Part 4: Practices and Strategies for Pop-Up Retailing – Support Activities

Chapter 14: Human Resources Management

Chapter Overview

Having a unique product or service with a great marketing plan and suitable location are important elements in a pop-up shop. However, the key to success, as with most retail businesses, often comes down to execution and the brand experience that your customers remember through interactions with your employees. Finding the right people and providing them with the tools to deliver on your brand promise is a critical and often overlooked step before opening a pop-up shop. A temporary operation presents additional challenges in attracting, recruiting and training staff without the promise of long-term employment or the trade-offs that may come with taking an existing employee from a permanent location to assist at the pop-up location.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of the chapter, readers will be able to:

  • Explain how to hire for a pop-up operation through in-sourcing or out-sourcing.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the hiring process for a pop-up shop.
  • Summarize the differences between contract and permanent employment for a pop-up retail employee.
  • Outline strategies for on-boarding pop-up shop employees.

Setting the Context


The following video introduces some of the Human Resources considerations for pop-up retailers with different overall objectives and shows how to find the right talent for short-term employment.

In this scenario, the owner of a fictional boutique meets with a talent recruiter to discuss her needs, possible training and level of experience required by new staff for her pop-up shop.

1. Hiring for Pop-Up Retail: In-Sourcing vs. Out-Sourcing

Finding the right talent for a pop-up shop can introduce new challenges to the typical recruiting and training practices of an organization. Unless the pop-up is a way to test the viability of a new business concept that has not yet begun operations, most scenarios will present two options for hiring: in-sourcing or out-sourcing.

In-sourcing: identifying and selecting an existing employee from another location within the organization to split their time and temporarily move to the pop-up location.
Out-sourcing: contracting with another firm that specializes in providing temporary employees to meet the needs of retailers and brands to work in the set-up and operation of pop-up shops.

1.1 Benefits and Challenges to In-Sourcing

One of the immediate benefits of looking internally for people to work at a pop-up is that current employees will have a familiarity with the brand and culture of the company. Given that one of the primary objectives of many pop-ups is to provide a memorable and positive experience to new customers, the ability of an employee who is already immersed and invested in the values of the brand to deliver in this way may be greater than hiring someone without prior knowledge of or ties to the organization.

Bringing an existing employee onto the pop-up team may also benefit the planning stages. Since they are already on the payroll, these individuals can begin preparing well in advance of the pop-up launch date by dedicating some part-time or overtime hours to the initiative. At the earliest stages, it may be important to identify who will be involved in the pop-up to allow extra time for any new training as well as to engage people in the planning process before the work becomes enough to justify hiring additional employees.

However, despite the value of experience and mindset that current employees may bring to the pop-up, running a temporary shop is often quite different than the work that is familiar to and best suits the strengths of these individuals.  To that end, Boccaccio (2011) quotes J.P. Sakey, the former head of who says,

…there are times when the mission and brand goal of a pop-up location is different than that of retailer’s regular brand, and, as a result, the particular candidate skills required for the pop-up operation’s goals do not align with their more traditional candidate profile, experience, skill attributes...”1

The following potential sources of talent may be options for staffing a pop-up, but each presents different challenges:

  • Staff members from existing store locations
    Employees or managers from existing stores could be a natural fit for staffing a pop-up with a purely transactional focus; however, if the goal is experiential, communicational or to test new products and services, the pop-up may require different skills and approaches to working with customers than traditional store employees might have.
  • E-commerce or product teams
    If the pop-up is a temporary location to promote brand awareness or test a bricks-and-mortar concept for an online pure-play retailer, it is likely that employees from the e-commerce or product teams of the business will not have the types of transferable skills desired to interact with customers.
  • Owners and entrepreneurs
    For small operations and start-ups, the owner’s involvement may be critical. Yet it is important to consider the most effective ways for that individual to spend his or her time at the pop-up before making decisions about who or how many other staff to bring along. If the pop-up location is expected to generate steady traffic, owners may be better served by taking the role of customer experience representative, greeting each customer to offer advice and tell the brand story, while employing other staff at the point-of-sale and inventory replenishment tasks.

