Can The Pop-Up Keep It Up?

Hannah Blacklock brings her six-month series on the pop-ups of East London to an affirmative conclusion.

For most of us, a pop-up is a fleeting fancy – something that enters our lives briefly, often unexpectedly and without much consequence.

Once it disappears form our sights, it’s not long before another one ‘pops-up’ in its place.

Aside from particular examples, in general terms the pop-up domain has taken off in a big way in recent years – but will it last?

Every pop-up that I have encountered has a different story behind its existence. For some it’s about testing the market – a fairly easy way to see the potential response to a business venture, without the big risk factor.

For many others, it’s about creating an experience for the customer, to help build awareness of a brand and share its story.

In the case of Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton, the arty duo behind pop-up performing art café Hunt & Darton, it was about trying something new.

‘We’re both actresses,’ Holly told me. ‘We were just so bored with our jobs, with our lives, that we had to get out and try something different. Our little traveling café lets us move the around the country, and interact with new people every day. Not just meet people, but actually interact with them – that’s why we do it.’

In a world so wired and technology-focused, a pop-up is a welcome break. (If we can tear ourselves away from our phones long enough to appreciate it.)

Its ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ uncertainty appeals to human nature – no one wants to feel like they’re missing out, and with almost 95 per cent of all purchases still completed offline, we clearly crave personal interaction much more than we may realise.

Companies like Appear Here and We Are Pop Up serve to source, list and fill spaces on a short-term basis. They put pop-up entrepreneurs in touch with landlords and owners. With prices starting from as little as £2 a day, it’s a quick, easy and cheap alternative to committing to buy or rent for longer periods.

With new-style middlemen such as these, and purpose built spaces like BoxPark and PUMP, the pop-up food market, dotted all around London now, the pop-up domain is fully accessible to both business and consumer.

There is no shortage of brainy, creative, innovative people (not around these parts, anyway) who will look to, and utilise, the pop-up format when trialing their latest venture.


But the concept is not limited to young people, independents and start-ups; big brands are jumping at the chance to get involved, too. For them it’s a potentially lucrative method of getting back in touch with their customers – that’s why more big brands are getting involved.

Nike, Marc Jacobs and Vodafone have all staged pop-up events. Jamie Oliver famously hosted a pop-up at Old Street tube station for ‘Drinks Tube’, his YouTube channel. Nothing was on sale, but instead, passers by were encouraged to request drinks that Jamie would then make for his ‘Drinks Tube’ channel.

Access was also opened up to social media users: they could interact, share ideas and request cocktails using #CocktailRequest.

This extension of the classic format, to include social media and reach a much greater audience, is something that we are likely to see much more of in the future.

Pop-up is a concept which has thrived up until now and has the potential to keep doing so. It is not just a trend; pop-up is changing the way the retail market works.

To me, the pop-up phenomenon comes across as a game changer, for both brand and customer alike. It has crossed into previously uncharted territory. I believe that, as a business model, it will continue to expand, grow and cement its place in the retail world.