Potty about Pop-Ups

The world’s gone pop-up potty in the last few years – aka the (so-called) temporary bar. But to what extent are pop-ups a threat to permanent pubs? How easy is it for you to apply for a pop-up licence? What are the benefits? Is it worth you hosting a pop-up in a ‘dead’ space within your premises? Is this a trend that’s likely to pop off anytime soon? So many questions. DRAM has the answers.

Bars, opera, dining, cinema – you name it there’s a pop-up for it and with such an appetite for temporary bars, you might want to think about applying for a licence (pop-ups come under the occasional licence umbrella, incidentally) because it’s a great way to broaden your sales base and boost those profits and advertise your business at a festival, or any event really. And as a great marketing gateway it also puts you in front of new customers. A pop-up can also help anybody with a good idea bring it to market without the risk that accompanies a hefty investment on a premises.

Kyle Steel runs the successful Dockyard Social in Glasgow’s west end, a host venue to 12 pop-ups, making him rather an expert on the subject. We asked him for his potted history and what he considered to be the pros and cons of operating a pop-up. He said, “We started out with a pop-up called ‘Section 33’ in Glasgow almost four years to the day. Then we did a week-long takeover of the old Govanhill baths in Glasgow. Then we went on to do another 8 to 10 pop-ups.”

He continued, “Some of the pros are that you’re not in a fixed location so you can be a lot more fluid when it comes to trends by targeting different customers and demographics. The cons are it can be quite difficult to get a licence, although, having said that, licensing at Glasgow City Council is extremely supportive of innovative operators, and I get the sense that they want a level of culture and innovation in hospitality and tourist industry. As regards a permanent licence vs. the occasional licence, you need to be more diligent by knowing every part of the beast. You’re having to constantly learn new fire exits and brief team on new surroundings. For example, a bar and restaurant has a soft opening of two weeks whereas with a pop-up all you maybe have is 45 minutes.”

The Dockyard Social has since transitioned from purely pop-ups to its fixed location with the 12 pop-up spaces it offers today, a response to growing demand. “We had a lot of requests from lots different styles of business,” said Kyle. So what about opportunities for licensees? “I’d say that it’s good for licensees to dip their toes in and test the water. Limited numbers drive exclusivity if the offering is good. It’s great for exposure full stop.” said Kyle.

So, with permanent hosting spaces, it looks like pop-ups aren’t just a flash in the pan, plus this ‘pop-up paradox’ isn’t confined to Glasgow either.

Pop-Up Geeks is a successful pop-up business making waves in Edinburgh. Unlike Kyle Steel’s operation, obtaining a licence wasn’t a consideration for owner Rachael Carpenter. She said, “We’ve popped up in places that already have a licence, like when we did Blood and Wine, our Game of Thrones inspired pop-up for instance, we were popping up in other bars that already had a basement space. The pros to this was no need for a licence, with the cons being that we were restricted by the bar’s opening hours.”

But, as Rachael explained, their business model has also evolved. “We’re now a bit of a pop-up paradox in that we have just taken over the lease on a venue on East Market Street which was already licensed – so we’re changing the theme every three months,” she said.

And if you’re a licensee that is looking to host a pop-up, getting some young entrepreneurs that are passionate about their business popping up on your premises is a great way to re-vitalise your existing business and trade Said Rachael, “We were lucky enough to get a good following after our Game of Thrones pop-up, and this brought a lot trade to the bar as well.”

We also asked Meryl Gilbert from Glasgow’s SWG3 if pop-ups were here to stay and she said. “The term has been played with and overused plus it now doesn’t really fit what pop-ups have become. We now have more residencies in a permanent venue that give people the freedom to be experimental.”

So there really are loads of opportunities for you to host a pop-up or pop-up yourself as an extension of your business, and it seems that there’s room for all-comers at this pop-up party, especially if you are looking for a fresh challenge.

Other pop-ups include Auchentoshan, currently operating a whisky pop in Glasgow, and Sualdo’s next to Chinaskis in the city, and owner Fergus McVicar is also considering making it a permanent pop-up site with an ever-changing offering. And if you’re looking for some creative inspiration, over the pond in Chicago (and when America sneezes the UK usually always catches the cold), they seem to go to town on themed pop-ups, like one based on the American version of TV show, The Office, with themed drinks and an office Olympics for its customers.

Jason Caddy

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