All good pop-ups must pop-down (but not quite yet)

All good pop-ups must pop-down, but not quite yet. We're excited to have negotiated an additional month in our pop-up shop in the Oxford Covered Market. Our last day will be Sunday 27th March. But before we think about packing up, we've taken the opportunity to speak to our founder, Sally Dear, about her experience of setting up and running a shop - just two weeks after launch.

Was a pop-up shop always part of your launch plan?

Yes and no! Our plan at Ducky Zebra was (and still is) to be a predominantly online business. However, I was lucky enough to meet Holly Tucker during her UK tour last year and she suggested I find a pop-up shop for the first three months of launch to help build brand awareness. And so from that point on, I became much more active in finding a pop-up opportunity, in the hope that it would align with our launch.

How did you find the opportunity?

Last summer I applied to the Makespace 'Meanwhile in Oxfordshire' programme, which was developed by the Oxford City Council to transform and revitalise empty retail units. I have to admit I completed the application rather hastily before school pick-up, and on submission received an automated email saying they'd received a high volume of interest. I assumed that I wouldn't be successful.

A couple of months later however, I was invited to submit my business plan for a pop-up shop in the Covered Market, and by November I was signing a contract to move in. I later discovered that I was one of 4 pop-ups to open in the Covered Market - out of 300 applications. The other three pop-ups are:

  • Y.O.U. Underwear, who sell ethically made cotton underwear that’s comfy, stylish and sustainable
  • Fairtrade in the Market (run by Headington Fairtrade), which is a community co-operative gift shop specialising in fairly traded products from all over the world
  • The Woolhound - a tiny, but fantastic, yarn and craft shop 

What has been your pop-up highlight?

I have so many! I think hosting our launch event was one of my absolute highlights though. It was lovely to meet so many people I'd met on instagram and facebook (including one mum who had travelled all the way from Cheltenham). The shop was bustling, kids were busy in our colouring and reading corner, and the celebrations attracted passers by - who joined in!

There have been many other highlights, including:

  • Filming and featuring on South Today
  • Being interviewed by The Oxford Mail and BBC Radio Oxford
  • Meeting so many fantastic customers - including grandparents who I might not have reached through our social channels
  • Discovering the stories behind people's purchases - including expectant parents who bought their very first baby items from our shop!
  • Making friends, especially with the owners of the three other pop-ups, who have been a fantastic support 
  • Spending time with neighbours and friends, who have been amazing at helping with the setup of the shop, improving the layout, and helping with the running
  • Receiving so much positive feedback from customers, making sales and seeing my business grow
  • Feeding insights I've gained from customers directly into our next collection (which is well underway)!

What has been your pop-up low light?

Launching a business while also preparing, furnishing, opening-up and running a shop (7 days a week) hasn't always been easy - especially while juggling mum-life. Added to that, the shop has NO HEATING and my lease was over the coldest 4-months of the year ... needless to say there have been some cold, cold days when I've wondered what on earth I'm doing!

I think though that my biggest low light was after the Plan B restrictions were announced, due to the rise of Omicron. Understandably people stayed away from the shops and prioritised staying healthy for Christmas. I would have done the absolute same. Overnight I saw my steady growth in sales plummet. And while thankfully my rent was dependent on the sales I made (lower sales, lower rent) I still had the fixed overheads of business rates, insurance and utilities which I had to cover. I was very grateful at this stage to have my website for online sales, and I tried to change my mindset from "making sales" to "making connections" with those people that were still out and about.

Would you do it again? And if so, what would you do differently? 

Yes, I would absolutely do it again. It has been an amazing opportunity to build our Ducky Zebra brand, and meet our customers in-person. If I were to do it again, I would try to be a little more system oriented. A payment system that connects with the inventory on our website for instance, so I have a clear idea of how much stock I have left. Currently I'm manually managing this ... which is time consuming and prone to error (although hopefully not too much error)!

I would also better organise my stock, so I could easily replace items after they've sold ... it's hard to do this in retrospect - and it's taken me almost two months to get to a stage where I'm not panicking when something has sold out on a rail!

What are you going to do after you pop-down?

I'm packing up at the end of March - and plan to throw myself into lots of exciting speaker events in April - but first I'm looking forward to having a well-deserved weekend off!

On April 25th we'll be popping-up again for a week; this time in the Oxford John Lewis, which we're really excited about. And who knows after that. 2022 is our year of testing and learning. I've seen a huge benefit of having a physical presence - and so I hope to pop-up in other places throughout the year.

Would you recommend a pop-up to others, and what advice would you give?

Yes. I would absolutely recommend it! For any other small businesses out there, it's a fantastic marketing and brand awareness opportunity. Make sure you have information about your brand story on display, flyers to hand, and be ready to start building relationships and connections with those that come in. I've been amazed at how lovely, kind and supportive people have been.

If you're able, have a launch event, as it helps to generate media interest, a fantastic buzz and great future content. Oh, and space permitting - a colouring/reading corner for the kids is a great little addition - it helps to create more of an experience for those that want it.

I'm an absolute newbie to setting up and running a pop-up, and so I welcome any feedback and insights you might have. Did you pop-in to our store? And if so, what did you think? And what should we do differently in the future? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Image of two children in the Ducky Zebra shop colouring in

1 comment

Fab Sally. Sounds awesome! We would love to find you a place in Glasgow.


Fiona May 05, 2022

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