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Starting a business from scratch can be a chancy endeavour. For London’s budding entrepreneurs, pop-ups offer a short-term, risk-free taste of what’s involved.

At the very least, they can help you build a reputation in your desired industry.

A mini start-up

Compared to a full-time (and full-on) enterprise, pop-ups tend to offer more elasticity and lower overheads than traditional business models.

Budding designers can eschew renting a storefront, and can instead test drive their products over a long weekend.

Aspiring chefs can host monthly supper clubs in their home – an easier and cheaper alternative to investing in a restaurant.

“More and more people are doing it, because it’s a lot easier, and a lot more flexible than opening up a permanent retail space,” notes Dan Calladine, the founder of the listings website London Pop-ups.

“You don’t need to trade on a wet Tuesday, when no once fancies going out. You can just trade on a Friday night.”

James Ramsden, who launched his supperclub, The Secret Larder (jamesramsden.com/the-secret-larder), at the beginning of the pop-up trend, admits that “it’s hard work”.

Still, he says: “It’s not nearly as hard as it would be running a 20-cover restaurant every day for lunch and dinner.” 

Cathy Underwood, who launched Pop Up Fitness in Enfield’s Dugdale Centre, explains the temporary format is a lot more cost-effective than a long-term brick-and-mortar space.

Pop Up Fitness set up in a renovated council-owned space that was going unused and, as a result, Underwood and her partner were able to get a discount on the hourly rate from the council.

“We don’t have the enormous expenditures that a Virgin or David Lloyd has,” she says.

“They have huge overheads and need to pay taxes, and get the numbers in, whereas we don’t. It’s very basic, and we don’t have lots of equipment, but we can charge £6 a class. People really appreciate that.”

Building a brand

For businesses that are newly formed, setting up a short-lived space can be a good way to attract plenty of publicity. 

“It gives you a brand so people will look out for you,” Calladine says, admitting a quirky temporary venue makes a better news story than an ongoing boutique. 

He adds that for a pop-up to be successful, the concept should be instantly recognisable.“It’s like a one-minute elevator pitch,” he says.

“It needs to capture the imagination, and do so quickly.”

Ramsden adds he was spurred to start The Secret Larder both by his love of food and a desire to network with foodie professionals.

“I was starting out as a journalist, and thought it would be a good shop window for my work,” he says. Since launching, he has landed a regular writing gig at The Guardian, and met his wife. 

“The people I’ve met through The Secret Larder has been the most rewarding part of setting it up,” Ramsden says.

Though they can bring in some decent pocket change, the pop-up model is rarely lucrative enough to become a stand-alone business. 

“A lot of people who do it seem to have other things going on, either within the hospitality industry, or they’re paid writers. Many do this as an extra thing that they do,” Calladine says.

“I do make a profit on it, but I couldn’t make a living off of it,” Ramsden admits.

“But it is helpful to have a separate, regular income.”


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Making it pop: Pop-up business models are on the rise, here's how to start your own
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