pop-up retail

What Makes Pop-Up Retail a Viable Option During a Pandemic?

Traditionally, when we think of starting a business, we tend to consider a handful of options. There’s the brick-and-mortar storefront, or online visibility through e-commerce storefronts hosted on platforms like Shopify or Etsy.

What about the pop-up shop?

Pop-up shops are often referred to as “temporary” retail spaces. Many are seasonal storefronts that show up right before certain holidays. Pop-ups can also include interactive exhibits, like the Museum of Ice Cream, where guests  purchase tickets to experience and explore a series of spaces inside an empty storefront for a limited time.

For entrepreneurs, pop-ups are often used as a means to drive product launches for brands. In 2018, cookie company Keebler hosted a pop-up event in New York City in celebration of National Fudge Day and to promote its new product.

Some pop-ups have even gotten their start during the pandemic. COVID-19 Essentials, a pop-up created by Eric Markowitz, opened at the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey.  Markowitz’s pop-up lives up to its name, selling COVID-19 specific essentials including face masks, hand sanitizer and touchless thermometers. Markowitz has been successful with his pop-up because he’s providing customers with essentials that are often difficult to obtain elsewhere.


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You may wonder, is pop-up retail a viable option during the pandemic?

In a COVID-19 world, pop-ups (which are now being referred as the “Airbnb of the retail world”) have more advantages working in their favor than ever before. One of the many benefits of a pop-up store is the fact that it’s operated on a short-term basis, which is great for testing out a business concept. Since many people are turning to entrepreneurship during the pandemic, pop-up retail just may be the perfect way to validate your new business idea.

Let’s take a look at how pop-ups are able to flourish in a pandemic.

No shortage of vacant building space

Some business owners are in the process of working out rental and lease arrangements with their landlords to keep physical storefronts open amid COVID-19. Thousands of small businesses, however, have had to shutter their physical doors and leave behind empty, vacant building spaces. As more buildings clear out and landlords seek new tenants, a temporary pop-up might be an investment to benefit new businesses and empty storefront spaces in high traffic areas.

What does the forecast predict for all that empty space?

According to Garrick Brown, vice president at Cushman & Wakefield, the worst-case scenario is that more than 20 percent of occupied retail space in the U.S. will lose its tenants.

A pop-up provides a short-term, temporary solution for landlords to rent or lease space out to small business owners with flexible rental terms. While it may not be the traditional 12-month agreement, three- to six-months generates revenue for a landlord and gives pop-up entrepreneurs the trial run opportunity they need to experiment with a launch.

Prior to signing a leasing agreement, be sure to speak with the landlord about the space so you understand the terms of the lease and expectations of you as its tenant. Inquire into whether you may be able to install fixtures or adapt the space, and any building hours of operation. Be cautious, and make sure to discuss conditions in which the lease may be terminated early. If necessary, consult with an attorney prior to signing any documents with additional questions or concerns you may have. If you’re opening a pop-up shop, you may also look into renter’s insurance plans. Some of these are offered on a monthly basis, ensuring your short-term pop-up shop has the proper insurance coverage.



Mobility to go where your customers go

Another benefit of a temporary space is that pop-up shops don’t necessarily have to stay in one place (especially if your pop-up is on wheels). You can host your pop-up in one area for days, weeks or months at a time, and move on to a new space.

Be agile in your approach with where you’d like to locate your pop-up. Conduct market research to see where your target customers are amid COVID-19 and set up shop in that area. Be strategic about going where the customer is and allowing your pop-up to continue moving wherever they head next.

As your pop-up travels, make sure it continues to stay within physical COVID-19 guideline compliance. Limit the number of individuals inside your storefront. Ensure everyone wears a mask and is provided with one if they do not have a mask. Encourage social distancing through signage, set up sanitizing stations, and advise visitors to bring just their essentials, like car keys, phone, and credit cards, into the storefront.

Pop-ups benefit from online visibility

Why not create a website for your pop-up space, especially if you have loyal customers outside of the area where you’re currently physically operating? If you have enough inventory and merchandise for it, you may find that you’re also able to operate the pop-up on a yearlong basis online while moving around from city to city with your physical storefront location. Check out these helpful tips before launching your e-commerce component.


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Protect your pop-up by incorporating

Some entrepreneurs may not think to incorporate or form an LLC for a pop-up shop. It’s easy to dismiss the idea if your business is only open a couple of months out of the year. Why form a legal entity when the business is temporary?

Incorporating a pop-up shop provides it with liability protection. This creates a separation between the business and the personal assets of the owner. For whatever reason, in the event that the pop-up accrues business debt or is served with a lawsuit, liability protection will ensure this does not impact your personal belongings.

Key takeaways

Don’t count out the impact of pop-up shops amid COVID-19. Pop-up shops, as a business model, are a great option if you’d like to test out an experimental service, provide a seasonal or specialty offering, or introduce a new “wow” element with your business. Best of all, you can keep the momentum going and possibly make the pop-up a permanent business if you find you’ve validated your idea.

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