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Small Business Success: PopUpsters Empowers Local Marketing “PopUp” Events


One of the most interesting trends in the restaurant world during the past few years has been the rise of the “pop-up” restaurant and the mobile kitchen. Cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and beyond have witnessed the growing popularity of food trucks, pop-up restaurants (short-term restaurants hosted in a shared kitchen), and supper clubs (pop-up restaurants hosted in a private home). These mobile, temporary, here today-gone tomorrow business models are an example of “pop-up” businesses.

But pop-ups are not just for restaurants – by using a pop-up business model, small business owners in a variety of industries can save money on real estate and the other fixed costs of running a typical brick-and-mortar business. Pop-up businesses also enable small business owners to test new concepts, bring products to local markets, try a wider variety of products, and connect with customers in a more personal and efficient way. All of these characteristics make pop-up businesses an ideal fit for local marketing.

Aaron Lander is the founder and CEO of PopUpsters, a company based in the San Francisco Bay area that helps other small businesses find places to start, grow, and expand their business by hosting “PopUp” events where various small businesses can sell their products.

In an era when small business owners are trying to get the most out of their local marketing efforts, perhaps PopUp events like the ones hosted by PopUpsters could be the wave of the future. PopUps help small business owners test new product ideas, get feedback from customers, and build powerful personal relationships.

We talked with Aaron about how his company works to expand the success of the pop-up business model, and why other small businesses should consider using pop-ups as part of their local marketing.

How does your company work? How do you find places to host the PopUp events – do you have relationships with public event spaces, corporations, associations, private groups?

PopUpsters works in a couple of different ways. First and foremost we are a network for our vendors – we want to strengthen local communities and economies by fostering small business within our neighborhoods. To do that, we team up with event hosts and spaces that would like to host our businesses. Keep in mind that our businesses vary from food, beverage and retail to art, music and other entertainment and activities. Our event hosts include coworking spaces, startups (which can also be our “vendors”), nonprofits, corporations, networking groups and commercial real estate developers.

What does a PopUp event look like? Is it the kind of thing where a company wants to host an interesting event for employees, and you can deliver a “PopUp” food fair or festival onsite at their location?

No matter the type of event someone is looking to host (or wants suggestions on) we can find the best local vendors. For instance, Google used us to host a Taste of San Francisco event for their City Experts program (they want more users) – we found, coordinated and handled all the logistics for the event and the 16 vendors that participated. For Etsy, we are doing a 200-vendor holiday party. For Williams-Sonoma we bring in vendors to do demonstrations. We PopUp in the corner in bars. All of our event hosts are people that have reached out to us or that we got connected to somehow.

What inspired you to start PopUpsters? 

PopUpsters was born out of my love for connecting people to opportunities to do what they are good at. I’ve worked in a variety of industries since and during undergrad and I have met some people doing some amazing work as “side projects” who are actually employed doing something they don’t like at their “day job” just so they can pay the bills. I wanted to help all those people make a living doing what they love by utilizing unused, vacant, or open spaces. Now as I learn more about other, similar types of sharing economy “pop-up” concepts, I’m definitely seeing a lot of crossover. A PopUp is whatever you want it to be, but it’s always a great way for someone who has a hobby, passion, or secret recipe to test it out, gain some exposure, and cut down their upfront financial costs of starting a brick-and-mortar business, if they choose to go that route.

What do you think the success of PopUps says about the way we live, work and shop now? For example, do you think this is a sign that as people “live” more and more online via their mobile devices and social media networks, that having a single, permanent brick-and-mortar location is LESS important for small businesses than it used to be?

This is an interesting question. I do think PopUps are changing the way small business works but I don’t think it’s changing the way consumers use their purchasing power. PopUps are a great way for new and existing businesses to test products and gain experience and exposure while cutting down the upfront capital cost of starting a brick-and-mortar location. To that effect, I definitely think PopUps are changing the way small business works and are giving people the option to support more local vendors, if they choose. However, one of our biggest challenges at PopUpsters, even in a city like San Francisco, is that it can be hard to get people through the door without proper marketing. Big box retailers can afford the marketing to get people in their stores. Small businesses can’t, so it takes a lot of partnerships to help our businesses succeed.

With that said, I see PopUps as a tool for businesses to use either at the start of a new business, or at any point in the life of the business when the business owner wants to try something new. Although more and more people will see PopUps as a way to earn money on the side or as a permanent marketing and sales tool (i.e., food carts and food trucks), I think more established business owners will start to use PopUps as a way to get to the next step in their business’s life – whether that means branching out with a food truck, offering new products from brick-and-mortar retail locations, or combining PopUps with online sales. Whatever the entrepreneur wants to do, PopUps are great way to do it affordably and effectively – you can take you idea directly to your audience and see what works.

Do you think the “local marketing” of the future might be more “nomadic” – where your definition of “local” becomes more about who chooses to interact with your business online, and then you can “bring your business to them?”

I see PopUps as a great additional sales channel for your business. You might use PopUps as a way to connect in-person with your online community, or you might use PopUps as a way to boost traffic to your online community. Whatever the case, no matter what community, PopUps are providing meaningful interactions between small businesses and potential and existing customers. For the smaller businesses, the personal interaction you develop with a PopUp can create customer loyalty without the steep advertising budgets the big retailers have.

What type of local marketing have you done this year? And what has brought the best results?

We’ve done PopUp marketing with samples, flyers, social media at fairs, festivals, bars, coworking spaces, conferences and corporations. We’ve also created partnerships with other companies to get new customers. It’s worked extremely well and has increased our customers and revenue. And we have done targeted Facebook local awareness ads, and we have had people come to our PopUps just because of that.

We have seen a huge growth over the last few months due to our partnerships. Before our partnerships and PopUps, we had around 100 customers. Now, due to one partnership in particular, we increased our recurring customers to over 500 and our revenue from a few thousand a month to over $20K/month in just a couple of weeks. Our website traffic has increased over 400% and we are getting a ton of inbound sales.

Is local marketing becoming more important to your business? If so, why? What do you see as some of the overall trends driving this?

Yes, local marketing is the most important thing for our business. With PopUps, you are able to tell your story and why you are doing what you do while you make a meaningful, intimate connection with potential buyers. I’m seeing more and more people who want to have that unique shopping experience and who want to support local businesses, so it only makes sense to keep doing this while continuing to utilize our other sales channels.

Follow Aaron Lander on Twitter at @aaronnizzie. Follow PopUpsters on Twitter or Facebook at @PopUpsters.



Kabbage Team

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