Pop Up Design On A Budget

pop up store design

My first business was a pop up café and event space; we served organic food and held band performances, theatre shows and exhibitions. We were there eight months before moving onto running events and kitchens in a chain of bars. I was still a student when it began and while I had a lot to learn about business, I was a world class expert (like most students) at getting things done on the cheap.

If you can’t spend too much you should have a plan (and also plan on not sticking to it) but the key things are agility, adaptability, a lot of imagination and some craftiness.

These are the parts of it that, even with hindsight and a lot more experience, I’d still recommend:

Find a place that will work for your business

Bear in mind that if a landlord can sign a stable, long-term lease then a property will likely never get near the pop up market. So by nature, most pop up premises will have something wrong with them. Awkward location, awkward neighbours, the awkward matter of the building being in total dilapidation. It could be any number of things but the fact of the matter is that you’re paying bottom dollar for a short-term lease, so it won’t be perfect. Accept this and make the best decision for your needs, time and money. After this, it’s your job to think around the problems and turn them to your advantage!

For rock bottom prices, your ideal location is somewhere that’s been empty for a while and needs a bit of work. These two things are negotiating points. For really short-term projects you can use these things to negotiate a totally free use of the space. Spend a few days tidying the place up and a landlord will often let you use it for a couple of weeks free of charge.

For longer-term stuff, money will need to exchange hands at some point but how much, and at what point, is open for negotiation. Be prepared to walk away, as mentioned before, this building you’ve found isn’t going to be ideal; so you shouldn’t want it that bad. If you’ve managed to find a scruffy place that’s been empty a while the landlord really has two choices, work with you or continue sitting on an empty building.

Negotiate three key things:

  • Free rent while you make the place fit for purpose. In the case of my café I negotiated up to three months free or until I started trading.
  • A short lease. I negotiated a six month rolling contract with the only deposit being the last month’s rent paid upfront. This meant that my only contracted risk was that three months of rent.
  • Cheap ongoing rent. This is the toughest point to negotiate. Remember the landlord needs to make money here, that’s why they’re doing this, so don’t expect the world. At the same time, you’ve got to bear in mind that they’re not doing that right now (if you’ve found an empty building, which you should). Do what you can, ideally the asking price should be in your budget anyway, but tell the owner the exact opposite and see where you get to.

You’ve got the space

It’s free or it’s cheap. It’s also a total wreck. On top being a total wreck it’s a property that belongs to someone else. Do not, under any circumstances, spend your life-savings adding value to something you’ve only signed a six-month lease for. At this point, prepare to get dirty, frustrated and exhausted about how long this all takes. If you’re doing this yourself and on your own this will be cheap, but slow.

Remember, you’re not renovating this place, you’re tidying it up. Don’t go overboard, it’s rough edges will have to become features and add to its charm.

The basics of your pop up store design shopping list is:

  • 1 x sturdy brush
  • 1 x mop and bucket
  • (lots) x mop heads
  • 1 x set of paint brushes
  • (lots) x white paint

You’ll may need some more stuff, depending on the place, but it shouldn’t be much more.

It’s clean, painted and empty

Now you’ve got to fill it with your products.

The main principle is this – Freecycle is your friend. Plus, the Friday Ads, Gumtree and any others. For example, as I write this, in the free to collector section of Friday Ad there’s a John Lewis leather arm chair, a collapsible table, a sofa, a shelving unit, and lots more. Fittings and furnishings don’t have to cost you a penny. I furnished an entire café for free. It will look quirky and eclectic in a way you could never have designed. Even if a piece of furniture offends good taste to a point the senses just can’t tolerate, just change it, sand it paint it, re-cover it. Figure out the DIY skills as you go. I used this same method for white goods, every fridge and freezer in my storage room was free. Pickup up, cleaned up, no cost.

Decorations. Again, this can be totally free. Use free-ads and social media to offer free exhibition space to local artists, you’ll have a free and ever-changing array of interesting art on your walls all the time.

Pop Up store Design: what to actually invest in

The answer is simple and should be obvious but when working with other people’s property the lines can become blurred. The only things you should invest in are things that you are going to own.

I invested in two big things, the biggest one is where the craftiness came in: I bought a small burger van. The property described above had neither a kitchen nor licensing to sell hot food and drinks. What it did have was enormous doors for vehicle access. So, my fully licenced kitchen was my burger van, which I parked inside the café space. This cost around £1700, it was run down and the same principles applied: renovate it, only with more care and attention, as this investment belonged to me.

My other investment was to trade in my hatchback for a battered old Volvo estate. An endlessly useful vehicle when it came to moving furniture and burger vans.

And that’s really it for Pop Up store design on a budget.

Pop Up store design is never going to be simple and the 4 steps covered above are a vast simplification of a mighty fun and enormously laborious task. Every Pop Up store design is unique and full of infinite nuances, so this sort of list can’t ever be fully comprehensive.

But excluding those things, if you broadly follow the above, you’ll have yourself a shop for very cheap. Your job is to be ruthless with money, spend nothing or very little, do the work yourself and enjoy the fruits of your labour of your Pop Up store design.