Another potential challenge to in-sourcing for talent is the trade-off involved in having a good employee take time away from their regular role in order to focus on the pop-up. Even though the individual may have the required skills to be effective at a temporary store, their presence could be more valuable in their own department or store location. Performing a simple cost-benefit analysis to weigh the risk and reward of moving around internal employees should be an important step in making these decisions.

Apart from these factors, the reality of staffing a pop-up shop is that it takes time to find the right talent and looking internally may be a default response with the expectation that dealing with known actors carries less risk and potential time wasted than hiring and training temporary employees from scratch. It is often these time and risk factors that serve as one of the motivations for some businesses look to out-source the staffing component when planning a new pop-up initiative.

1.2 Benefits and Challenges to Out-Sourcing

Upon making the decision to launch a pop-up shop, particularly in urban regions, there are an increasing number of third-party service providers available to assist in many elements of planning and operations. Working with a firm like this to recruit, hire and train temporary staff has a number of benefits compared to keeping that responsibility internal.

At the heart of this decision will be finding a firm that has a track record of success with their process for attracting and recruiting talent for pop-ups that often differs from that of a traditional “temp agency”. The ability to find temporary employees who can become an extension of the brand with short lead times and competing priorities to manage is one of the most important aspects of a successful pop-up.

These outside firms have often developed standard service training to prepare those that they employ with an understanding of the typical objectives for brand ambassadors at pop-ups and can build on this to customize additional training to meet the needs of unique events. Gravelle (2015) suggests that employees from an event-focused staffing agency will “be able to engage with your consumers quickly, effectively and emotively, bringing your brand to life… [and must be] confident enough to go out into the nearby area and pull people in.”2 Delivering great experiences requires employees who can interact with customers rather than waiting behind a cash register to complete a transaction.

Another challenge that third-party recruitment firms may help to solve involves finding replacements quickly when things don’t work out with a particular temporary worker. These firms often have a pool of ready replacements who can learn the specific needs of the pop-up quickly, in much the same way that a school board maintains a list of substitute teachers who can be called upon to fill in.

Finally, the decision to use an out-sourcing approach for staffing a pop-up has the added benefits that it avoids placing additional work on internal HR departments or trying to fit unconventional hiring and training models into a fixed structure of people and policies.

Table 14.1. Examples of staffing firms

Firm Name Location URL
R&R Staffing & Consulting Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg (Canada)
Fervent Events Toronto (Canada)
PopUpsters – Concierge San Francisco (USA)
Pop Up Staff England (UK)

2. How to Hire for a Temporary Store

2.1 Needs Assessment

Once the specific objectives, timing and location for a pop-up shop have been defined, conducting a proper assessment of staffing requirements and associated costs is an important part of planning the customer experience. Small and independent operators may jump to the conclusion that they can handle things on their own, but going through an objective analysis will help to confirm this or lead to alternate staffing plans. A few of the elements to consider may include:

  • What individual staffing roles are required to deliver a great customer experience? (e.g., knowledgeable associates who can provide advice and recommendations, guides to assist customers with technology such as virtual reality experiences, stationary cashiers or brand ambassadors with mobile point-of-sale devices, etc.)
  • How long will the pop-up be in operation (how many days and how many hours per day)?
  • What are the expected peak periods (if relevant) where multiple staff may be required to avoid service bottlenecks or manage line-ups waiting to enter?
  • How many transactions or customer interactions are expected each day and what are they worth to the business in relation to the costs of extra staff?
  • Who will be responsible for opening and closing the shop?
  • If there is a potential theft or security issue, how will loss prevention and safety be managed?
  • How will employees contribute to enhancing the atmosphere of the pop-up?


Watch this video about a pop-up shop owner who took a novel approach to hiring employees:

2.2 Recruiting Staff

Pop-up operators must consider the best channels and timing to promote the temporary opportunities they have available. If the brand is new or not very well known yet, understanding how to position the business itself as well as the purpose of the pop-up in relation to staffing needs will be critical in attracting the right talent.

Targeted digital and social media ads as well as direct engagement with the community through local groups and Business Improvement Associations are some of the ways to create awareness of opportunities and possibly generate word-of-mouth referrals.

