This time last year I was part of a group running a pop-up shop in sunny Penge, south London. I’ve put together my thoughts on involvement in the project, firstly as a reminder of the experience to myself and secondly, in case it might help anyone thinking of taking part in a similar venture.
Saturday 17th March, the Pengetout pop-up shop opened to literally crowds of shoppers in Penge, south London. A group of nine local artists, craftspeople and entrepreneurs had joined with Sally Williams from Retail Revival, supported by Bromley Council, to open this year-long venture. I was part of the team and had signed a six month licence to sell framed prints and cards in the shop for a small monthly rent, plus a day each week working on the shop floor. In return I had a designated section of wall space, and later table space, to sell my work in the shop.
|Opening day line-up at the official opening by the Mayor|
The starting line up of traders were:
Mary Gordon Smith, selling paintings, prints cards and pottery
Yolanta from 'Hatome Studio' selling prints, cards and cushions
Lois from 'Jewellery by Lois' selling handmade jewellery and scarves
Claire from 'Taylor and Abel' selling haberdashery and sewing classes
Tracey from 'All my Style', selling clothes, accessories and jewellery
Lucy from 'Retrolution', selling mid-century furniture
Carina, from 'Alice & Bert' selling a variety of handmade bags
Rachael from 'Fox and Willow', selling individually upholstered chairs and stools
Plus ‘shop’ items from Sally at 'Retail Revival'
|I was able to demonstrate how I worked in watercolour whilst working in the shop|
There were quite a lot of meetings in the first few weeks as the traders got to know each other and develop a format of how the shop was going to work in practice. Sally was at the helm, but it was soon obvious that each of the traders were going to have to put in a lot of work to make the shop a success. We had a huge amount of goodwill from the local community which was fantastic but we also need to build on that and let people from a wider area know about the shop. In addition, we were able to access a series of business related workshops held at the shop.
It had been a while since I had worked in a retail environment, and even longer since I had worked as part of a team, so working in the shop was a great challenge. As well as selling handmade products, some of the traders wanted to demonstrate their skills whilst in the shop and I decided I’d like to draw and paint each time I was there. I hoped that by seeing me at work it would be a talking point for customers and practically it would give me a chance to work on current projects.
|Some of the traders at the Business Design Centre|
Visiting a trade show as a ‘Buyer’
In the middle of May, the traders from the shop visited the “Pulse’ trade show at Olympia with Sally. I’d visited these events before just to get an idea of trends in the stationery and gift field but visiting as a buyer was a new experience. Each of the traders in the shop had a strict list of products that they could sell within their licence so each of us focussed on different products.
I soon realised that in order to make the project financially viable for myself, I’d need to extend my own product range and/or buy in stock from other suppliers. I knew there were quite a lot of artists locally producing excellent prints and cards so started to place some orders. I’d also seen lovely products at ‘Pulse’ which I thought would sell in the shop. My buying strategy was to buy things with local interest or products that were not available in other shops in Penge. Here’s a list of people I bought from and their relevant links, all of whom I’d recommend if you are looking for great paper-based products!
My licence ended on 22nd September and I decided to leave the shop at this point. It had been a really positive experience and I’d learnt lots. Working within a team, learning what our customers were looking for and how much they were willing to spend, was valuable information.
3 important areas if you are planning to be involved in a pop-up shop:
In general, I think we all got on pretty well considering most of us didn’t know each other before the start of the project. Early on we had lots of meetings and although we didn't all agree, views and suggestions were openly given and discussed. As time went on, it got increasingly difficult to find times that were convenient for everyone and we let that side of things slip. We did have a ‘What's App’ group to help with customer inquiries and staffing, but I feel it would have been useful to sit round the table at least once a week and catch up with new products and services we were offering and reflect on any events from the previous week. The limited amount of conflict that occurred centred around two areas. Firstly, the crossover of products that each of us could sell and secondly working out a fair rota.
2. Publicity and marketing
Sally set up a website for the shop along with a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Individually we all used our own social media to let our customers know that we were trading in a bricks and mortar shop on the high street. We also were featured in the local SE20 magazine. However, there always seemed to be people discovering the shop for the first time so we obviously didn’t reach all of our target audience.
3. Have a good range of products
Having been used to displaying work in gallery situations where a selection of work can hang for a month or more, it soon became obvious that I’d need to ring the changes with the prints that I had in the shop. Customers who came in each week would be looking for ranges to be refreshed so I needed to develop and expand the range of pictures and prints that I was selling. As the involvement with the shop had happened so quickly, I hadn’t any plans for new work so this is an area where I struggled. I had hoped to develop products too, outside the paper area, maybe using fabric or ceramics but didn't manage to progress quickly enough in this area. Retail is quite fast moving and if I had the chance to be involved in something like this again, it would be an area I would focus on. Also enjoyed demonstrating watercolour in the shop and could have developed this into offering workshops.
|Decorating carrier bags to spread the word about the shop|
What I realised…
- I enjoyed being part of the team
- I don’t want to be a shop keeper but would like to sell in bricks and mortar retail shops
- Pricing for retail is different to pricing for galleries
- There is a limit to the amount people spend in shop as opposed to gallery
- People like buying cards
- I need to have a range of collections
And one more thing...
It's so difficult for small retail businesses to make their numbers add up and survive on the high street. Do support them whenever you get the chance!