Innovation and enterprise blog

06 June 2014

Pop-up Businesses – here, there and everywhere!

There is no doubt that effervescent pop-ups are sweeping across a town near you. I had the pleasure of researching them over the last few months, checking out pop-up shops in many places - from local areas in London to all the way over in France. Most of the pop-ups are surprisingly varied, covering a wide range of different concepts, ideas, services and industries – from yoga sessions, food stalls, technology shops, gardening, community groups, makers, art collectives, artists and creatives.

I live in Waltham Forest, North-East London and I am really pleased to see that my local council aims to catapult businesses by providing dedicated pop-up business spaces in the form of semi-permanent shops in Leytonstone and Walthamstow. Following their award-winning ‘Love your High Street’ campaign, this is a positive signal to budding start-ups, entrepreneurs, community groups and local artists that the council mean serious business! On the high street, they have set up large rooms with plain walls as a blank canvas for selected businesses to participate in and customise for their own purposes. This is one of the few times I have felt compelled to praise my council as they are encouraging something fabulous and entrepreneurial. Personally, I would love to see this replicated across the UK.

POP-upLYHSlogoThe council have kindly provided the following feedback on the Waltham Forest pop-up programme’s progress: “Waltham Forest is home to thousands of small businesses and has a wealth of entrepreneurial spirit. In order to encourage new enterprise, the Council has transformed a vacant shop unit in Walthamstow into a hub for start-up businesses and community groups. Over the last 6 months, these organisations have enlivened the Town Centre, offering fresh and diverse services to residents, including a yoga studio, book café and community arts centre.”                         

I had the privilege and pleasure of visiting some of these fabulous pop-ups on the high street. Most of them were able to generate interest amongst local residents using social media and good old-fashioned ‘word of mouth’. To give you a flavour of what was on offer, here is a summary of the array of businesses I saw taking part in the pop-up shop:

Massis Tea @Massistea – Redefining and innovating with the Art of Tea to make the ‘Tey Latte’, which tasted very nice. I have since seen Massis Tea popping up in other places - even Westfield Stratford City. 

Pretty Please London @PrettyPleaseLDN – Patisserie that shared the space with Massis Tea.  It was here that I had my first Crodough, that is, a Croissant-Doughnut hybrid.   

All you Read is Love @allyoureadlove – Independent bookshop and Scandinavian-inspired café, serving simple, responsibly sourced cakes and sandwiches, quality coffee and alcoholic craft beverages. They held music and literary events for the community too. I particularly liked how they customised the space to give the feeling of being in a living room …you could stay for hours.


Blank canvas to night time musical venue for the ‘All You Read Is Love’ pop-up

at Hoe Street Central.

Healthwatch @Healthwatch_WF – Health and social care consumer champion in Waltham Forest and also across the UK.

Yoga Me Happy @yogamehappy1  - 'Yoga Me Happy' yoga training and classes with a mission to make Londoners happy …with yoga! There are even classes in a local park.

Amarachi Jewellery @AmarachiJewels – Professional dancer turned jewellery designer who created such a buzz amongst people who came across her designs, she soon started receiving requests for her work.

Good time Girls @goodtime_girls - Retro and vintage clothing and accessories with some photography on display too.

Nicky Carvell @nickycarvell – An artist and designer making items inspired by the pop band East 17. The theme of the exhibition was 'Peace from East 17'.  Towels, cushions, T-shirts etc were colourfully designed  and made with special materials.

Plantnation @plantnation_e17 - Gardening initiative selling plants, running activities and classes for all ages.

Floor Story Ltd @FLOOR_STORY – Rugs designed in the UK, but handmade in India using Tibetan techniques. I particularly liked the Tattoo range!



Rug from the pop-up Floor Story Ltd.

This flourishing of pop-ups is not just happening in one part of London, but in various pockets across the city. You can find listings, advice and locations with maps on London Pop-ups. Pop-up shops are also soon to be rolled out across underground train stations as Transport for London has signed a deal with online property agency Appear Here,who provide brands, designers and entrepreneurs with access to prime retail spaces in Central London. Both big brands and independent merchants are looking for flexibility in the way that they reach consumers – a fine example is our Innovating for Growth client Squid London, who has been successful in acquiring a place at the House of Fraser pop-up shop. Footfall and market research plays a large part in selecting the location of your pop-up shop and we have a London Business Information Guide to give you some statistics, several global market research resources in the Business and IP Centre and our wiki page - just to get you started.

My colleague Neil Infield has written on his ‘In from the Outfield’ blog about street-food pop-up Kerb and also beat me to reviewing and recommending the book ‘Pop up Business for Dummies’. 

Alasdair Inglis, a marketing expert from our partner at Grow, explained that businesses are mainly starting off organically and online, so the pop-up shop model is a great way to test the waters. He told me that “it's amazing to see how fast the London pop-up scene is developing. There's no doubt that it's a tough retail environment for small businesses, particularly with the unstoppable rise of ecommerce. The incredible variety of pop-up experiences in the UK is a testament to the innovation and creativity of British entrepreneurs. I was recently at Fairground, which is a three-storey pop-up in East London. I ate the best pulled pork bun I've ever had. Hung out in the sitting-room styled ‘Granddad Lounge’, heard a great talk from a Twitter expert, took a table tennis class with a professional table tennis coach and played in a table tennis tournament (I didn't win)". Phew! Alasdair also recommends We are Pop-up for more ideas.

Alasdair continued, saying that "many of us may be glued to Facebook and smart phones, and more and more of us are shopping online. However, the thriving pop-up scene shows that people want amazing eating, shopping and entertainment experiences in new and interesting places. The high street isn't dying, it's changing and its risk-taking British entrepreneurs with great ideas who are leading the way". 

These are the same ideas we are promoting on an international level with our lean startup workshops, which we are working on with our Open Innovation Partners in Europe, such as the Neoshop in Laval, France.  The Neoshop is not just a shop for business start-ups to get to market - it allows you to provide feedback on products too.  The Neoshop has also taken part in product testing, in pop-ups in Box Park Pop-up Mall, London; and in Paris recently. Hopefully this post will inspire you to peruse some pop-up shops yourself, or even to start your own pop-up business. 

Seema Rampersad on behalf of Business & IP Centre

Follow Seema on Twitter: @SeemaRampersad


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