If an in-sourcing strategy is to be used, there will be decisions to make around whether hand-picking employees or creating a call for volunteers is the best approach and how to back-fill the responsibilities that each individual leaves behind when moving temporarily to the pop-up. When out-sourcing, it will be important to have a clear set of requirements and priorities for the recruiting firm to consider when promoting and pre-screening candidates.

Getting the timing right is an important balancing act. With the temporary nature of the work, hiring too far in advance may increase the likelihood that candidates find other long-term employment before the pop-up starts. However, waiting too long to begin the process could leave the pop-up understaffed or the employees under-trained upon opening. Aligning the timing of promoting, recruiting and training staff will be an important element of any pop-up that requires more than an owner/operator at the location.

The supply of local talent and timing can pose a challenge particularly when there are multiple pop-ups in an area as part of an institutional or revitalization program as well as marketplace formats. Cottell (2011) cited two experienced business people who look at this challenge from different perspectives. The first noted that in a marketplace environment, “60 temporary stores means a lot of people to recruit at the same time” while the other felt that “there are many of the right type of people out there…it is the effort involved in getting those people at the right time that is the bigger challenge.”3

2.3 Jurisdictional Considerations

As with any business, operators must be aware of legal requirements for the jurisdiction in which they plan to operate. Provincial or state requirements for minimum wage, length of work shifts, mandatory breaks, workplace safety and insurance considerations and more should all be identified prior to opening a pop-up. National and international brands must pay particular attention to this when planning a series of pop-ups across multiple jurisdictions and planning the costs, training and other implications for hiring temporary staff.

Table 14.2 Minimum wage by province as of January 20184

Province Hourly Wage
Alberta $13.60
B.C. $11.35
Manitoba $11.15
New Brunswick $11.00
Newfoundland and Labrador $11.00
North West Territories $12.50
Nova Scotia $10.85
Nunavut $13.00
Ontario $14.00
P.E.I. $11.25
Quebec $11.25
Saskatchewan $10.96
Yukon $11.32

3. Contract vs. Permanent Employees

One of the primary benefits of utilizing permanent employees for a pop-up event is the level of commitment and ownership that these individuals will have for the company.  While fans of the brand may bring passion to a short-term contract role, the security of a long-term career position and level of responsibility that may be undertaken by a permanent employee sometimes cannot be understated.

As well, managers may take a different attitude about their own responsibility for supervising and coaching temporary employees that have been hired only for the pop-up, not to mention those provided by out-sourced third-party recruitment firms. With limited obvious benefits to investing time in the development of knowledge or skills among short-term staff, the quality of the customer experience could suffer as a result of less engaged management who may see temporary staff as not being their problem.5

However, while pop-up shops can be launched to test potential new products and markets, they may also serve as an opportunity to test prospective new talent or approaches to training customer associates. Without the risk of committing to permanent employees, the nature of a pop-up may provide a perfect scenario to observe the motivation and effectiveness of prospective long-term hires in a short-term context.

On the other hand, having permanent traveling staff could be beneficial for companies that have a continuing pop-up strategy and the need to move already trained employees from location to location every few weeks or months. The considerations for such an option must weigh the cost of travel, accommodations and meals against that of repeatedly recruiting and training temporary local employees who may offer varying levels of productivity and passion for the brand.

4. Employee On-Boarding for Pop-Ups

The on-boarding process for employees at pop-ups is important for both internal and external hires. Internal staff may be familiar with the brand, but must understand how the pop-up initiative may differ in its attempt to create a new type of experience for customers or how the expectations of shoppers in a new location and format could require re-framing an employee’s approach to providing great service.

Out-sourcing firms should have established on-boarding practices for temporary employees that can incorporate new elements to ensure that all staff are able to quickly learn about a brand and its products or services. If a retail brand plans to host several pop-ups in different locations or at different times throughout the year that may require many temporary staff, the retailer should consider developing some online on-boarding resources including any relevant forms, background information and key materials that can help improve the efficiency and consistency of introducing new employees for short periods of time.


