Ross Bailey, this week’s Small Business Star, is founder and CEO of Appear Here, an online marketplace for pop-up space. Inspired to create his business by the process of building another start-up, Ross used valuable experience in the field to offer an innovative service to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Why is it so hard to find a space?

I guess where it all started was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. There was so much hype about it and I wanted to be part of the moment. A friend and I decided to launch a brand to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. We created a t-shirt label called Rock & Rule and the designs were inspired by the Queen – with a rebellious kick.

We managed to persuade a landlord to let us use their empty shop off Carnaby Street. This was when I noticed as many people came in to find out about how I got the shop space, as they did to buy the t-shirts. I kept asking myself, ‘why is it so hard to find a space?’ Particularly when there are there so many empty shops, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t easier to rent one for a few days. I guess it all just clicked and that’s when I decided to launch Appear Here.

I used the profit I made from the Rock & Rule pop-up shop to launch Appear Here. The website went live in February 2013 and our first customer followed quickly after that.

Only when the website went live did we realise how big the demand was

I kept seeing empty spaces on the high street with messages in the window saying ‘rent this space, call this number,’ but only when the website went live did we realise how big the demand was for our service. We tested some online advertising and the response was insane, we were overwhelmed with hundreds of enquiries in the space of a few days.

We’re making it easier than ever before for small brands to access prime spaces

Our mission with Appear Here is to make booking space as easy as booking a hotel room. But, right from the start we wanted Appear Here to be more than just a listings site. We create great editorial for our spaces to show that the perfect space means more than just four walls. Through curating destination guides, video showcases and events, we make the journey from having an idea to launching a shop as easy and exciting as possible.

All our spaces can be booked completely online – including signing legals and payment. We’re making it easier than ever before for small brands to access primes spaces. We allow them to use rolling contracts so they can pay for their space on a month by month basis. Think of it as pay-as-you-go for retail.

More online companies are realising they need to come offline in order to thrive

The average lease length is declining; in 1992 it was 20 years, today it’s just 5 years. Retail has changed and now more than ever it’s about being in the right moment at the right time. Retailers no longer want to be locked into 20-year leases.

We’re also witnessing the demise of the ‘pure play’ retailer. More and more online companies are realising they need to come offline in order to thrive, just as traditional retailers are rushing to build a digital presence.

Word of mouth counts for a lot

We focus on offering a great service that distinguishes us from our competitors. We’ve noticed our community is very close so word of mouth counts for a lot, and ultimately we want Appear Here to be the go-to site for renting space.

One of the major benefits for our customers is the ability to rent space flexibly and test their retail strategy before committing to it long term. We’re also building a global network of spaces so brands and retailers can make their ideas travel, and obtain access to the best audiences across the world.

We kept pitching and never took no for an answer

Persuading landlords to entrust their space to us was a challenge. The property industry has changed very little in the last 100 years, so when we first spoke to landlords they were completely against having their empty spaces promoted online and very cautious of doing short-term lets.

Signing one of the UK’s biggest landlords, British Land, to list their properties exclusively with Appear Here meant that other big landlords started to take us seriously. We kept pitching and never took no for an answer, and today we have eight of the 10 biggest landlords signed up and over 600 spaces that can be booked online for short-term lets. Seeing our first tenant move into a space and open up shop was a great moment. That was when I really felt like the business had started.

We’re also working exclusively with some of the biggest landlords in the country, including Transport for London, Capital and Regional, Hammerson, and Land Securities.

You need a great team to make things happen

A key learning I’ve had from this experience is the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are really passionate, have great energy and make decisions quickly. You need a great team to make great things happen and that’s the most important part of launching a business.

If you’re interested in renting a space for your pop-up business, you can find out more about Ross Bailey’s business on his website Appear Here. 

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