How to Pop Up Successfully

(also published on Linkedin. Photo by Calgary, AB.)

On October 23rd, 2021 The Plaid Moose Gallery, which is an online art store, held its first ever in person Pop Up event. In a year where nothing is expected we happened upon the one day of the year so far - when it poured rain. Not what we had hoped for as the spot we had rented called the White Box Studio had a garage door that you can open up to an outside space. We couldn't open the garage door on this particular day - as it wasn't just pouring cats and dogs - it was chilly. On a positive note though, if people braved the rain to attend the event - they really wanted to be there. We counted 180 guests (we had expected between 150-200 people). 180 invited guests who all happily showed their vaccine passports and wore masks inside. The atmosphere has been described as being "warm and friendly". We had beautiful colourful art, wonderful artists and volunteers, and as the day moved to evening we had Prosecco and live music (Greg Albright Music).

As you all know, success can be measured against various key performance indicators. Financially, based on an analysis of sales to date the event nearly doubled the anticipated gross sales. The event was a financial success for the artists and the gallery was able to raise over $1000 for The Calgary Performing Arts Festival as well. The gross sales in this one day were equivalent to 75% of the total sales in the almost six months of the online gallery. In person, especially at a time where we have been missing these experiences, definitely has an economic payoff for the gallery. It also alleviates the need to ship items. Shipping is time consuming and expensive for any business. There is a place for online and a place for in person and our goal now is to find that balance moving forward.

Another metric would be around the exposure of the artists' art to the community. Sales are amazing but with art so much of the experience and satisfaction comes from having an audience. Here the online experience has been incredible. In less than six months over 3900 distinct visitors have entered the online art gallery at whereas during the Pop Up the exposure was to 180 people - but they were live and in person. In our case the visitors were all by invitation so they were friends and family who came to support at least one of the artists. They were a fantastic supportive crew of visitors who provided amazing kudos to all the artists. The interactive nature of the in person event was another successful metric. The artists who all worked for hours to pull together their art including 100 new products for the Pop Up were provided access to their supporters which was heartwarming and soul rejuvenating.

In the arts industry not unlike any other industry, there is a desire to be part of a community. The artists all had an opportunity to meet each other at the Pop up, buy each other's art, and have a shared experience that we can build off of as a group. The gallery guests, as supporters and art enthusiasts, were also a critical component of the community and every last one was so appreciated for braving the rain. If the guests came with their eyes to take in the art...the heart of the community that day was the group of friends and family who showed up to volunteer all day. Most wore green plaid aprons, and the wave of green plaid filled the room with joy. The volunteers helped set up the show (we had only three hours to go from bare walls to an active art gallery), they checked for the vaccine passports, they helped feed the artists and volunteers, they organized the live music, they were the live music (thank you Greg Albright music), they packaged sales, they ran the cash desk (thank you to my son Ben), they took photos and video (thank you to the amazing Leo Jenkins Photography), they moved the outdoor signs that kept falling over in the rain (thank you to my husband Brian), they poured the Prosecco, and so much more.

What are some key items to address when planning a successful Pop Up?

  • Find a perfect space. For us it was the White Box Studios - an edgy art space who worked with us to make sure it was a great event.
  • Make sure you have products. Our artists worked for months to get ready and have some fresh products to share.
  • Set up your POS (Point of Sale) system in advance. Ours works seamlessly with our Shopify based website. Bring paper and pens as a back up and for tracking deliveries etc. We also had red dots to place next to sold art. We loved the sea of red dots!
  • Get the word out. We posted on social media but the event was invitation only. We tracked invites in a spreadsheet and sent reminders as well. We used email, facebook, instagram, linkedin - and all the related messenger programs to reach out to our friends & family.
  • Plan for Covid. It's not going away any time soon. It is important to make sure it is a safe event for all.
  • Seek out volunteers to support your crazy idea. This is a true test of friendship!
  • Plan to feed and water the volunteers and participants. We served lunch and dinner behind the scenes. A friend brought moose cupcakes as it was also my birthday!
  • Plan to entertain and host the guests - in our case we served Prosecco & Popcorn and had live entertainment in the evening (Greg Albright Music).
  • Get insurance. Make sure you have liability insurance and any licenses like for serving liquor.
  • Have printed matter to share. We made posters celebrating each artist, and art cards to share specific for each artist. We also had stickers made to give away. Each artist was able to keep their large poster as a thank you and to remember the magical event.
  • Provide regular updates to all involved.
  • Have a vision for the event and work toward that. We wanted it to feel cozy but with an edgy NYC loft gallery feel. We brought the cozy with soft music, plaid aprons, plaid shirts, and the oder of popcorn. We brought edgy with the location including the need to walk down a back alley to find the entrance, live music and some bubbly in high quality plastic reusable stemless flutes.

It was a whole lot of effort to pull off a one day event - but at the end of the day the question hanging out there was - "When will we do this again?"

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