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2013

PopUpStores_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

While pop-up stores—businesses that set up or occupy a retail space from a few days to a few months—exist only temporarily, the trend may be here to stay. A 2011 report from Specialty Retail Report showed that this segment of the market grew by over 14 percent in just six months. It's not surprising, given the allure of short-term leases and the variety of retail settings. Although the start-up costs can be high in some cases—which is why big businesses have taken the lead in this tactic—many small business owners might finally find the return on investment is worth the expense.

 

Operate professionally

Pop-up stores can be set up to test new products, sell off excess inventory, ignite a quick spike in sales, and spread awareness of a small business. A pop-up store may be short-term, but the regular protocols of business still apply.

 

"Temporary doesn't mean unprofessional. Temporary doesn't mean bootstrapping. You really have to put the effort in to make sure the consumer experience is what they are expecting," says Christina Norsig, CEO of PopUpInsider, the first online national marketplace for temporary spaces, and author of Pop-Up Retail.

 

Before founding PopUpInsider in 2009, Norsig opened eight of her own pop-up stores in New York City, the largest one in a storefront across the street from Macy's that was formerly a Payless shoe store. The experience allowed her to see which items were popular, work out a pricing structure, and even figure out the most productive hours of operation. "When I had the store across from Macy's, [peak traffic] was early in the morning to late in the afternoon," Norsig says. "But for my store in Soho, there was no need to show up before twelve because no one was there."

 

Some customers may take longer to feel comfortable in or trusting of a temporary pop-up store. Having a well-trained sales team who can communicate your business's message and build excitement for your products can bridge the gap.

 

Inevitably, even well-planned stores will encounter unexpected problems. For example, landlords will often give priority attention to businesses with long-term leases. In Norsig's store on 34th Street, she didn't anticipate the heavy volume of product she needed and struggled to get containers in. "I was sharing the dock time with stores that were there all year round, so they got priority on the loading dock," she says.

 

Norsig often finds that some small businesses don't even have a defined business plan yet before they ask her to look for space. Rather than inundate landlords with requests for available listings, Norsig questions the small business owner to make sure their idea is complete. "That's not to say that you have to have a warehouse stocked with merchandise," Norsig says, "but you have to be ready to pull the trigger and open up a store and be ready to go."

 

PopUpStores_PQ.jpgPersonalize the experience

Pop-up stores offer small businesses great flexibility in setting up a space quickly, whether it's a kiosk, mobile store, store within a store, or its own free-standing retail space. Whatever space you use, experts say focusing on the customer experience is key.

 

"If you can go out and demonstrate to the customer how they can use the product, how it will benefit them in their life, and how they will be impacted from their purchase, that is how these pop-ups can be very successful," says Jennifer Davis, director of client services for Medallion Retail, a New York-based agency that specializes in retail marketing.

 

Every type of business is suitable for a pop-up store, according to Davis. For small start-ups that don't have any retail experience, a pop-up can give them the chance to try something new in the marketplace efficiently. Pop-ups can sometimes break the patterns of customers who never stray far from their usual shopping neighborhoods if the incentive is there. "You need to give them a reason to come to your shop," Davis says. "You need to personalize the experience for them. That's really what retail is about these days." For example, the type of fixtures and store signage in a pop-up will contribute to the overall customer experience.

 

Small business owners also need to figure out what they can afford to pay. While rents vary because of neighborhood and length of lease, Davis explains that the flexibility of pop-ups can fit almost any budget. "You could do something as simple as taking your product and setting it up at a park or a playground or something much more mobile," she says. "Or you can have four walls within a space. Regardless of your budget, there is a way to get your brand and your product to the consumer in really unexpected, unconventional ways. It allows the customer to have a sense of discovery and make a connection."

 

An integrated strategy

In addition to the growth of pop-up stores themselves, companies that specialize in finding space seem to be on the rise, too. Case in point: Republic Spaces, a New York-based agency that launched in early 2013. While they concentrate primarily on finding space in the metro New York City area, they have plans to expand their coverage to include Los Angeles next, then major European cities.

 

SBC newsletter logo.gifFor many businesses with a wholly online presence, having a pop-up store has become part of their overall strategy. "For the brand to get to the next stage, they need to be offline in certain respects," says Republic Spaces' founder, Angela Wang. "Designers offline get to connect with new customers, test different markets, and create a tactile experience that's a lot more engaging for everyone."

 

Obviously, the location of a pop-up is critical, but small businesses also need to market their new location ahead of time to build awareness. Wang agrees with Norsig and Davis that pop-ups that give customers a good in-store experience can propel sales.

 

While Republic Spaces is still a relatively new company, they seem to have discovered at least one truth about pop-up stores. "A lot of brands are formed pretty fast online these days," Wang says, "but to be successful, you need a very integrated offline/online experience."

