Guardian Masterclass Number 2: How to set up a Pop Up

After getting the Masterclass bug I found myself at the Guardian offices again last night for my second instalment. This one being all about How to set up a Pop Up, something which is not just very relevant in the retail environment at the moment but am sure pop’s (ha) in to everyones mind at some point, What would I sell if I had a shop? Well now its possible!

I was enticed in by the great line up of speakers and desire to sound out how viable my own ideas are for a pop up shop. The speakers each showed examples of Pop Ups and how they can be used as part of a new or establish business idea.


The main tutor for the evening Abigail is a big player at We are Pop Up heading up Marketing & partnerships, she joined the relatively new company because she knew start ups & entrepreneurs is where the fun is!


Mark stared Rola Wala (‘man that roles’) a vibrant Indian street food brand created back in 2012 after being inspired by his travels and wanting to share it. From truly humble origins Mark is going to make an internationally renowned food offering, he is sure of it.


Alice started the London souvenir revolution back in 2014 wanting to give a platform to creative London designers who produce genuine examples of our capitals talent worthy of taking home. Through a whirl wind fairy tale beginning this Pop Up is now I hope a Stay Up.


So where to start? Thats normally a good first question when it comes to starting a new business idea. Abigail has worked with a massive variety of Pop Up ideas because they aren’t just retail vehicles. They can be used to test a new market, raise brand awareness, building your brand and of course make sales to name just as few aims. That’s one of Abigail’s top tips start with your goal in mind, knowing exactly what you want to achieve helps you build a successful concept. Abigail continued on to cover how to set up your model & budget, choosing the right location and even a helpful toolkit of useful platforms.

Obviously a lady full of knowledge and genuine excitement about creative ideas and helping brands develop. Retail has an ever changing face and even though traditional retail is going through a struggle at the moment it is continuing to evolve. Bricks & mortar is still valued, the sensory experience is something yet to be replicated online.

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Mark’s brand has a great story, a really confident concept & a founder who has enough enthusiasm about his food to fill india. His journey had some great steps starting out by learning how to cook in a friends test kitchen and trying different street food markets at the weekend whilst still working a full time job. Then getting more ambitious with a pop up at Trinty Leeds food court which ended up being so successful it has now blossomed in to permanent bricks & mortar site.

Mark talked a lot about impact and being the best at what you do; finding your USP or as he calls it ‘your unfair advantage’ then perfecting it, making it work for you. I think the best wrap up of Mark’s advice in a sentence: ‘ Invest recklessly, spend wisely’. You could think on an idea forever, start doing and experiment as you go, listen to your customers & appreciate the face to face fast paced quality pop-ups offers.

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The third speaker Alice has quickly become one of my favourite people, as a leader of a revolution, that involves talented designer maker products no less, she deserves some serious respect in my books. After having an epiphany on changing the London souvenir offering she took action, some pretty geeky action to make it a reality. She knew the key to the success of her Pop Up was going to be the exact location, so she walked the streets (her words) sitting for hours outside empty shops to observe footfall. By knowing exactly where she wanted to go, she could narrowly target landlords and spaces (now is the time to write down the importance of Landlord Pitches).

Now in what I call a fairy tale moment, after pitching her heart out she got support to open We Built this City’s first Pop Up on Carnaby Street. With lots of stipulation WBTC opened in the run up to Christmas over 2 floors with 500+ products. A pretty huge undertaking but with all the same issues any sized shop has: store layout, window space, signage viability, shelf height etc. A big challenge for founder run businesses is turning off: ‘Whenever I went home I felt like I had left a small child running around central London’ – Alice. Getting the right people to help you can be the difference between winning and losing, hero worthy site builders made the quick opening of the first WBTC possible.

Huge success well deserved meant WBTC were invited back to Carnaby in the Spring, where they can found to this day. Alice’s brand continues to expand in size and evolve in to a hub for the cities creative talent. Her top tip for Staying Up is contributing and benefiting your neighbours & community, there are collaboration opportunities everywhere. Make people believe in your journey from your customers to your landlord ever single person counts.

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Ending with Abigail speaking more about the We Are Pop Up website and some interesting examples of successful brands as well as a few questions to go home and ask yourself. I think Pop Ups are such an interesting topic not just for retail brands but the future of mixed use spaces. There is so many exciting technologies which make trying new things more accessible, with customers wanting more that ever from an experience now is the time to jump in.

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If you are enticed to experience Rola Wala or/and We Built this City I strongly recommend them both. As for We Are Pop Up find my profile on their soon, I’ll let you know how it goes on my Pop Up adventure.