ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES
The making of...
Pop Up Grocer
With the rise of challenger brands, direct-to-consumer business models, and growing opposition to the lifeless mass-market grocery chains... it was only a matter of time before someone put two and two together. Give these startups, challenger brands, and agents of change an opportunity to engage directly with like-minded consumers, but in a cool retail environment. Make it fun, make it modern… and give it a heap of soulful brand love. Enter Emily Schildt, founder of Pop Up Grocer who was so fed up with lackluster, thoughtless shopping environments she decided to do it her way.
The making of... Series
I think this is our most anticipated interview so far… welcome Emily. Can you give our readers a little bit of a background about yourself?
I'm Emily Schildt. I've been in the CPG/grocery/food biz for the entirety of my career. I got my start working for Chobani in its early stage - launched the brand in Australia, actually! - which then led me to create my own brand marketing consultancy for budding food company, Sourdough. Through that, I started to peek behind the curtain at retail and its many challenges, and the idea for Pop Up Grocer was born.
What did you see behind the curtain? How did it inspire the Pop Up Grocer idea?
I'd always been on the sexy marketing side of things, never really understanding how manufacturers get their products from point A (manufacturing facility) to point B (store). And that shows my naïveté right there. I didn't understand it wasn't so direct, either! There are a lot of points between A and B. When I was working with small food companies, and gaining insight into this process -- distributors, brokers, buyers, retailers -- my mind was blown. I really felt for the founders with whom I worked, for how resource-heavy it was, both financial and human. And ultimately, I thought to myself, is presence in this retailer even worth it? Are your products even visible to your target consumer? I was also working almost exclusively with digitally-native and D2C brands, for whom the retail experience felt so far away from the online experience they'd worked so hard and thoughtfully to create. I thought - there must be another way. And simultaneously, personally, I was just fed up with the grocery retail experience being offered to me. I didn't understand why there were so many tremendously innovative, creative, and beautiful brands out there, only to be matched with a lackluster, thoughtless, taxing shopping environment. And so, I decided I would create the ideal retail environment in which to launch new brands and/or products, that would satisfy the needs of the modern, curious, conscious consumer (like me!).
Emily Schildt, Founder of Pop Up Grocer
With a lackluster, thoughtless, taxing retail environment as your enemy, what research did you do to arrive at what you've got now?
Lol. I did not do any research. Building a business is research! I've done that. Though I suppose that my experience as a consultant put me in a position to intimately understand 1) the challenges of emerging brands and 2) the desires, or unmet needs, of those we wanted to reach.
So, after having said ‘to hell with research’... what was the first iteration of your business model like?
We opened our first pop-up shop for ten days, featuring approximately 100 to 120 brands. Our model now runs for 30 days.
How did you initially fund everything?
I didn't have any money to fund the business, neither myself nor through my network (or, at least I didn't think to ask for it), so I had to create a profitable business model from day one. I am super proud that the business has been able to fund itself and maintain positive cash flow.
As you might know, many startups start by bootstrapping, however, rarely are they in a position to make money off the bat. So what about Branding? Tell us about the process and how you arrived at what you have today?
We came up with our name because I wanted something very direct and to the point, that someone walking down the street or looking on Instagram could understand immediately. Now that we are evolving the concept, we actually just went through an 8-week naming exercise, only to decide to keep it! As far as the rest of the brand, we took inspiration from the original supermarkets, like Piggly Wiggly. That's where we derived the primary color palette, for example. We wanted to allude to 'old world grocery' to contrast yet complement our forward-thinking model. We also wanted to evoke a sense of trust, warmth + friendliness. It was super important to me for our brand to feel welcoming + inclusive; I'd felt the exact opposite from niche boutiques, who may have similar sorts of products on their shelves.
We’ll have to google Piggly Wiggly. So, how are you getting the word out there and how do you plan to scale the brand?
We primarily utilize social and traditional media to spread the word about our pop-ups and engage in conversation with our growing community. As far as scaling the brand, we'll continue to build more pop-ups in more cities across the United States, and beginning later this year/early Q1 of 2022, we'll introduce long-standing brick & mortar locations, a more robust e-commerce offering, and a host of other exciting ways in which to experience + interact with Pop Up Grocer. Stay tuned!
Everything you’ve pretty much said so far makes it sound so easy, which we know it’s not! Final question. What's the biggest challenge or challenges you think you'll face moving forward?
They all seem equally challenging right now! I've been running this small business more or less by myself (as the only full-time member of the company) since the start. Now, we've just raised our first round of capital and I'm starting to build what I couldn't even imagine I'd have the opportunity to build 2 years ago, including a team. And, everything feels new -- long-term leases!: health insurance!; being a boss!; budgets!; demand forecasting! But, for all the stress sorting how to do these things gives me, I wouldn't trade it. I really think I am supposed to be doing this work—despite having zero qualifications to be doing it. (Here's the secret: no one is qualified and we are all just making it up as we go along.) I can't imagine wanting to get out of bed every morning to do anything else, at least.