Setting up a pop-up gallery

Honeydew GalleryIf you're an artist using a pop up space, getting access to your space is just the beginning. There are a number of decisions to make and challenges to overcome to turn a disused shopfront into a vibrant arts business.

What will you need to consider before you can open your doors?  

This case study details Dawn Smit-Allen's experience setting up Honeydew Gallery in 2011 - the first pop up gallery for Create, Innovate Gosford City.

Dawn kept a detailed blog of her entire start-up process which we think makes a useful guide to 'know what you're getting into.'

First, decide what you'll exhibit

Are you positioning yourself as an edgy, 'out there' gallery that seeks controversy and to push boundaries? That's fine, but are you thinking of setting up in an area where this will appeal to local residents and visitors? If you display material that may be considered 'offensive' in a conservative suburban area, you may run the risk of complaints and even a boycott of your business.

"We did not intend to hang or sell art of an offensive nature.  We respect that everyone's tastes are different and we will endeavour to exhibit a wide range of medium and subject matter," says Dawn.

Preparing for your shop fitout

Work out a budget

Starting up a business can be costly, even if you are getting the space for free or for a nominal fee. Work out what you need to buy to set up your space and what you can afford to spend.

Accessing the empty shop Renovating and cleaning your space

Running a business doesn't mean you can put your life on hold or abandon your family and friends. So why not enlist their help in renovating your shop?

This was Dawn Allen's strategy. Dawn was thrilled to get the opportunity to open the Honeydew Gallery in an empty shop - even though it was run-down and occupied by pigeons and squatters.

While Dawn's friends lent a hand with the plastering and cleaning, their three children also helped out by removing old screws from the walls.

But some jobs are best done by the professionals, so be prepared to hire a company that offers shop fitout services if you can afford it. Alternatively, perhaps a friend knows someone in the business who will help you at a discounted fee or a 'contra' - that is, you trade skills. You can find people willing to do this on websites such as Freecycle.

Cleaning upIt's important to think about lighting, although as Dawn points out, this comes down to budget.  "We didn't get too sophisticated with our lighting: we couldn't afford to," she says. "Our shop space has fluroescent tube lighting which flattens everything, but does make for a bright space.  To add some accent we put to use some small spot desk lamps aimed onto artwork from the floor or a nearby shelf.  In our windows we have floor standing paper lamps - $15 each from IKEA - which have been very successful in attracting attention of passers-by.  

"We get a number of people commenting about having seen the windows during the evening and coming back to see inside. We've even had offers from customers to buy the lamps. My advice would be to work within your budget. There are simple things that attract attention that are cost effective. When the budget allows, we would like to introduce some tracking and movable spots to focus on individual artworks."

Painting the floorPaint can make a world of difference

Giving a space a thorough clean will certainly spruce it up, but a coat of paint can take it to the next level - as Dawn found when she was advised by a cleaning contractor who had come to quote for cleaning their wooden floor.

"After a very quick appraisal she diplomatically asked if we'd thought about painting it!  We had priced paint and simply didn't have the budget for it.  A couple of hours later a call came telling us a tin of paint had been donated to our project if we would like it.

"So, we hung up our Allen keys for the day and after spending $11 on a painting kit at Wally's World of Discounts we got stuck into the floors. With every surface that's been painted we've seen a great transformation. The floor was no exception."

Signage, furniture and layout

Decide on your window signage

It sounds obvious but, as Dawn found out, you need to put some thought into it. Looking at what everyone else has done can just be confusing. So sit down and brainstorm to come up with signage that reflects your business.

"We designed all our own signs, logos and so on," she says. "Again it came down to a very limited budget. We were lucky to have a family connection with a Sign-a-rama franchise in Adelaide. We measured up, sent through our logo, fonts and preferred layout. They came back with a few suggestions and within a couple of weeks we received the vinyl stickers to be placed on our windows and sign board.

"The next complication was to find a local sign writer who was willing to put them on for us. The local Sign-a-rama people who we assumed would be happy to do it - for a fee of course - weren't too cooperative so we contacted another local small business who were more than helpful, and in the end their ideas about placement made more sense than our original thoughts and we ended up with great looking windows."

Ikea bargain binSource free or cheap furniture

Buying shelves or cupboards new can cost a fortune.  But, as the saying goes, one person's trash is another's treasure - so, let everyone know about your new venture. Tell family, friends, neighbours, local shopkeepers and community and let them know what kinds of things you are looking for.

Dawn managed to score some cupboards and a cash register through kind donations. It's also worth checking websites such as Freecycle and Gumtree. And of course there is always Ikea - don't forget to check out the 'damaged goods' section, where you can often find discounted items.

