How Pop Up Shops Attract Customers into the High Street

How Pop Up Shops Attract Customers into the High Street

According to the UK Trade Association the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the number of empty shops reached 11.9% in April 2013 which is a record peak even though footfall was higher than it has been for over a year. The demise of the British High Street is on the political agenda, but further steps need to be taken in town centres to address issues hindering sales such as parking and accessibility. Escalating business costs including high rates and long rents on retail premises are also partly to blame.

One solution is to make renting premises more flexible and encourage business owners to temporarily move into a vacant retail space for a short amount of time. New products come and go, so why can’t the shops that sell them? Pop-Up Shops (also known as flash retail) could prevent our declining high streets from slowly withering into ghost towns.

The idea of pop-up retail was first developed in Japan where customers would hear of a location that had opened up purely to sell rare and limited edition products. When they sold out the shop would close until the owner received more merchandise. The American company Vacant were inspired by this consumer culture and adapted it for the US market claiming to be the first company experimenting with pop-up shops in the early 2000s. The concept has grown in popularity and reached the shores of the UK where a range of businesses are exploring the possibilities of how pop-ups can be utilised.

Short-term sales spaces have a history of providing the local community with seasonally relevant products and services such as Halloween or Christmas merchandise and now the pop-up remit is widening. Well-known brands as well as independent retailers are using the pop-up concept to test the market regarding a particular area before committing themselves to a long term lease or purchase of premises. A company may use a pop-up shop for market research before the official launch of a new product or for products that relate to a particular event. In June 2012 Selfridges launched a pop-up store in Highgrove specifically for the diamond jubilee. Alternatively, older merchandise can be offloaded or a new range can be targeted towards a niche group of consumers.

Temporary space isn’t just useful for shops, it can be found for cafes, offices, training events, network hubs, one-off exhibitions and even film sets. Furthermore, the pop-up needn’t be a building. Retail locations such as music concerts, arts festivals, farmer’s’ markets, sporting events, fundraisers and even shipping containers are all possibilities. Mobile shops found on converted buses can take products that are usually only available in cities out into more rural areas.

Wherever and however, surprising the public with a flurry of activity is great PR and can quickly build brand awareness. Fashion outlets with DJ sets nurtures the public’s enthusiasm for the new and exciting and fantastic design both inside and out will attract customers into the space. There are great opportunities for shopfitters and designers to pop onto the pop-up bandwagon as the British public has embraced this great new way of exploring products and ideas. What consumers are looking for is an experience on the high street, not just the same tired shopfronts surrounded by boarded up premises and the potential footfall is already there. A study by Which? found that high street shops are still more popular than online shopping and are visited more frequently than shopping sites, retail parks and shopping centres.

Now, what is needed is for these temporary ventures to become stable in the long term and for new businesses to be supported. We are off to a good start. The British Retail Consortium has stated that short-term use is preferable to letting shops stay vacant and the summer of 2012 saw Parliament relaxing the rules for temporary retailers in order to increase the occupancy of empty retail premises. Property owners are now more likely to negotiate pop-up deals for their empty premises which not only provides them with some rent it is also beneficial to the community as a whole. Boarded up outlets will deter customers from venturing into high streets whereas an attractive looking shop front, albeit temporary, can bring punters in and this increased footfall can extend to other businesses close by.

The potential entrepreneurs are there to be found too. 2012 saw a record number of people starting up new businesses with 478,769 registered with Companies House and there is support for these new ventures. Last year, PopUp Britain was launched by StartUp Britain to work with and co-fund small businesses to set up in an empty shop for two weeks at a time. This national campaign run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs is an inspiration for a new businesses looking for a way to break into the high street market.

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