Spring 2015
Decorating a Pop-Up

By Francesca Nicasio

5 tips for small pop-ups on tight budgets.

When it comes to designing pop-up stores, retailers often run into the issue of limited space. For obvious reasons, pop-up stores—especially those that come in the form of booths, kiosks or in-store shelf and table space—can pose design constraints for merchants.

The budget can also be a pressing concern, especially for small and independent retailers. Pop-ups, while relatively less expensive to run compared to traditional shops, can still put a dent in your budget.

If you’re facing the dilemmas of limited space, budget constraints or both, follow this advice from pop-up designers and retailers that were able to pull off successful stores despite limited resources.

1. Use flexible/movable fixtures 

When furnishing your pop-up space, opt for fixtures that are movable or can be used for multiple purposes. Madeline Johnson, CEO of Market Council, advises retailers to make use of tables with wheels as this will allow you to easily “re-configure your store for special events and demonstrations.” Johnson also recommends merchandising products on modular shelves for easy construction and flexible arrangement.

Having such fixtures in your pop-up store will not only enable you to maximize space but also make it easier to move fixtures and test various designs and layouts with minimal effort.

To illustrate this, Johnson talks about one of her clients, Surya Brasil, which had a pop-up shop at the Winter Village at Bryant Park’s Holiday Shops in New York City. Surya Brasil made use of modular shelves and tables that could be moved around. This enabled the retailer to use the space more effectively. “The modular furniture has been moved around three times since they opened on October 21 and is a great way to test positioning in the store,” adds Johnson.

How can you furnish your store when you’re on a budget? See if you can borrow items from your existing stores. If you can spare some tables or shelves for the duration of your pop-up, then by all means, use what you already have. If this doesn’t work, buy inexpensive shelving or tables.

2. Carry minimal inventory

Be very selective with the products that you want to feature in your pop-up shop, and order them in small batches to gauge how shoppers respond. If possible, consider arranging consignment opportunities with your suppliers to minimize risk. Doing so  also helps create a clean and uncluttered pop-up environment.

“One of the biggest mistakes retailers make in a pop-up space is overcrowd and ultimately confuse the customer with too much product lined up on shelves,” mentions Johnson. According to her, merchants should avoid cluttering up their space with too many items. “This may be the customers’ first introduction to your brand. Keep it simple and clean and organize a system for restocking quickly.”

Speaking of restocking, Johnson recommends that merchants keep their items in storage fixtures that come in the form of seating or chests with drawers to keep merchandise out of the way while saving space at the same time. “There is nothing worse than a sloppy pop-up. It’s all about first impressions, so make it a great one.”

3. Create paths and speed bumps to maximize space

Another technique to maximize pop-up space while adding a dynamic feel is to create paths through your store instead of simply displaying products at the edge of the room.

Melissa Gonzalez, brand activation and pop-up architect at The Lion’esque Group, says that retailers should create “speed bumps” along the way to keep customers intrigued and engaged. They can come in the form of “well-merchandised outfits, deeper information about key product offerings, an interactive element such as touch screens or augmented reality like Perch Interactive,” says Gonzalez. “Don’t over stimulate, but be sure each touch point furthers the connection you are creating between the customer and your brand.”

4. Declutter your checkout area

Your checkout or point-of-sale area is an essential part of your store and gives you a great opportunity to interact and connect with customers. Optimize the space by keeping it organized and uncluttered.

Avoid putting unnecessary items on the checkout table. If you want to spice up the area, Gonzalez suggests decorating the wall behind you instead.

You can further maximize your space and budget by using point-of-sale systems that enable you to ring up customers through tablets or smartphones. Mobile POS systems are lightweight and easier on the eyes compared to clunky cash registers. They’re also a more affordable option. A traditional cash register can cost retailers up to $4,000, while most mobile POS solutions cost in the $1,500 range.

And if it makes sense for your store, get rid of the checkout area completely and instead enable your customers to complete purchases (or calls to action) from anywhere in the shop.

This is exactly what de la COMMUNE, a menswear brand, did when it launched pop-up events to raise funds for its Kickstarter campaign for underwear, T-shirts and sweats made in North America using solar power and eco-friendly dye methods. According to creative director Reese De Luca, having iPads and iPhones loaded and ready with the Kickstarter application enabled them not only to maximize their space but also to streamline the fundraising process by getting people to pledge on the spot.

5. Team up with others

Seek out partnerships with vendors or other merchants, advises Gonzalez. “Many times you can elevate your space by bringing in strategic partners that enhance your overall message, such as a furniture sponsor and technology partner. As a group, you can share the costs, pool efforts on acquiring fixtures to help merchandise spaces, split responsibilities of store hours and co-market the pop-up experience.”

“Always be careful to selectively curate brands that appeal to your target audience so that all touch points within the atmosphere you have created are consistent,” Gonzalez says.

Finding strategic partners isn’t just about lowering costs, however. When done right, merchants can use partnerships to further enhance their stores and provide a richer shopping experience.

Consider for instance, what Boohoo.com is doing. The U.K.-based e-tailer that sells apparel, shoes and accessories set up shop in SOHO and celebrated its first U.S. pop-up store with a party, complete with food and music. In addition, Boohoo.com brought in social commerce platform and app Stylinity as a technology partner to enhance the pop-up experience.

According to a recent blog post by the Lion’esque Group, Stylinity “allows shoppers to catalog their favorite looks and pieces by scanning selected items and taking photos in their ‘Style Stages,’ which automatically sends an e-mail to shoppers and lets them share on social channels for feedback and advice.”

Bottom line

In the realm of pop-up stores, you can (and must) do more with less. Keep these tips in mind the next time you’re designing a store, and don’t let a small space or tight budget stop you from creating a pop-up store that, well, pops.

Francesca Nicasio is a retail expert from Vend, a point-of-sale, inventory and customer loyalty software that helps over 12,000 retailers manage and grow their businesses. She’s the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest: 7 Ways to Future-Proof Your Retail Store, a practical guide to modern-day retail success. For a limited time, download her book for free.

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