Honeydew's fittingsChoose a suitable layout for your gallery

Starting from scratch with a gallery is, as Dawn says, like having a "blank canvas". You need to decide what is going to go where to best utilise the space both functionally and aesthetically.

Dawn asked her brother-in-law, Fabian Winterbine, who is a qualified merchandiser, to give them a 'Merchandising for Dummies' session, while another friend, Kerrie, offered advice on making the space child-friendly.

"Fab went through how to layout the shop to make it interesting, what style of shelving and furniture will suit our products and budget [and] Kerrie helped us develop our ideas for our younger visitors. We will be setting up a 'Little Rembrandts' area with chalkboard, paper, pencils etc to keep little minds busy while the grown-ups have a look around."

Payment options and banking

Getting your space ready for customers is only the first part of running a successful operation. Once customers start coming through the door and buying your products, you need an efficient system to process card payments and handle cash.

"We spent a whole day sitting down with business managers of three banks that we had some affinity with. Eventually after comparing all their fees, penalties and benefits to new business we settled with Westpac's New Business package and merchant facilities," explains Dawn.  

"Bank fees and Merchant fees present a significant portion of our monthly expenses, but that is unavoidable regardless of the bank you choose.  After two months of operating we can clearly see the necessity of providing EFTPOS facilities.  

"Customers can pay by cash, eftpos, credit card and we also offer layby. We were burnt with our first - and last - cheque that we accepted and they are now definitely off the list of options.

"We didn't start with a cash register, and still don't have one. We keep a locked cash tin.  While it would be nice to have everything automated it is something that will have to come down the track. We don't leave any cash on the premises. We write receipts, keep a comprehensive sales book that tracks all cash/EFTPOS sales coming in and any petty cash that goes out. The cash tin is balanced and counted every day.  

"Cash handling is important, but we find that at least 50% of our sales are electronic.  Keeping on top of the paperwork is imperative. A manual system like ours is giving us the opportunity to focus on cash flow and understand what is happening on a daily basis.

"Our system requires a basic understanding of income/expense management, but that is important in business and keeps us focused on our cash flow," says Dawn. 

Safety and security

You've opened your doors, customers are streaming in and buying your goods. So you need to protect both goods and your store.

"Firstly, assess the area the store is in. Are access areas well lit, patrolled by local security and police? Secondly, assess the store for its security," advises Dawn. "Are doors and windows adequately lockable and protected from break-in attempts? Is there back to base alarm - optimal, but an expense?  Is there a lockable storage area? 

"Thirdly, assess measures required to prevent shoplifting and petty theft. Can the desk or counter be positioned for maximum view of the store? Convex mirrors to see corners? Position of small 'pocketable' items?

"Shoplifting can be mitigated through vigilance and store planning, such as thinking about where you place smaller items or what you put near the door or outside the door if permitted. We always lock the door and count cash after the shop is closed. The cash tin is always out of sight and cash is not left on the premises. We have a convex mirror that allows us to see behind us and the shop is laid out so that we can always see when people come in and out.  

"Vigilance is the key to safe cash handling. The business owners are the only ones handling cash." 

Insurance and tax


Another way to protect your business to have relevant insurance policies in place, such as public liability and contents insurance.

"We have insured our contents and stock, and we also needed to insure the plate glass," says Dawn. "Our arrangement with CIGC provides the building insurance." 

Tax Requirements 

Tax requirements vary depending on whether you operate as a sole trader, partnership or as a private limited company. It's worth investing in a good accountant to advise you on your tax liabilities.

Visit the Australian Taxation Office website for more information on this. 


If you plan to hire staff to work in your business, you must familiarise yourself with the legal requirements regarding employees. This includes but is not limited to workers' compensation, tax issues and duty of care. Some of these may be applicable even if you have volunteers helping you.

Visit for more information regarding the hiring of staff in Australian states. 

Storage and supplies


It may be tempting to fill your space with products that you want to sell. But remember to consider storage space for extra goods.

"We are lucky to have a secure store room that we are able to keep locked. It is large enough to keep back up stock, items that we have rotated and so on. It was one major consideration when preferring this shop to others we saw," says Dawn.

"In saying that, we really had to work hard to clear it out and make it useable. It had had a ceiling collapse, the walls were mouldy and there were no cupboards or shelves. We installed some second-hand kitchen cabinets."  

Make sure your suppliers deliver on time 

Before you open your doors to the public, you need stock to showcase or sell. Check and double check with your artists and suppliers that they will deliver goods to your premises in plenty of time.

Pricing your items

Dawn Allen necklaceThis is one of the most important aspects of running a successful business, whether it's a gallery or retail shop. And, as Dawn points out, "Pricing your own work is one of the hardest things to do.  It is hard to detach and be truly objective."

