Pop-up stars... turning temporary business into long term success
From furniture stores to restaurants to outdoor dining experiences, pop-up outlets are on the rise. Here we meet the entrepreneurs who are making the 'short-term' business a long-term success
Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30
For the past few years the term 'pop up' has been, well, popping up more and more: restaurants in front rooms, shops in abandoned buildings, exhibitions in public spaces - grassroots events organised with verve, creativity and a whiff of urgency and risk. The recession, with its surplus of empty shops, has played a key role in facilitating the trend.
Dublin, in particular, is reclaiming that DIY spirit, hacking the city's forgotten and underused spaces. But, there are those quick to dismiss the phenomenon due to the pop-up's temporary nature. How can a short-term business be successful? But pop-up entrepreneurs are proving that a short-term buzz can be a long-term profit-making strategy for many businesses. Some are so successful they have become permanent fixtures. And, for corporates who are now jumping on the pop-up wagon, it can be an inexpensive branding exercise and effective way of conducting market research compared to an advertising campaign. Here we meet pop-up entrepreneurs that are proof the temporary business is here to stay.
Cork pop-up CA Design features stylish furniture
Working overseas for 10 years with a variety of start-ups gave Carol-Anne Leyden (38) the confidence she needed to launch her own furniture business in the height of the recession.
When Carol-Anne Leyden established CA Design in 2012, it was met with mixed reactions; people thought she was 'mad' starting a furniture business in a recession but her business philosophy of hard work, low overheads and 'going with your gut' paid off.
What started as an online shop has developed into six pop-ups and a busy showroom in Ringsend, showcasing a range of stylish mid-century-inspired design classics priced from €100-€2,500.
Reluctant to sink money into a shop lease when she was still in the throes of set-up, she opted to bring potential customers to a makeshift 'showroom' in her house.
"I soon realised the tactile nature of the business and that we needed a space to showcase the collection. A pop-up shop seemed like the smartest way to test the market without committing to a permanent lease," she says. A stint at the Antica Stone Gallery in Walkinstown was enough to convince her to open a showroom in Ringsend and several other pop-ups including their latest one in Cork, home to their second biggest client base. The most challenging aspect is logistics, which Carol-Anne admits can be frustrating.
"This week we sent some lounge chairs down to Cork only to ship them back straight away due to online orders."
The power of social media has been paramount to their success; each time a new product is posted on Instagram there is a surge in online orders.
"You shouldn't underestimate location either," notes Carol-Anne, "you can have an amazing space but if it's not within reach of your target market, forget it."
Fortunately, their Cork pop-up is located in the Old Thompson Bakery on MacCurtain street, a historical building with an industrial air which lends itself perfectly to their stylish pieces, her favourite being the Charles Eames lounge chair.
"I'm a little obsessed with it, probably because I'm six months pregnant and it's so comfortable. It catches your pressure points in exactly the right places, ingenious."
CA Design Pop-Up Cork will run until the second week of January 2016. cadesign.ie
Having spent years visualising her company, 35-year-old business graduate Niamh Banks launched online concept retail store Seven Wood in January 2015, using pop-up initiatives to build and test the brand and its products.
A parquet table made from reclaimed wood salvaged from Queen's University Belfast is Seven Wood's newest furniture addition, representing what owner Niamh Banks believes is the company's ethos - a well crafted, functional and aesthetically beautiful piece that sits alongside the collection of homeware and lifestyle products she sells from her pop-up shop in Ranelagh.
Sligo-born Niamh is a pop-up veteran having staged short-term shops in her job with the sales and marketing department of Avoca and subsequently launching four successful pop-ups that included Mayfield and The Gift Merchant. According to Niamh, face-to-face customer interaction is integral to her business.
"Seven Wood is an online business but part of my strategy has always been pop-ups since they allow you to test your product and get some 'real' reactions." Setting up the space is one of her favourite tasks. Seven Wood's initial address was the Fumbally Exchange - a not-for-profit organisation that provides shared spaces for creatives to work. "I love the idea of having a blank canvas and creating a space where the virtual and physical worlds collide. The overall task is the same but the space is always different which makes it interesting." In the same breath, the cycle of setting up, closing down and moving on requires a lot of endurance both physically and mentally, says Niamh. "You are putting the same effort into opening a temporary shop as you would a permanent one."
So, why not a permanent outlet?
