Empty Commercial Property? Open a Pop Up Shop

Nicky Tatley looks into the growing trend for pop-up shops on our high streets, and what it could mean to the commercial property industry.

It started back in 2008 when the icy wind of recession first blew down our high-streets and the least robust commercial enterprises turned out the lights and shut up shop.

With landlords finding themselves with empty properties (and pockets) and enterprising young up-starts wanting a cheaper and less risky platform to try out their business – a bright and breezy brigade of pop-up shops and restaurants began to colonize the landscape.

The idea is not unprecedented – during the U.S Great Depression of the 20s, a glimpse down a New York block would reveal the enterprises of folk possessed of the chutzpah needed to stand in a deserted store-front, selling soda-pop or pretzels to anyone who could ‘spare a dime’.

Now or never mentality 

The concept has also been rolled out in easier times. In the late nineties, Vacant, a concept store based in LA, started to stock limited edition products from niche retailers. 

Once the products sold out, they shut up shop and moved to another targeted location before announcing that the next batch was available. 

The thrill of the new ‘it’s now or never’ sales technique seemed to be a winner.


However, the pop-up model has really found its feet in our most recent economic downturn. With various government initiatives actively facilitating the concept, pop-ups look to become part of the framework of commercial property ownership.

Utilizing a space for, say, a sample sale one day and cocktail party the next or cashing in on the hype surrounding a themed pop-up bar or restaurant has gradually become part of the commercial leasing landscape. 

Galleries will rent out their space for pop-up fashion or PR events or landlords might lease out their empty properties to any business initiative from unusual cuisine to tattoo parlours, milliners to posh olive oils, cutting-edge jeweller to dog onesie suppliers. 

A hipster's dream 

Each summer, on the roof of far-from-salubrious multi-story car-park in London's Peckham, materializes Frank’s: a cafe/bar that has garnered near mythological status within London's hipster set. 

Even theatre has embraced the pop-up phenomenon with immersive theatre companies taking residence in locations such as the vaults of London Bridge Station, Battersea Arts Centre, disused pharmaceutical buildings in East-end dockyards and Paddington’s former Royal Mail sorting office. 

On a smaller scale, many individuals have opened up their homes as pop-up bistros serving the local community – Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen being a notable example, which won its own tv series. With her vintage frocks, vermillion Amelie-esque pout and exquisitely bijou Parisian apartment – she epitomizes the allure and entrepreneurial spirit of the pop-up.

On a more structured level, enterprises such as We Are Pop Up and Appear Here offer an online platform from which you can apply to rent one of their many spaces to showcase your wares. And websites such as Londonpopups.com offer a wealth of advice and resources for pop-up wannabes and property owners alike.

The 'store within a store' concept 

Looking ahead, as the economy picks up, there will be a decline in vacant properties and the pop-ups will be on the lookout for new outlets. As the concept matures we will likely see the ‘store within a store’ concept taking hold.

In fact, many forward-thinking retailers have embraced this idea – with larger stores offering pop-up shops on their premises and restaurants popping up at Christmas markets this festive season.

New York menswear store Rothmans has gone further and introduced a "permanent pop-up store" into its business model. In an interview with CNBC news, co–owner Jim Giddon said featuring a different pop-up every three months or so within their larger space has helped his store reach new customers. 

"It works out great because they [the pop-up retailer] get a chance to test out the market, without making a large financial investment, and we get to supplement our inventory by offering items we don't normally carry. We end up grabbing a customer that may not have walked in normally." 

London based Selfridges also incorporates a permanent pop-up space in their store, so, this is surely a concept that smaller commercial property owners will adopt as its win/win nature lodges itself fully in the collective business consciousness.

Born out of the collective mindset of embracing thrift, and ‘making the best of it’, the cheeky ‘pop-up’ has grown up and proved itself both financially and conceptually, for the long-term and for any smart-minded property owner.

Nicky Tatley

About the author

Nicky contributes articles to all titles in the Dynamis stable, primarily BusinessesForSale.com, FranchiseSales.com and PropertySales.com and is a regular contributor to other business publications including Talk Business, Bdaily.co.uk and NuWire Investor.


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