Welcome to the Arts Development Company’s guide to opening a pop up shop. While the focus is naturally on the arts, it’s useful for small businesses considering a pop up, too, and while we give examples that relate to Dorset it contains useful information for anyone working in England. The guide has been written by Dan Thompson, Empty Shops Network founder and author of Pop Up Business For Dummies.

In the last ten years, our towns have filled with pop ups. We’ve had pop up shops, galleries, studios, workshops, museums – and even, more recently, pop up vaccination clinics. Loosely defined, a pop up is a temporary occupation of a space, with a defined purpose and a start and end date (unlike, say, a market – which comes back every week!).

A pop up can use an empty shop, or a space that’s not usually used for the purpose, like a heritage building. It can occupy an unused space in an existing shop, or be in an existing space at an unusual time – in a nightclub in daytime, for example. The point is – a pop up is a different use of the space, and that creates excitement.

Pop ups are also relatively cheap, in terms of staff hours and overhead costs, but there are still some things you’ll need to pay for. And they’re also relatively low risk, compared to taking on a premises full time, but there are still some risks to manage.

While a pop up is a great way to reach new audiences or customers, or to test a new idea, pop ups also serve a bigger purpose. Over the last thirty years, our town and city centres, which once had enough space for selling, manufacture and making, civic uses, and for our social lives, have become dominated by big retail chains. That’s created a monoculture, pushing up rents and driving speculative investment, crowding out all the things that made our town centres interesting. But a monoculture is not sustainable, and as it’s started to fail, pop ups have grown like weeds in the gaps. Testing new ideas for the old buildings in our town centres, or bringing back things that had been crowded out, pop ups are helping to rewild the High Street.

Some Pop Up Ideas

Some of the things people have used pop ups for:

  • Artists’ group exhibition
  • Temporary museum
  • Archaeological dig research centre
  • Seasonal shops
  • Co-working space
  • Artist studios
  • Indoor play centre
  • Maker space and fab lab


Some Further Reading

This guide is written by Dan Thompson, author of Pop Up Business For Dummies – and that book goes into far more detail about opening a pop up. You can buy a copy here, or it’s available from your local library.

EE’s Britain’s Pop-Up Retail Economy Report estimates that the UK‘s pop-up industry is worth £2.3 billion. 44% of customers say they have visited a pop up shop in the last 12 months, and the industry employs 26,200 people.

Pop Up People looked at the kind of people who were using pop ups, and the skills they might need. It includes case studies from around the UK.


(c) Dan Thompson www.danthompson.co.uk