Meet the agency that’s ‘popping up’ all over the UK

October 6, 2014 9:15 am The UK Domain

Over the last few years the high street has seen an increase in vacant retail units as commercial landlords have struggled to uphold long leases. Meanwhile, hundreds of startups have emerged online and the demand for short-term floor space has risen. Ross tells us how he developed an agency to fill the empty spaces and give UK startups another platform from which to test their market and promote their online brands.

Royal roots

Appear Here grew from the insights we gained while running a pop-up shop for our startup brand ‘Rock and Rule’, in 2012. Around the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, we rented a vacant shop space for a few days in one of London’s most trendy areas – Carnaby Street. The short lease suited our small budget and it was the perfect time and space to showcase limited edition Diamond Jubilee T-shirts. The space was a hit and everyone wanted to know how we had established a short-term lease in such a sought-after location – it was virtually unheard of.

It became increasingly apparent that startups were looking for spaces and commercial landlords were looking for tenants, but the two weren’t coming together. At the time there was no single listing market for short-term spaces so we used the profit from our pop-up to create a solution to the problem; an agency that allows landlords to list their vacant retail spaces online so that businesses can rent them for short periods.”

Putting the wheels in motion

“In the early stages we did a lot of running around, knocking on doors and drumming up interest.  Doors only opened when we were able to convince people that we were addressing a significant gap in the market. We raised our first round of funding through Angel investors, which enabled us to put our idea to work, and as soon as we established the business, much larger investors offered their support. Within nine months of launching, we raised £1 million from investors who had also backed successful startups such as Hailo, Trivago, uSwitch and Spotify.”

Popping up everywhere

“The rise of pop-up shops across the UK was fuelled by two major changes in the market: a shift in transaction point (place of purchase) and the reduced lease length for commercial properties.

The role of retail spaces is changing as more people shop online. The high street is no longer the central transaction point for businesses but a media space in which they can create a good experience and promote brand identity.

Due to a shift in the UK economy and an increased demand for shorted leases over the last two decades, there has been major change in the property market which has seen the average commercial lease drop from 25 years to four years. Prior to this change, startups were required to invest a great deal of time and money into acquiring retail space, which restricted their ability to develop and expand according to successes and losses. Appear Here has turned that framework on its head by allowing businesses to access locations without the restrictions of a long and expensive lease. If it doesn’t work out the first time round, they can take away new ideas to improve their business, without a great loss.”

Understanding your audience is key

“Before establishing a pop-up shop, every startup should ask themselves why they want to set up a retail space and what they hope to achieve. A pop-up shop is a great way to test the market so it is important to decide on the right place, right time and right audience. Consider how the area, atmosphere and people will enhance your brand. There are some fantastic ideas out there, but it’s important to choose the right space. We recently opened a ‘tweet shop’ for Marc Jacobs in Convent Garden where customers could exchange the hashtag #mjdaisychain for a mini fragrance or an image related to Marc Jacobs for a key ring or free manicure at the in-store nail bar.  We also launched ‘Ciao Chow’, a bakery for dogs in Soho. Both businesses had an unusual idea, a distinct audience and a carefully selected space, which made the events a great success. We are passionate about working with businesses in order to find the right space and promote their ideas.”

Just the beginning

“Finding a pop-up space is often just the beginning of an exciting journey for many of the businesses we support. While we will continue to help UK startups make that first step, we also have plans to make Appear Here a global network. Today we help UK entrepreneurs make their ideas happen, but soon we will be able to help them set up anywhere in the world.”

3 tips to success

  1. Do your research. Before you sign a lease consider your location, audience and atmosphere. Does your pop-up fit in?
  2. Learn from your experiences. If it doesn’t go as planned the first time around, take positives from what you have learned. How can you improve?.
  3. Plan for success. It may just be the beginning, but it’s important to think ahead. Consider your online strategy – what social channels will you launch with? What will your website look like? What domain should you register? What will it say about your business?

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