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I am thinking of opening a pop-up shop in a nearby town centre to sell Christmas decorations. How easy is it to take over a shop which has been vacant for a few months? I’m after a flexible lease – is this easy to negotiate?

A pop-up shop is a store which literally pops up, often overnight, in a previously empty unit. Lack of shop fittings and rough and ready signage means the shop may have a temporary feel, but the pop-up is a case of speed over style as the retailer wants to start trading as soon as possible.

It is a format which suits everyone: the retailer (especially if it’s a small or new business) who can make some extra sales or test the local market without committing to a long-term lease, the landlord who gets some rental income and his rates bill covered and shoppers who get a new shop to replace the depressing eyesore of an empty unit. Pop-ups are often seasonal and work particularly well at Christmas.

The ease of taking over a vacant shop depends on the circumstances. If there are lots of empty units in the town and they’ve been empty for a while (which, despite the improved economic climate, is unfortunately still the case in a lot of towns – the national vacancy rate is over 13 per cent and it is much higher than that in some areas) a landlord will be keen (even desperate) for a tenant to move in.

A tenant can use those circumstances to their advantage when negotiating the terms of the lease. Ideally, a tenant will be able to agree a low rent (preferably incorporating an insurance contribution and any service charge so they can budget for a fixed amount) payable monthly (or even weekly) and a short-term agreement, with break clauses should the business not go as well as hoped.

Other important lease terms include the repairing obligation which should be limited to the bare minimum, preferably just to keeping the interior of the shop clean and tidy but at most referring to a photographic schedule of condition showing the state in which the tenant needs to hand the premises back. Landlords will not usually agree to the lease being assigned or underlet which doesn’t matter if the term is short and there is the opportunity to break it, Nor will they allow extensive alterations but that won’t matter when shopfitting is likely to be temporary and fairly basic.

Barriers to moving in quickly and negotiating a flexible lease are where a landlord needs the consent of a third party to grant the lease, either a superior landlord or a funder, or where either party uses a solicitor who is not used to commercial property transactions. A seasonal pop-up shop is a great opportunity, but for both the landlord and tenant to get the most out of it they need to move quickly, instruct the right advisers for the job and be realistic in their expectations.

Jacqui Button is a solicitor at SA Law

Maintain the personal touch

Our business is growing quite rapidly, but I’m worried we are not maintaining enough personal contact with customers. How can I achieve this while we are still growing?

The most important thing is to have as much personal contact with your customers as possible. As soon as you become distant from them you risk losing the very engine of your growth. This can’t be emphasised enough.

However, while it’s easy to say, it can be difficult to do while you are growing. You clearly can’t do everything, so share the load. You need to underline to your wider team just how important correct customer contact is and galvanise them to be proactive. Customer care is not only about sales staff, it should involve every member of staff and customer touch point. This includes the receptionist, delivery people, IT, accounts, etc.

You need to research the most suitable channels for customer contact and establish what works for them, not just your business. What is best for them, by phone, email, face-to-face, social media? And what level of frequency too – every two days, once a week, once a month?

Each industry tends to use a slightly different approach to customer research, but consider focus groups or one-to-one sessions. Really get to know how they want to be approached and treated. Also be innovative, identify gaps in the market and be bold. Can smartphones or tablets help you interact more? Ultimately, you need to continue the can-do spirit which led to you growing in the first place. If you are too busy to understand the needs of your customer, they will go elsewhere.

Alison Jones is group aftersales and customer quality director at Volkswagen Group UK

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