sites that could work for your project and try to strike a deal with the owner.

Match the space and the concept

Once you have a shortlist of possible locations you should make sure the space ticks all the right boxes for your concept.

Ask for a full breakdown of costs up front. As well as renting the space, you may need to pay business rates for the time and service charges.

Also think about the amenities you will need like lighting, fitting rooms, security, toilets, wheelchair accessibility, WiFi, heating, parking, shelves, counters and power.

Compare what insurances, licences and permits come with the hire too and ask what sort of changes you are allowed to make, like painting a wall or putting up shelves.

You should also try to look beyond the four walls and work out what will help your venture be a success when it comes to things like location, type of space and the amount of people passing through the area.

Always visit a venue before putting any money down to make sure it can work for you.

Get help with your pop-up

You may need help in the lead up, during and after your pop-up venture.

Friends and family might be willing to chip-in if you ask, but you might have to get in some temporary staff.

If this is the case you will need to register as an employer and comply with employment law on things like pay, breaks and insurance.

Sort out insurance

Check if any insurance is included on the lease or licence you sign up to.

You will need public liability insurance to protect you against any accidents or injuries to the public while trading. 

If you plan to employ staff you will also need employer’s liability insurance to cover compensation and legal costs if a worker suffers from a work-related injury or illness.

Product liability insurance is also useful in case anything goes wrong with the product you’ve supplied.

Cover for business interruption, contents, your stock and goods in transit may be a good idea too.

Cover is usually offered on an annual basis so to avoid paying more than you need for your short-term venture try to get some quotes with a specialist insurer like Popupspace or PennInsure.

Get the right paperwork

You will also need to make sure you have all the appropriate permits, licences and certificates in place before you start operating to avoid any trouble. You should check to see if the venue has any that are relevant already.

What sort of paperwork you need will depend on your venture and will vary from council to council so it’s a good idea to get in touch and find out exactly what you need to have in place.

You might be required to obtain include a late licence, an alcohol licence, gambling permission, live music permission and a food hygiene certificate.


Kit out the pop-up venue

Once you’ve got your venue sorted you should spend a bit of time thinking about how you are going to use the space and make it ‘pop’.

This doesn’t have to cost a lot. The current trend with retail design is quite minimalist and industrial around the edges, so your store doesn't need to look perfect.


#bellesauvage #leopardbybellesauvage #popupstore #popup #werpopup #wearepopup #berlin #fashionscout #fashion

A photo posted by Belle Sauvage Ready to wear (@bellesauvage) on

Try to be a bit different with your visual merchandising to create an experience people will remember and incorporate any quirks the space may have into your concept.

Temporary wall stickers can liven up your venue and promote your product or brand, while shelves, tables and rails can display items you want to sell. Check what your venue provides before splashing out though. You might also want to include interactive elements with tablets or demonstrations. 

Signage is important. You should provide important information like times you are open, dates you are around, your Twitter account and the words pop-up so people understand the urgency. It's also important to emphasise your brand anywhere you can, perhaps with a picture of your logo or use of brand colours through the decoration.

Also make sure to have some business cards or flyers that people can take away with them.

Create a buzz

Once you’ve got all the pieces in place for your pop-up it’s time to let people know all about it and create a bit of buzz.

The best pop-ups get people talking and leave a lasting impression.

Think about what makes your pop-up special and why people should visit. Then put the word out to influential bloggers with some reach as well as through social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

You can also spread the word with posters, fliers and through local newspapers or magazines with ads or free event listings. If you have the budget you might also want to try a launch party.

Just make sure you keep your branding and marketing clear, consistent and coherent in anything you do and hopefully people should flock to see what all the hype is about.

Paying at your pop-up

Don’t miss out on a sale by limiting yourself to only accepting cash in your pop-up.

There are now loads of innovative ways to accept card payments without having to invest in a traditional Chip and PIN machine that can be expensive to lease and operate.

PayPal Here for example is a cheap payment solution operated by an iOS or Android app linked to a mini card reader.

You just need to purchase the card reader for the one-off cost of £59.95 and download the free app onto a smartphone or tablet.

Shoppers will then be able to pay with their card and you’ll pay a small 2.75% transaction fee on every Chip and PIN sale.  So if you don’t make a sale during your pop-up run, you won’t have to pay any fees.

Check out iZettle and Payleven for other simple and cheap payment solutions.

Don’t forget tax!

Your tax implications from any money you make from your pop-up will vary depending on the legal structure of your business.

If you’re working for yourself, you will be classed as a self-employed sole trader. This means you keep any profits you make from the business but you’re responsible for any losses it makes. You will need to send a Self-Assessment tax return every year, pay Income Tax and National Insurance (NI) contributions.

An ‘ordinary’ business partnership works in a similar way, but the partners share responsibility and each must file a Self-Assessment return each year, pay Income Tax on their share of profits and make NI contributions.

Alternatively, you could set up your business as a limited company. This type of business keeps its finances separate to your personal finances. So instead of Income Tax you pay Corporation Tax on the profits. You will have to register your business on Companies House and let HMRC know when you start your business operations. Each financial year you need to send Companies House an annual return and HMRC a Company Tax Return.

Another thing to bear in mind is that if the venture is more than a one-off and your turnover reaches £82,000 in any 12-month period, you’ll also need to register with HMRC to pay VAT, whatever your legal status. At the moment the standard VAT rate is 20% on sales.

For more information visit the HMRC website.

Learn from your pop-up experience

Go through feedback from customers, analyse what things went well, what things didn’t and think about ways to improve.

Who knows, something you try to do in your spare time or as a hobby could turn into something much more as demonstrated by the numerous success stories over the years.

UK burger chain Meatliquor, for example, started out as a burger van and is now valued at £20 million with restaurants in London, Brighton and Leeds.


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