Key Takeaways

In this chapter, you learned:

  • some of the benefits and challenges of in-sourcing vs. out-sourcing the staffing needs of a pop-up shop
  • how to develop questions for a needs assessment that could identify different skills and knowledge required by employees at a pop-up event vs. a traditional retail store or online business
  • the pros and cons of including permanent employees or contract staff at pop-ups
  • to consider the on-boarding process for pop-up employees

Key Terms:

  • In-sourcing
  • Out-sourcing

Mini Case Study

Felina’s Parisian Pop-Up

Felina is the owner of a retail pop-up shop with a unique business model that involves running a pop-up in a certain location for a season before moving on to the next location immediately thereafter. She follows her market, and as a result, has been successful for over 5 years in a highly competitive industry.
Felina has a reputation for providing caring, thoughtful, and customer-centric service, and providing high quality items at discount prices. That combination, along with the ephemeral nature of her store’s location, have birthed a loyal and wide following. As a result, she has had to move to ever-larger locations to accommodate more sales, foot traffic, and inventory.

Recently she started hiring staff to help her during busy hours, and sometimes all-day long. Her business model revolved around providing real value to her customers, landlords, and neighbours. Until recently she had not considered opportunities relating to human resource needs. Since her inventory system was unique, her prices flexible and prone to negotiations, and her customers’ expectations of high levels of service, she knew where to focus her efforts on HR opportunity spotting and execution but the growing business had begun to present new challenges.

Starting with the issue of maximizing customer service levels and quality, Felina sought to hire former employees of high-end boutique houses, knowing that they were highly trained and very customer-focused. These individuals were used to working on commission, which would not be the case at Felina’s pop-ups.  She had to employ a different approach to motivating and empowering her staff and gave the sales staff both the responsibility and the authority to negotiate prices as they saw fit, to maximize each customer’s potential lifetime value to the business, while providing top-notch service.

Next, Felina knew that in order to negotiate prices with customers, the sales staff needed to understand the relationship between cost of goods and retail prices for thousands of items. Felina devised a special format for her stock keeping unit numbers (SKU) on the back of each item’s label that would discreetly identify its wholesale cost. Thus, sales staff could quickly work out an acceptable sales price, and negotiate accordingly, sometimes even giving volume discounts while still making a profit.

Lastly, Felina understood that training her staff to identify her unique inventory system would be costly and time consuming. She therefore decided to use a simplified, general SKU system which would detail the source of each item, its category, and wholesale price in a simple, easy to read letter-number combination.

The sales staff were overjoyed at the added authority and excitement of being able to negotiate with customers. It gave them a new and not often utilized strategy to gain customers’ goodwill, loyalty, and patronage. Additionally, the pop-up shop’s typical average units per transaction (UPT) increased by 25% within the first month. The staff earned more than at most of their previous jobs and were happier overall.  The SKU system enabled the staff to better negotiate than ever before.  Felina’s innovative approach to ensuring her new staff were happiness and comfortable with their ability to succeed at work enabled her to improve her sales numbers, gain more loyal customers, improve internal efficiencies, and be able to operate larger pop-ups.

Consider the following questions:

  1. If Felina decided to operate more than one pop-up at time, why might she choose to in-source or out-source as a hiring strategy for stores in which she is not present all the time?
  2. List and describe some of the challenges Felina may encounter in hiring sales staff as she expands.
  3. How would you recommend that Felina should plan to on-board her new sales staff? Explain your answer.


  1. Boccaccio, K. (2011, July 13). Staffing pop-up locations. Chain Store Age.
  2. Gravelle, C. (2015, April 14). 4 reasons to use a staffing agency when planning your next pop-up. LinkedIn.
  3. Cottell, C. (2011). Staffing challenges for seasonal pop-up shops. Recruiter, 5.
  4. Retail Council of Canada. (January 2018). Minimum Wage By Province.
  5. Burgess, J., & Connell, J. (2006). Temporary work and human resources management: Issues, challenges and responses. Personnel Review, 35(2), 129-140.


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Pop-up Retail Strategies in an Omnichannel Context Copyright © 2018 by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.