Cultivating Community & Profits Through Pop-Up Retail Strategies

Oakland-based Popuphood fosters local entrepreneurship by supporting pop-up retail concepts in vacant buildings and community spaces.

Themes: Act Local First, Share Ownership

A recent BALLE webinar featured Sarah Filley, co-founder of popuphood, an Oakland, California-based consultancy that innovates creative ways to maximize the impact of popup businesses. The webinar was presented in partnership with the Center for a New American Dream, to celebrate the release of their Guide to Going Local, which was developed with BALLE, and which features popuphood as a creative example for how to foster local entrepreneurship.

Sarah kicked off the webinar by recounting her journey as a 20-year denizen of Oakland who has spent much of her time working as an artist and participating in the cultural, and entrepreneurial renaissance of Oakland. Witnessing both the promise of that renaissance, and its apparent fragility, led her to seek ways to enhance Oakland’s economic stability and support the lasting health of local entrepreneurship.

Oakland has not directly benefited from the tech boom of the last several decades that has enriched much of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Silicon Valley, and it has struggled economically as a consequence. The city has retained its affordability, however, a rare commodity in the otherwise pricey Bay Area. This affordability has translated into low-cost housing that has made Oakland a home to more artists than anywhere in the country after Brooklyn, New York. Unfortunately, the struggling local economy has also meant extremely high rates of vacancy in commercial real estate.

In response, Sarah and her co-founder Alfonso Dominguez, started popuphood, a for-profit small business incubator that creates pop-up retail clusters to develop entrepreneurs, activate unused spaces, and stabilize the local economy by revitalizing neighborhoods block-by-block.

Popuphood’s primary strategy is to engage building-owners who have vacant space and are willing to make attractive deals for entrepreneurs who want to test out their retail concepts. After a pop-up period ranging from one day to six months or more, some of those retailers will close up shop and go home to refine their concepts. Some, however, will sign long-term leases on their spaces in order to continue and grow their operations. This creates a solid business for the proprietor, a new tenant for the building, and a strong economic anchor for the community. Popuphood has negotiated triple-wins like these in several communities with great lasting success.

One crucial element for making this kind of popup model successful is creative partnerships. Sarah emphasized that popuphood does a great deal of outreach to the communities that they are working in to solicit ideas, suggestions, and input from as many different community members as possible.  That input is then incorporated into the design of the popup’s location and its business participants, creating a synergy between the popup and its neighborhood.

Another essential practice is the development of strategic partnerships. Popuphood often works with other values-aligned non-profits, businesses, and city agencies to support their economic development efforts. Sarah emphasized the importance of finding allies and partners in all realms who share the passion and vision for these kinds of projects, and suggests not wasting time trying to convert the skeptics.

These strategies, along with selecting popups that compliment the local economy and having a marketing strategy that shares great neighborhood and business stories, have helped make popuphood’s approach tremendously successful.

At the end of the webinar, Sarah responded to questions and offered takeaways for anyone interested in pursuing popups in their communities. Here are some of the gems:

  1. Find popup candidates from aspiring local entrepreneurs who have a great concept, a great attitude, a great online presence, and a willingness to take some risk;
  2. Sell landlords on the tangible and intangible returns to hosting a popup in their vacant spaces. It helps create local economic stability, boosts rental opportunities, and creates much more energy than empty storefronts;
  3. Popups can also be great ways to activate public spaces like city squares, parks, and plazas;
  4. Every community has something that can be incubated and developed through this strategy, whether it is agricultural products in a rural community, social services in a city’s downtown, or something else that is unique to your place;
  5. Technical assistance for these aspiring entrepreneurs, such as business plan assistance or connections to financial advisors, significantly improves the chances of long-term success;
  6. Think small! Large spaces can be difficult to fill in a vibrant, thriving way, but small spaces are manageable for new businesses to inhabit in a successful way.

Missed it?  Sarah’s one-hour webinar was chock full inspiring and practical information about how to bring popup retail incubation to your community.  Download a copy today, and check out other webinars featuring leading Localist luminaries from across North America.

Now, get out there and pop it up!