Previously in our popup shop toolkit, we looked at how to budget plan for your popup project. In this chapter we look at securing a space for your popup. It’s not hard to get into an empty shop, especially if you lay good foundations. But start early as it can take a long time – and don’t get hung up on one premises, keep your options open and talk to as many people as possible.

Where to start finding a popup shop

It would be a good idea to initiate a conversation with your local council, Dorset Council and BCP, or talk to your local BID to see if they can recommend somewhere.

There are two people you need to work with to get access to a premises; the building’s owner or landlord, and the manager or letting agent.

Networking can be one way to explore the possibility of renting a premises, but the best way is to initiate with a professional email or phonecall.

You can also use search engines to find business networking groups in your area, your area’s branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, and your local Chamber of Commerce. Contact them, explain your plan and tell them about the benefits to local business. Because you’ve planned you know what size shop you want, where it should be, and for how long. So be clear in what you ask for.

If you can’t find networking meetings, contact your town centre manager, or economic development, business support or regeneration officers at your local council and ask for their advice – they should be able to point you in the direction of local business groups that are under your radar, or direct you to landlords and letting agents.

How to pitch your popup shop project idea

If you have the chance to make a presentation, keep it short, sharp and focused on the problem, and your business-like solution. Don’t talk about the project itself, but about the benefits to the group you’re making a presentation to.

You should also have a short introduction for when you talk to people one-to-one; you need to say in less than a minute what the problem is, how your project addresses it, and why that’s a benefit to other businesses. Don’t forget to talk to everyone, not just landlords and letting agents, as these meetings are full of useful, active people who can help your project come to life.

If you can’t get into business meetings, it’s time for another approach: find the shops you like. Don’t think that every shop that’s empty is to let; many empty shops are still let to a company that’s not trading or has gone into administration, so won’t be available. When you find ones that are, note down the name on the estate agent’s ‘To Let’ boards and visit their office.

Either give them your one-minute pitch, asking for an appointment later that week. Or just set up the meeting, and don’t mention that you want a temporary lease and no rent until you’ve met them face to face!

Again, be clear about the size of shop, the area it should be in and the duration of the project. And don’t forget you mention that projects like yours that have been a benefit to all concerned.

Understanding business rates

If you’re hoping to occupy a building that’s not domestic, you’ll need to pay non-domestic rates, often called business rates. These apply to shops, offices, pubs, warehouses and factories. But there are some exceptions, including:

  • Places of public religious worship
  • Most farmland and farm buildings
  • Public parks
  • Some types of property used by people with disabilities

Empty properties with a rateable value of less than £15,000 are exempt from business rates but this figure will change so check with your local council. See Dorset for you for more details if you are based in North and West Dorset, or BCP  if your pop up project is in Bournemouth, Christchurch or Poole.

Larger empty shops are exempt from business rates for a ‘void period’ of three months, after which landlords are eligible for full business rates. Once shops are in use, they are eligible for 100% business rates.

If you’re operating as a business, you will be entitled to Small Business Rate Relief if you occupy only one property and its rateable value is below a certain threshold. This relief is on a sliding scale and can be up to 50% of business rates.

Local authorities have discretion to grant rate relief of up to 100% for not-for-profit organisations such as charities, local clubs or societies, or up to 80% for social enterprises. Contact your local authority for more information.

You can find the rateable value of any property in England and Wales via the Valuation Office Agency here

Shop windows can be exempt from business rates

Some projects in empty shops never open their doors. They either wrap the windows in vinyl, create something that is viewed through the window, or hang an exhibition in such a way that it can be viewed without anyone entering the shop. This kind of work does not usually involve paying business rates. Check what your local authority will allow.

You may also be able to:

  • Do anything as long as the door is shut, and the public don’t enter
  • Use a certain depth within the shop rate-free, for example, up to two metres from the window
  • Display anything that doesn’t touch the floor; it must be suspended from the ceiling or hung on the walls
  • Only attach materials directly to the shop windows

Save the landlord from business rates

Brixton Village Pop up Shop project

Another plus point in persuading private landlords to allow you to rent their space is that it relieves them from having to pay business rates.

Originally called the Granville Arcade, this 1930s covered market in Brixton is home to around 100 very small retail units. Although recently listed as part of Brixton Market, the arcade was in poor condition, with most units looking dated, shopfittings of poor quality, and run down public spaces.

Spacemakers, a regeneration agency in London, was initially employed in 2009 by the owners of the arcade to manage 20 empty units. It’s aim was to bring a range of arts, creative industries, retail and catering users to these units in a three-month project. These were offered rent-free for the first three months, with occupiers taking responsibility for any necessary refurbishment, as well as paying rates and utilities.

The main goal was to bring additional footfall into Brixton Village and help establish new businesses alongside the existing traders, who are mostly serving ethnically distinct groups with food, fashion or household retail.

In addition, it relieved the landlord of the burden of business rates on empty properties and ensured part-refurbishment, decoration and maintenance of the units  in the short term. By the time the project was completed in 2010 the market was fully let for the first time since 1979. Read more about the project here.

Next we look at how you plan your space so it’s a real draw for your customers! Read about how to plan your space here