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Saving the high street? Startacus explores the Pop-up Shop

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by Startacus Admin

Part 1 - The philosophy of the pop-up shop...

Its like the chicken and the egg, the pop-up shop and the recession. Which came first? Well in the case of the pop-up shop, they can be traced back to the late 1990’s, and both offered a short term sale opportunity to both the in-vogue brands of the moment and the cheap, thrown in the back of a lorry with a suitcase companies, to sell their stuff, and move on quick.

Now the assumption is that the pop-up shop can help to save the frail economy, giving cheap affordable space to the potential ‘next-big-retail-thing’ and offering an enterprising route for the young entrepreneur or retail wannabe. And this is true. However, much like the pop-up restaurant, pop-up gallery, pop-up art installation and the pop-up cinema, the pop-up shop can offer a highbrow and once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase something new and different, whilst helping to fill empty and available retail space with good new potential retail brands and ‘creatives’ at the same time.

popup britainWith this in mind, Startacus, investigated the phenomenon of the pop-up shop, and in particular the newly opened pop up Britain shop, based in the leafy suburbs of Richmond, Surrey, to find out more. So first the philosophy....

Politicians only need a sniff of a scene, to clamber onto it as the ‘next big thing’. When the UK Prime Minister big-upped Silicon Roundabout, the Shoreditch Tech community, winced (albeit quietly), worried about the impact such promotion would have on rates and competition for space. The worry is that as soon as something is promoted as being ‘in’, it becomes ‘out’.

So when I heard that Pop-Up Britain was supported by ‘Right-Honourable’ Minister after Minister, I was slightly worried. Mary Portas has been an advocate of the whole pop-up shop, market, high street, and whilst she is an ambassador to fashion and enterprise, I am not too sure if £100k thrown in by the Government to ‘save each high street’ is the way forward. However, getting passed my government snobbery, we move on...

Money is important of course, but pop-up shops don’t actually need too much money. Instead they just need people with ideas, products to sell and retail space. Britain, Ireland, Europe, in fact the world, have always had people that sell stuff - so the pop-up shop seems like a good solution to getting shops back on the high street.

I do concede that politicians are necessary in order to do some of the red tape stuff; getting rid of rates, subsiding rent etc. However, that is where they need to just move on - and out the way. People need the confidence to know that selling on the high street, can offer them benefits that an online store could only dream of. And people just also need to get off their online butts and just do it.

Emma Jones, co-founder of the StartUp Britain campaign, ( in fact co-founder of loads of things) , and honorable self starter recently said:

“We’d really like to see more local businesses get involved in our shop. StartUp Britain’s vision was that it would become a cheap and easy way for local businesses to get access to their own high street. Our tenants have had a great opportunity to meet new customers and get valuable feedback about their business and products that they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

And while they’ve been carrying on their daily work, they’ve been able to make sales that have more than covered their outlay for the two weeks they are here.

We want to hear from the Richmond business community – we think our shop offers them a great opportunity.”

Pop-up shops are an answer to the vast empty retail spaces and boarded up shops that plague our towns up and down the land. It beggars belief that a local council would not see the benefit in making retail pop up shop richmondspace more available to the self starter, entrepreneur, the next Wayne Hemingway.

Hemingway started selling second hand clothes at Camden Market, to raise some money to pay his rent. Just imagine if every one of our high streets was filled by just one ‘Hemingway’ per street. Creating jobs and creativity at the same time.

The Pop-up Britain shop in Richmond, isn’t necessarily doing anything revolutionary. It’s just branding it well and making sure that it gives both its’ inhabitants and its’ campaign a bit of national press. Pop-up shops are (pardon the pun) popping up all over the place right now and Startacus believes that anything that gives self starters, the makers, the doers, and the creatives, the chance to get a little bit closer to the general public they need to sell to - then happy days!

The Pop-up Shop Britain is by all accounts doing well and should be congratulated. Having lived quite close to Richmond previously though, one slightly wonders if the very-middle-class Richmond, can be a real barometer of whether pop-up shops could re-energize some of our more run-down high streets? Perhaps when the campaign moves nationwide, we shall then see.

Next week Startacus hears from the Pop-up Britain Team themselves; the shopkeepers, creatives, and the traders who have tested out the shop. We will hear what have they learned, experienced and what can they share with you, the fellow Self starters....

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Published on: 3rd September 2012

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