A pop-up shop is a quick way to get your business up and running. Here's the 5-part strategy a baker used to make it happen.

  • Abby Love grew up baking but never imagined her hobby would become a profession until she needed extra cash as a grad student.
  • Love’s passion for baking continues today: On January 21, she opened her first bakery, Abby Jane Bakeshop, in Dripping Springs, Texas.
  • While the opening of her bakery was delayed due to the pandemic, Love launched about 10 pop-up shops to keep her brand alive, attract new customers, and boost revenue.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Abby Love grew up baking but never imagined her hobby would become a profession until she needed extra cash. 

“Who can’t use more beer money in grad school?” asked Love, reflecting on her decision to seek work in a local bakery while pursuing a master’s degree in library science at Simmons University in Boston. Despite her lack of formal training, she was hired. “I had to crawl to the end of the semester just to finish my classes because I loved baking so much.” 

Love’s passion for baking continues today. On January 21, she opened her first bakery, Abby Jane Bakeshop, in a working grain mill in Dripping Springs, Texas. Love originally planned to open her bakery in late 2019, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While she waited, she launched about 10 pop-up shops around Dripping Springs to keep her brand alive, attract new customers, and boost revenue. 

“Popping up is a way of capturing customers,” Love said, noting that her shops filled in income during the months her opening was delayed.

Love partnered with local businesses for her pop-ups, choosing establishments that didn’t sell baked goods and attracted the kind of customers who would appreciate her locally-sourced ingredients.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to launching a thriving food-focused pop-up business amid the pandemic. 

1. Find a kitchen, talk to a tax expert, and get a license (if you need to)

Your first step in building a successful pop-up is also your most critical: legal and financial research. Don’t let that turn you off — the fun is just around the corner, and it’s worth it to know what you’re facing.

For example, laws vary state-by-state, but generally say that homemade food can be sold at events like farmers markets but not at venues like coffee shops or grocery stores. To sell in stores or restaurants, Love is legally required to make her inventory in a commercial kitchen. For her pop-ups, Love was able to use a commercial kitchen owned by a friend in the local food scene.

“You need to take into account what your product needs,” Love said. To find the perfect commercial kitchen, Love considered each stage of her baking process and what equipment or space was necessary. For example, since her croissants need to rest in a cool place, she needed a kitchen with refrigerated storage. 

Though Love was required to bake in a commercial kitchen, but she didn’t need a license for her pop-ups since she was working out of established businesses. Taxes, however, were an interesting learning curve: Love found out she had to charge taxes if she put a cinnamon roll on a plate and included a fork, but she didn’t have to charge taxes if she put the pastry in a to-go bag. She suggests consulting a tax expert or accountant who can clarify the rules. 

2. Find businesses with which to partner  

There’s a good reason Love didn’t pop-up at empty storefronts. She wanted to partner with businesses that would benefit from the addition of her products, like wineries or coffee shops that didn’t already have an in-house bakery.

“You don’t want to compete with someone else’s product,” she said. “You want to complement someone else’s product.” 

For example, a local plant store approached her about a partnership, but it never came to fruition. 

“If you’re coming to buy a succulent, what are the chances you also want a loaf of bread?” Love said. “Think about what people are in the mood to open their wallets for.” 

She also recommends choosing locations for the kind of target customer it will attract. Love knew she needed to position herself to reach people who care about locally-sourced ingredients and wouldn’t be flabbergasted at her prices — a croissant might cost around $4. 

“The locations were selective places where I knew the market was going to be responsive to me,” Love said. “Or the locations were chosen based on markets I wanted to capture.” 

3. Plan your menu

When it comes to a pop-up, less is more.  Focus on your best-selling products, Love said. Customers want something delicious that will taste the same every time, so don’t try and impress them with a massive menu, she added. 

Additionally, a limited menu will save you work. If you’re concocting 10 different flavors of cupcakes to sell, you have to make enough inventory to support the pop-up. “A lot of people think, ‘I’m going to start a cupcake business because I love making cupcakes,'” Love said. “You better really f–king love making cupcakes because that’s all you’re doing.” 

While Love’s pop-up menu was small, she used the experience to test recipes like chocolate-chile babka and peach-jalapeno cheddar cornmeal scones.

4. Get some branding and plan your social media 

While Love’s pop-ups were displays inside other businesses, she decorated her tables to make the small spaces fit her brand. She traveled with cute trinkets, posted her menu in a picture frame, printed business cards, and included her social media handles so customers could connect with her. 

“You can’t just put your stuff on a fold-out table,” Love said. “You have to think about your presentation as part of your brand.” 

She also used her Instagram account to publicize future pop-ups several days in advance. In December, she announced her last pop-up of the year at a local brewery and teased holiday-themed menu items like strawberry linzer  and lemon crinkle cookies.

5. Outsource the tasks you’re not good at 

Managing a business, even a pop-up, involves more than decorating cupcakes and posting on Instagram. While entrepreneurs may feel inclined to do it all, especially when cash is tight, Love suggests identifying what you’re good at and finding professionals to help with the rest. 

“Be comfortable with what you do well and outsource the things you’re not as good at,” said Love, adding that the smartest move she made was hiring an accounting company. “You can’t grow if you’re the only one doing everything.” 

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