The key considerations are knowing what your local market will pay, what they should pay, and finding a balance so you can make a profit.

Dawn advises to start with the base cost.  That is, the sum of all materials used to produce the work. 

She says, "I use a notepad as I'm working and note down each bead, stone, clasp, component and what that item cost me."  

"I add 10% to cover for 'home business' type expenses like freight of goods to me, registration of business name, business cards, cost of stationery, tools etc.  I also add a component for my time.  I started 9 years ago with a value on my time at $20/hr.  This has increased as my skill has increased and is now the same as the hourly rate I receive working as a freelance jewellery designer.  Bearing in mind that some of my items only take me 15mins to make.  In which case I would apportion 1/4 of my hourly rate.

"So... Materials + 10% + apportioned time = Base cost.

Most of us realise that we need to cover our costs.  That is what the base cost does.  It allows for all the costs of creating something.  Now we need to make a profit on top of the base cost.  My profit margin is the flexible part.

"Honeydew Gallery has it's costs to cover.  The margin we apply to stock reflects running costs such as, insurance, rent, utilities, fees, marketing, staff, refurbishments, banking etc.  We also need to make a profit or we don't stay in business very long!"


ABC interviewSpread the word about your shop

Even if your space is located in an area where there is high pedestrian traffic, you still need to spread the word far and wide. If you are part of an empty spaces initiative, ask them to send out a media release about your opening. If not, write your own. Keep it short (no longer than one page), with information about your enterprise and your contact details.

Dawn did an interview with local ABC radio, which produced immediate results. "It was a great opportunity to let local listeners know what our project is all about.  Even better was that only a short time later a lady entered the shop after hearing about it on the radio!"

Do 'special' promotions

Be informed of 'special' days - for example, Honeydew Gallery opened just before Mothers' Day, and put together a promotion package to give potential customers the impetus to buy a unique, handmade gift.

Create a website

Honeydew websiteThe net is a great way to promote your business and for customers to keep up to date with your news, new items and special offers - as well as basic information such as address and how to get to the premises.

There are many different web platforms available now on which to create a site, such as WordpressNing (which has a small cost), Tumblr, or open source software such as Joomla or Drupal. These all offer a number of free templates in which you can add your content and customise it. You may wish to get a professional web designer to help you with this (but make sure you learn how to update the site yourself) and again, websites such as Freecycle can be useful.

Opening and celebrating

Don't worry if it's not perfect

Opening soonIn the run-up to the opening of your space, you may feel overwhelmed and frustrated that everything isn't quite perfect. But as Dawn put it just before opening day of Honeydew Gallery:

"The reality is that when we open the doors on Monday no one's going to notice that we don't have proper lighting in the store room, or our facelift to the front windows isn't quite finished, or that we didn't get the exact furniture we wanted...

"Instead our doors will open to a fresh, friendly, bright shop with beautifully crafted, painted, knitted, sewn, polished, art and giftware at affordable prices that recognises the time and skill of the artist."

Celebrate your opening

Opening dayIt's hard work setting up and opening a new business - so congratulate yourself! Celebrate your efforts.

"Our first day was a busy one," says Dawn. "Create Innovate Gosford City prepared a press release which drew the attention of local ABC radio, newspaper and other media. We had a live radio interview, photos and an article in the paper as well as other local publications.

"The Create Innovate Gosford City Open Day was a month later and another celebration. We hosted an afternoon tea for guests who had walked around all the five projects currently under the CIGC banner. Again the papers and local radio covered the event, raising the profile of not only our gallery but the area generally.

"We continue to spruik our efforts and news via our website and through social media networks - mostly Facebook. It really keeps people in touch with what's new, keeps them curious about what we are doing and the new and interesting work coming into the gallery."

Links to more information

Interviews with Pop Up Parramatta's gallery-shops about their set up: Moth Gallery and Parramatta Clay Arts

Meanwhile UK's Shop Manual contains information on project planning, signage, marketing and opening and packing up a shop space.

No Vacancy! A Guide to Creating Temporary Projects in the Central Eastside Industrial District. Prepared by students from Portland University (US) includes a checklist template for space users in their dealings with landlords and local authorities in the US.

Arts Northern Rivers' Pop Up Revoulution feature on local designers who've used empty shops in Byron Bay and Lennox Heads for pop up creative activity. Good tips on leasing arrangements, negotiating with estate agents, setting up your space and marketing.

Pop Up Business for Dummies 

Empty spaces pioneer and founder of the UK's Empty Shops Network, Dan Thompson, has drawn on a decade of experience in authoring the Pop Up Business for Dummies book.  Purchase the book here or get a taste of the useful information inside through these links:


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