In the summer of 2012 London popped. That is, pop-up shops began to pop up all over the capital. Like popcorn popping in a popping bag. Pop. Starting as an economically-driven necessity to preserve cash, pop-up short-term lets soon became a commercially-motivated drive for an injection of the all elusive "cool". And so with less expenditure and greater public appeal, the pop-up format took off as a winning formula for London's independent retailers.
But the flavour of the pop-up is perhaps not as sweet as it sounds.
There is no doubt that they are cool. Born from economic hardship brought on by the big, bad banks, these little pockets of entrepreneurship are somewhat endearing and create an air of camaraderie between themselves and the customer. They are the unlikely heroes of the retail world, surviving against the odds in harsh economic times. Perhaps a throwback to times of old when business was local and you knew the people that worked there; new age fun with a vintage feel.
But as ever, the art of cool is a delicate tightrope to walk. All pop-ups are in danger of being so cool they become more of a tourist destination than a retail one. Hordes of tourists traipse through the likes of other novel shopping destinations such as Brick Lane and Camden Market to see the sites. But that's just about it, they come to see it but not to buy it.
For an art gallery though, this can be used to an advantage - particularly for a young one like Loughran Gallery. Good footfall through the door is crucial to expanding public awareness of a new business, and after just six days opening in Shoreditch we found dozens of people who wanted to sign up to our mailing list. As a gallery whose philosophy is openness and accessibility, this was exactly what we wanted to achieve.
But there is more than one hurdle in the pop-up game. What is 'pop-up' and temporary can very quickly become dated. By the very nature of the title, the new business can all too easily become branded as something insubstantial, a flash in the pan.
Fortunately, and rather excitingly, the pop-up pros have devised a clever means to maintain interest and attract customers by creating a hide and seek effect around the city, or even the country. Street Kitchen, a salad and burger bar run by two top London chefs, has gathered over 11,000 followers on Twitter, each one eager to discover the next place they can eat a bistro lunch. This little trick means the kitchen and other businesses that operate through pop-up venues can benefit from a temporary location but still maintain a continuous presence around London.
It goes without saying that the internet is of course the main tool to maintain a relationship with customers, and so serves as the perfect complement to pop-ups. We are coming up to Loughran Gallery's first birthday and with the opening of our sixth show of the year we are by now big fans of the pop-up/internet formula. But now we are moving away from using the word 'pop-up' and towards describing how we work as 'roaming'. This word just suits how we work perfectly. It is not about money, it is about flexibility. We can find venues to suit the artist, can present shows that are different each time and therefore can give followers something fun and intriguing.
London has popped and will continue to do so for some time to come. Each individual, hard-to-find opening brings with it its own set of challenges and indie appeal. The skill then comes in maintaining the pop, or rather continuing once it has gone, appearing, disappearing and reappearing. Roaming and wandering...