Setting up a Pop-up Shop in Hong Kong
Getting your feet wet with shoe entrepreneur Jen Webb
Pop-up shops are rising in popularity in Hong Kong, especially with the proliferation of spaces like PMQ and areas like Sheung Wan, known for the availability of pop-up commercial and event spaces.
For entrepreneurs and small businesses, the benefits of having a temporary shop in prime retail zones are obvious: test out the waters before committing full-time.
This is the reason why Melbourne-born Jen Webb decided to open a pop-up store for her original, Hong Kong-based brand Blksheep, which sells “kickass shoes for kickass women.”
With her short-term lease on the second floor of PMQ coming to an end in March (she occupied the space for five-month and three-month intervals since May 2014), we ask Webb what advice she has for other entrepreneurs thinking of opening up a pop-up shop in Hong Kong.
Can you brief us on the background on Blksheep and how you came to Hong Kong?
Though I studied graphic design at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia, my passion was always shoes. So I went to Spain and was an apprentice at a factory. After finishing, I brought my portfolio to Hong Kong in 2007. This city has always had a place in my heart, as it’s where my mum is from.
I got a job working at a local brand here, and a popular stylist started wearing the shoes that I had designed. So two years ago, my husband (Jay Cheung) encouraged me to do start my own brand — he comes from a more business savvy background — and that’s how Blksheep got started.
When did you consider having a pop-up shop, and why did you choose PMQ?
We had a night market stall in PMQ, and we found it a good way to gain more brand exposure. Then we had the opportunity to rent a pop-up space in May 2014. It also makes sense in what we’re dealing with, shoes. People usually want to try shoes on!
What did you gain from doing this?
You learn what the market is looking for. You receive feedback whether you want it or not. When you work in the shop, you meet everyone, so there’s more face-to-face time. Some customers you encounter end up being long term customers, customers end up friends.
As a designer, it’s valuable to hear the comments made, even if they’re not positive. I learned to understand my target demographic and I’ve adjusted my products for them.
What are the benefits to setting up a pop-up shop in Hong Kong?
Having a pop-up store is an ideal way to raise awareness about your product. Even if you use social media actively, you might reach a limited demographic. In our case, a pop-up store in the middle of Central gave us an opportunity to drive foot traffic.
Generally, Hong Kong is a city where people are very positive and encouraging. It’s harder to pull off something like this in Melbourne. Manufacturing is more difficult, and things are expensive there. Everything is at your fingertips. In that sense, it’s a lot easier start up a company here.
Did you have hesitations about starting a pop-up shop?
Yes, of course! It is a substantial financial commitment. You don’t know if you will get that much. My husband and I pulled together all the money to start it up, so it’s a large financial investment. Sometimes though, that makes you work harder if you’re working with what you have.
What are some hardships you’ve faced in running a pop-up shop?
It’s a 24/7 commitment. Be prepared to have your social life confined to the store. Everyone who comes visit me comes and sits on my “therapy” couch. I ended up keeping a pot of tea and cookies on hand.
Be prepared to also execute everything, from the interior design to marketing, social media, working in the shop, explaining your product to customers and all the bits and pieces of budgeting.
Any suggestions for executing a successful pop-up shop, design wise?
You have to make a statement and make something stand out, so it draws customers in during the limited time period. It’s worthwhile to invest in furniture that doesn’t scream ‘temporary.’ Of course it’s about the products, but the atmosphere is what draws people in. You have to promote it as a brand.
Keeping things consistent is also important. We had the same artist paint both the pop-up store in PMQ and our permanent store location in Causeway Bay. We wanted to include greenery, so we brought in flowers and plants.
Any advice you’d pass down to others hoping to get started in running their own business?
Once you know what you want in life, just keep doing it. If I were doing all these things older, I’d be more risk adverse probably! The whole experience has been following your gut.
What’s next for Blksheep?
We will focus now on the Causeway Bay shop, though we will be reapplying for another pop-up space in PMQ in the near future. I’m also scheduling to have a pop-up in Malaysia, just to get the word out.
This interview with Jen Webb was conducted and condensed by Hannah Leung of EntrepreneurHK (EHK).