"My primary focus is the online business but the pop-ups have been so successful I am considering a permanent space, I just haven't found the right location yet." The range of products is steadily growing to include kitchenware (from €10-€100), apothecary (€5-€35) and vintage furniture designed for Seven Wood, so a permanent address may be essential. But for now Seven Wood is currently residing in Ranelagh until January 2016 when the building will become a boutique hotel. Next stop? "That's the beauty of it, I don't know. But it's exciting."
Dublin Pop Up
Cúán Green and Harry Colley
What started as a string of private events while in catering college has grown into a successful culinary enterprise for Dublin Pop Up co-owners Cúán Green and Harry Colley, much to their surprise.
A purpose-built rat cage for humans is just one of the more unusual locations where young chefs Cúán Green (24) and Harry Colley (26), the brains behind guerilla culinary events company Dublin Pop Up, have staged their dining experiences.
"That was whacky," laughs Harry, "but it was the Fringe Festival." Alternatively, they've also enjoyed stunning locations such as galleries, stables and open-air public spaces. "Galleries always add atmosphere; there's the element of tranquillity to these introspective rooms until everyone has a few drinks and it gets a bit boisterous." But they both agree their favourite gig was Meeting House Square, Dublin - the outdoor location for the hugely successful 'Secret Garden' event in 2014 (pictured below), supported by Lidl. A pre-requisite for their pop-up events is always an interesting location and a menu under €50. But being 'mobile' also comes with its challenges: finding affordable spaces that work, lugging equipment around, no running water or electrical outlets. "We've learnt a lot in the two years we've been doing it. We now have a fully equipped pop-up kitchen," says Cúán, "which means we can work from anywhere."
Both hail from foodie families; Cúán's grandmother was a chef in the Gresham Hotel and proof of his culinary start is on the wall in his parents' house: a photo of him in a chef's hat aged four. Harry's parents are both talented cooks and while he spent his youth envious of his friends' burgers and chips, he is now grateful to his parents for their enthusiasm of good food. "The best thing about pop-up is that every day is different," notes Harry. They may not know where the next job is coming from, but it's bound to be interesting.
Dublin Pop Up hosts its last public pop-up of 2015 on December 11 and 12. Tickets for the event can be bought at eventbrite.ie. See dublinpopup.com
Freelance chef and raw food guru Katie Sanderson (27) has captured the imagination of food-lovers with her passionate, quirky food projects - Living Dinners and Dilisk - which are staged in unconventional locations and inspired by her love of nature.
If you want to make Katie Sanderson happy serve her a bowl of frozen peas, with a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. "Peas would definitely make my death row meal," laughs Katie, who is gaining quite a foodie following with her projects Living Dinners and Dillisk, both pop-up events that have featured unconventional spaces and menus that riff on raw food and alternative cooking methods using food reflective of the surrounding area. "The most memorable Living Dinner was probably one we staged in a Wicklow Rainforest. The menu was vegan using ingredients found in the forest; it was amazing but probably one of the more stressful events we've had. It lashed rain and I thought people would run for the hills but they all brought their rain gear and got stuck in."
She has learnt a lot since she started four years ago. Initially her projects were one-night-only events until she realised the time, effort and lack of financial reward. Last year, together with her partner Jasper O'Conner (also a chef), she started Dillisk, a three-month pop-up in an abandoned boat shed in Connemara.
"I spent my childhood summers in the west of Ireland so it's always been close to my heart. We wanted to spend the summer there but needed to make money and this seemed like a good solution." At first, she thought nobody would turn up to their 'boat shed in the back of beyond' but it has sold out for two years running with another planned for 2016. This, she admits, is a 'heart' project that has happily paid its way. All of her projects are temporary.
"Maybe I'm a commitment-phobe but pop-ups appeal to me because they are short-term. They give you the freedom to explore; they make you ballsy because you can do what you like and it's only for a short space of time." Food has meant freedom to Katie from a young age growing up in Hong Kong when her mother would allow her to visit the market and devise her own menus. In the summer she would return to Connemara where she'd forage for food.
"The fact that you could pick blackberries on the side of a road that didn't have 25 million taxis on it was freedom to me." Foraging and finding new ingredients is key to her method. But, whatever the project, it must be original and offer an 'experience'. "I don't expect people to come away thinking it was the best food they've ever eaten but I want them to meet other people and enjoy beautiful ingredients connected to the area."