Pop-up businesses on the rise

By Kateryna Horina

On a Friday afternoon inside Toronto’s Left Field Brewery, it smells of freshly-brewed beer. What is unusual today is the smell of hotdogs. They don’t always serve food at Left Field, but today there are two women standing at a table with a sign that reads “Sausage Party!” As one of them is speaking with customers, the other prepares the orders. There is a menu on the table with some fully-loaded hotdogs on display. Everyone in the bar seems to be ordering one. They have to get them while they can, Sausage Party is only a pop-up. It’s going to be gone by the end of the day.

According to the industry publication Retail Insider, pop-up retail is a business model and promotional tool of opening short-term sales spaces that is now more common in Canada than ever. In an article published in 2017, David Ian Gray, retail consultant and the founder of Vancouver-based retail consulting firm DIG360, predicts that 2018 is going to be “the year of pop-up” in Canada. He states that while pop-up is not a new thing to Canadians with some stores like Aritzia doing seasonal warehouse pop-up sales, now more venues are giving spaces and opportunities for pop-up businesses.

A variety of doughnuts at Glory Hole Doughnuts in Toronto, Ontario on March 29, 2018. (Photo by: Kateryna Horina)

This is what Linda Farha, a founder and a chief connector of Pop-up Go, realized in 2015. At that time, she was running Zenergy Communications, a marketing communications agency, that helps people to bring their business ideas to the world. She started Pop-up Go, which works like a dating service dedicated to connecting short-term businesses and spaces. Pop-up Go offers strategic planning, marketing and communications support. Farha says she started it because she felt like it would be needed.

Not just landlords, but also owners of existing stores, cafes and breweries are catching up to this idea. Mark Murphy, the co-founder and owner of Left Field Brewery, where pop-ups are happening a couple times a week, says they attract more customers. Along with his wife, Mandie Murphy, he started Left Field Brewery in 2013. But the problem with breweries is that they often don’t have kitchens, so they started doing pop-ups.

Heather Stainback, manager of Glory Hole Doughnuts, which has a pop-up at Left Field, says it’s a good thing to do for both businesses. “It’s a good idea for places like a brewery, that doesn’t have a kitchen and doesn’t have a licence to make food, to have restaurants come in to serve food, because it’s a win-win: the brewery gets a business, and food gets a business.”

Glory Hole Doughnuts has a permanent doughnut store and uses pop-ups to promote their products. Stainback says it’s their first pop-up at Left Field, but they have done several in other breweries and across the city. For her, the main advantage of pop-ups is the chance to test out something new.

But what if there is no store to bring people back to? Sausage Party, a Toronto based veggie hotdog company run by Emily de Beus and Jennie Evans, doesn’t have an actual store and specializes in pop-ups, events and catering. They are really into what is going on in the pop-up industry. De Beus says they started doing events at breweries last July and now they are well booked until October. They do a couple of pop-ups every week, and each is unique — they try to create a new hotdog flavour every time. “For us the difference [between pop-up and traditional retail strategy] is that we get to be somewhere different twice a week. For us it’s the most fun thing about our job, and for people who come here regularly it’s the chance to try new things from a different company every single week.”

Pop-ups are great because you can do a limited time flavour or special collaboration, or something that you would have wanted to test out and maybe not do every day.

De Beus says pop-ups are bringing people to the store because it’s a chance to try something new.

While it took Sausage Party about an hour to set up their pop-up in the brewery, it takes a lot more time to prepare the different pop-ups twice a week. They say the workload they have is never the issue and the biggest challenge the pop-ups are usually facing is the weather. “During the summer it’s the wind and in the winter it’s obviously the snow and the temperature,” De Beus says.

Back inside Left Field Brewery, Sausage Party has sold out after five hours. They start to tear down the merchandise, clean up the tables and pack up the empty food containers. People are still coming to the table to make orders, but there is no more food to sell. Sausage Party is not going to be at Left Field for a while, but there’s a couple of other vendors coming next week.


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