Best shops in Ireland 2016: This is pop-up

Is the pop-up shop a smart way to test the retail market? We talk to some success stories

The pop-up shop is a retail concept that allows enterprising individuals to try their idea out to see how it might go down with the public before committing to a long lease or an edgy location.

The idea has worked so well that some local councils have started to actively support entrepreneurs in this first step up; in Dún Laoghaire, for example, there's a shop that is used by local designers at Christmas. And during the recession the concept helped keep a beating heart in towns where businesses were flatlining and vacant shop fronts blighted the main street.

Many local shops didn’t make it. But from the economic carnage little retail phoenixes have risen offering hope and opportunity to the entrepreneurial.

Instead of emigration, designers and foodies chose to work for themselves because they didn’t know what else to do. But it tapped into a confidence in ourselves that the boom had given us.


“Customers loved the fact that I was selling Irish-made items that weren’t just targeting the tourist market,” recalls Rona O’Reilly of Galway craft and gift shop My Shop . . . Granny Likes It.

She had opened a gallery in Barna village ("the wrong place and the wrong time") and in late November 2012 went back to the drawing board and secured a premises at the top of Eyre Square to trade through to Christmas Eve. Instead of high-end pieces she bought work by a new and cool set of contemporary designers who were reinterpreting traditional crafts. Reaction was positive.

She opened a second pop-up the next summer on Upper Abbeygate Street and at this point it made sense to become permanent. “In the beginning I was buying in a very different way. I had a focus and that was to keep prices accessible, so that customers would continue to cross the threshold. Back then discretionary spending money on gifts was difficult.”

It’s been a success, she says, one she “would never have taken a risk on without the chance to first test the water”.

Interioristas Lisa Marconi and Sarah Drumm set up temporarily in the basement of Lisa's house on Lennox Street in Portobello in 2014 to see if there was a market for their dark and moody decor.

Their instincts were right and four weeks later they popped up on Grantham Street in Dublin 8 to take advantage of the Christmas market and to test ideas. They refurbed the shop and reopened in March 2015. It gave them time to style the space properly and put some polish to their sales pitch.

“It also made us realise that we needed small things, under €25, to sell to keep customers coming back,” Drumm explains. The shop raised their profile but the more lucrative side of the business is their interior design consultancy and since that has taken off they are now going to focus on it and will be shuttering the shop at Christmas to concentrate on private residential clients.

The pop-up isn't just an urban phenomenon. Landscape horticulturists Ray Egan and Andrew Hersey met at college in UCD and bumped into each other again in 2014. They wanted to work together but the garden centre business is also notoriously seasonal. A pop-up made sense.

They decided on Bunratty as it had a high footfall and spent a day trying to find the right place. They had their eureka moment as they were sipping tea in Meadows & Byrne (M&B). "Why not here?" they asked. The firm agreed to a trial so they bought a shipping container and renovated it. Dropped into position two years ago it is still in situ and the pair have just secured a five-year agreement with M&B.

The pop-up allows enterprising individuals to fast-track ideas and test them for real. Phil Costello of donut shop Aungier Danger had already taken the plunge when Arnotts offered him a month-long pop-up in its department store window.

A second month was offered and that led to him opening a second shop at the Liffey Street entrance. He plans to open a third, fourth and fifth shop in the near future. Those kind of economies of scale wouldn’t have been possible without the opportunity a pop-up gave him to expand the business.