InnerSanctum_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

On paper, having a home-based office might seem ideal. After all, what could be better than working from the comfort of your house? Or having the flexibility to set your own schedule while steering clear of office politics?  There’s also the bonus advantage of not commuting and incurring additional expenses.

 

But these pleasant circumstances won’t be conducive to fostering an oasis of calm if your personal phone is ringing nonstop and your kids are interrupting you every minute. How then can you take a situation that could be ideal for a small business owner who’s also a working parent or a caregiver to an ailing relative and turn it into a thriving home office environment free from domestic distractions?


Find an area in your home and dedicate it to work

This could be any room in your home. If you live with your family, make sure they all know that area is off-limits during your work hours. Use and treat it as your sanctum from which you are running your business. Make it as comfortable as you can. If this means decorating it with posters and plants that will help you focus on your tasks at hand, so be it.

 

Jennifer Martin, owner of the San Francisco-based Zest Business Consulting, a one-person shop that helps small business owners grow their operations, adheres strongly to this best practice.

 

“If you hate your desk, the
lighting, or the way your file cabinet always seems to stick out when you try
opening it, you won't feel like your work space is very helpful for you—if
not consciously—then on a sub-conscious level,” says Martin who launched her home-based business last March, feeling it would afford her the professional challenges and latitude that her previous jobs lacked. “Do yourself a really big
favor and create an environment that supports your success rather than
drains your attention away from getting things done.”

 

And, if you have a TV in your home office, try not to turn it on or have it on in the background when you’re working. Or limit your TV-watching to when you’re taking a short break.

 

Establish boundaries

Don’t make your office room a free-for-all during work hours. If you have to put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your door in order to drive home the point to family members that you need to work in peace to be productive, then do so. Treat your business with the same gravity of purpose and single-minded attention as you would in a brick and mortar location.

 

Phillip Christenson, co- owner of Phillip James Consulting, a Plymouth, Minnesota-based financial planning and investment management company, agrees. Three months ago, he and his business partner moved to a retail location after running their business at their respective home offices for two-and-a-half years. “Make sure to let your family members know that the home office space is only for work,” he advises. “Add a lockable door handle if you need to. You don't want your kids deleting precious company files while trying to ‘play’ on your computer. Try explaining that to a client.”

 

InnerSanctum_PQ.jpgSet a strict work schedule—and stick to it.

It can be tempting to slack off and get sidetracked by personal matters when you’re in the comfort of your home. But the inherent problem with doing so is that it can set a precedent for a habit difficult to break in the long run. Plus, if your family sees that you’re not taking your work-from-home routine seriously, then why should they?

 

Sticking to a routine has been an effective best practice for Dan Cumberland while running a home-based business with his wife. As co-owner of the three-year-old Sparkfly Photography, a lifestyle and wedding photography business in Seattle, Cumberland has made adhering to a schedule both a key underpinning of his business and a great safeguard against external intrusions. 

 

“Having a routine helps you stay focused,” notes Cumberland. “Only schedule non-work or non-essential meetings before work, over lunch, or after work.  If you don't create a schedule and routine for yourself it can be easy to get distracted and be unfocused.”

 

To illustrate his point, Cumberland, who adds that he and his wife run a home-based business because “it makes the most sense for us financially,” offers this anecdote:

 

“I had a friend call me the other day to ask if I could play a round of golf with him,” recounts Cumberland “He had a spot in a tournament because his partner had to drop out. The problem was that it was a Monday afternoon! I could choose to take the afternoon off and go play because I work for home and don't have a timecard to keep me accountable. But I chose to pass it up because it didn't fit my routine and schedule. I know that one afternoon off and a free round of golf wouldn't hurt in the long run, but the small decisions and distractions add up. My routine puts guard rails around my time and work while keeping my business and income moving forward.”

 

SBC newsletter logo.gifKnow when it’s time to shut down for the day

Establishing a set routine and making sure that others respect it is critical to creating a home office free of extraneous interruptions. At the same time, it’s also important that you know when you should finish up for the day. If launching a home-based business was to improve your work-life balance, then this is a great way to honor that commitment.

 

Martin, the small business consultant, concurs. “When you are done for the day, be done for the day,” she stresses. “If your office is in
the same room that also doubles for your bedroom, living room, etc., turn
off your work for the day by placing a table cloth or blanket over your
work station so that it doesn't draw your attention. Not doing so will make it
easier to just check your e-mail one more time.”

 

To anyone who’s a working parent, a caregiver, or simply tired of spending too many hours and too much money on the road commuting, having a home-based office can be an ideal situation. But if you want to prevent yourself from being distracted by family or personal matters, it’s imperative to set guidelines that separate your personal and professional roles.

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