The highs and lows of launching a pop-up shop
As a retailer focused on great in-store experiences around education and discovery, Seekology has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic with its first shop in Richmond being forced to close less than four months after its launch date.
The retailer then had to make a quick pivot to selling online at www.seekology.co.
Here our new columnist Seekology founder Rebecca Saunders shares the timeline of highs and lows of opening her new pop-up shop in London’s Covent Garden to coincide with British Beauty Week. Saunders is passionate about supporting smaller brands into retail and has now worked with 100 independent businesses in the categories of organic skincare, soy wax candles, eco-friendly yoga mats and more.
28 July 2021 – Choosing a site
I visit Covent Garden to view a potential pop-up shop location, which I’m looking at renting via Appear Here. It’s huge – about 700 square feet of selling space with a similar space for events – and a beautiful white box that I could fill with wonderful independent brands.
3 August 2021 – Getting started on the plan
I’m working behind the scenes to gauge brand interest and find partners for the store before I commit to the space. For a small business like Seekology, taking a shop in central London – even for two weeks – is a significant investment. I have fantastic conversations with henna world record holder Pavan from Pavan Henna and with our ambassador Harriet MacMasters-Green, who is keen to run some yoga classes in the store. Things are looking positive; I’m keen to go ahead.
5 August 2021 – Another opportunity appears
I speak to the organisers of the official British Beauty Week event – I never thought an 18-month-old business like Seekology could play on this stage, but it sounds like the most amazing opportunity. I’m in a quandary: should I do this instead of or as well as my Covent Garden idea – can I pull off both? Can I sort the team, the brands, the VM/fixtures and enough headspace for myself to run it all?
Despite the internal doubts that keep every entrepreneur awake at night, I know I’m going to say yes to everything and figure out the execution as I go along; a far cry from my more conservative strategic project management roles back in my Argos, John Lewis and Tiffany days.
11 August 2021 – Committing to the activities
I sign the lease and hold my breath – I have to pay upfront, so it’s a big chunk of money going out of the Seekology bank account. Then on to the really fun part: deciding what the store is going to look like, and agreeing which brands will join us.
I handpick every brand that we work with at Seekology and curate a different assortment for each store, pop-up or concession based on its theme and location. This shop is all about British brands to coincide with British Beauty Week, so I’m seeking to showcase the very best.
I share the details of the opportunities with the 80 brands on our database. Seekology uses an innovative business model – pioneered by B8ta in the US – whereby each brand contributes to the running costs of the store in exchange for flexibility, speed and the opportunity to be part of our growing brand community.
It’s also exciting to be able to give this opportunity to some of the new brands that have approached me over the last year (Seekology has a long waiting list), from eco-friendly, beautifully designed yoga mats by Palms in the Wild to luxury natural skincare from ANI Skincare, handmade in the Cotswolds.
I get a fantastic response and it takes me less than a week to get the brands signed up: I’m so excited to see their enthusiasm for our first space in Covent Garden and hope this bodes really well for a successful pop up shop!
18 August 2021 – Planning events to create great IRL experiences
Seekology is all about having great in-person experiences, and so I’m curating a series of events in the shop, catering for different audiences. From a launch party to a celebration of Black-owned British beauty brands, I want to have a jubilant feel to our IRL return to central London.
I’ve also secured some incredible industry speakers such as Bill Grimsey, Natalie Berg & Martin Newman, who will be speaking on the Future of Retail, consumer VCs/accelerators Redrice Ventures, Founders Factory and The Red Tree discussing funding for consumers brands and beauty experts such as Wizz Selvey, Janet Milner-Walker and Francoise Therin from NPD talking about trends in beauty and wellbeing. I love curating these events and planning what to ask our panellists!
23 August 2021 – Designing the store
I am lucky enough to have a great team member via the Kickstart scheme who wants to be a graphic designer, and she’s already worked on some inspirational videos, leaflets, posters, website content and more. In a more ambitious move, she’s helping me design the pop-up store and space at British Beauty Week as well as all the posters, leaflets and online creatives required. It’s been a great programme for Seekology (and hopefully for her, too).
30 August 2021 – A curveball on the home strait
Planning is my forte, and I have spreadsheets galore to ensure we don’t miss anything critical at the time the store opens. We’ll only be in the pop-up for 13 days, so I can’t afford to drop any balls.
Just as I think I am on top of everything, I hear that there’s been a significant leak in the shop, which might render it unusable. My first reaction is panic, but then my planning instincts kick in and I work through all the things I’d need to change – press releases, social media, event links – if we have to move to another location.
A couple of days later the landlord confirms that they can sort out the issues. We’re back on! With a sigh of relief, I can return to sorting out everything from a man with a van to our branded paper carrier bags – as an early stage founder, the buck still stops with me for a lot of the decision making.
2 September 2021 – The finishing touches
Seekology’s British Beauty pop-up will be at 6 Slingsby Place until 19 September.
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