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Vacant Properties: Eyesore Or Business Opportunity? 16 Marketing Ideas For Re-using Derelict Space

Post Property crash, a new breed of entrepreneurial talent is emerging from the rubble. They are challenging old ways of doing business within a gritty urban landscape punctuated by derelict property, ghost estates and vacated lots.

If you are a landlord, a retailer, have unused business premises or just need to inject CSR and new activity into your local marketing plan – this blog is for you. SMEs, marketing professionals or events person looking for ways to maximize your budget, take note. Discover new business ideas that are re-invigorating economic activity in vacant properties.

There is a new movement led by people who are making the most out of small budgets and a not so scarce resource called: vacant property. Food for thought, if your business is looking into social marketing, revenue building, PR in your community, innovative venues and sustainability in your daily business practices. Read on for business tips & marketing ideas for re-purposing and hacking vacant urban space.

# 1. Pop Ups – Pop-up restaurants and shops are the most mainstream examples using vacant sites on the High Street or in shopping malls. Pop-ups are perfect for:

  • Trial marketing a region, product or new brand.
  • Selling on a seasonable basis e.g. the 2 month run up to Christmas
  • Startups moving online business into a more permanent brick-and-mortar retailing space.
  • Online Sellers trying to create a viral buzz and showroom space for their online catalogue.
  • Collectives of small business, sole traders and makers transitioning from markets and craft fair pitches,  pooling together to create a collaborative retail & exhibition space.

Key Caveats

If you are doing a series of pop-ups nomadic style – keep your momentum by creating an online community that can follow you via Facebook or Twitter to new locations. The fees for a pop-up store will vary with location but usually include a license fee, utilities, rates and legal fees.

Related: The Best Ways to Market a Product on a Low Budget

How to Find Vacant Property for POP-UP use?

  • Local County Council / Municipal Authorities who have a good overview of vacant sites in the borough. They should be interested in attracting new visitors and re-generate the Town Centre whilst showcasing empty properties to potential tenants.
  • Real Estate Agents / Landlords are property specialists. They will be motivated by temporary rental income and the optics of making the property and its area more sale-able by keeping it busy with higher footfall for other tenants. It helps them maintain the value of adjacent properties.
  • Specialist Agencies and Pop up clinics in your area. For e.g.  PopUPNI is a service that develops temporary creative projects in Northern Ireland. Vacant Spaces is an online portal in the UK that helps broker vacant spaces vis a vis business looking for sites. they should be able to advise on Insurance and regulations related to vacant property usage.

Advertising & Marketing Opportunities

# 2. Empty Window Displays are a variation of the Pop-up theme. Empty retail sites may be appearing in your local shopping mall or high street Their window display spaces are perfect vehicles for advertising. Why not collaborate with existing businesses nearby  and rotate use of the display space for advertising your latest products.

3. Blank Walls – The outer blank walls of your premises are perfect. For example: Non-for profit Organisation, the Simon Community, promoted a mental health message by creating an outdoor mural on their premises with a strong slogan. In the picture below, the Mercantile Bar used a Street artist to create a witty take of their brand on a blank wall next to their premises which brightened up a prominent vacant space in the city centre.

# 4. Hoarding –  If renovating or Building a new unit – don’t forget your Hoarding is a great outdoor advertising tool for promoting your business. Complete it with a website and QR code.  See this opportunistic example I picked up in my neighborhood. 

Viral & Guerrilla Marketing

Vacant urban locations are great backdrops and spaces for viral marketing video shoots and sponsored street art. Here are some examples:

# 5. Projection Advertising – Project on the side of your premises or vacant building to generate talking points, viral videos and teasers. In the ‘Snake the Planet’ campaign, Nokia created a viral playing the game and projected it  onto a wall in a vacant lot.

# 6. Green Graffiti uses moss to generate messages on a derelict wall – take a look here of some hip examples in 20 Masterpieces of Green Graffiti

# 7. Reverse Graffiti is a clever and more legal way to imprint your message in public space and walkways. Take a look at: 35 Greatest Works of Reverse Graffiti

Major Caveat

When doing Outdoor advertising – remember you are encroaching on public space, be mindful of aesthetics. Make the image funny, visionary or entertaining like these examples and the public won’t mind your encroaching marketing message. Enlisting local street artists are a sure fire way of ticking the right boxes.

Related: Self Promotion in Sales: 13 Ways To Build Your Image Without Having To Brag

Virtual Shop-fronts

# 8. 3rd Dimension an architectural imaging company,  specializes in 3D technology that allows prospective tenants to re-imagine vacant lots using 3D Vinyl graphics mimicking a real shop. These graphics can also be a powerful marketing tool advertising the real estate business with the use of a printed QR code. Virtual Shopfronts give the impression that the vacant shop unit is actually occupied. Apart from being visually attractive and extremely realistic, they are an ideal way to show the potential of empty retail units. They animate the retail street scape and clean up potential eyesores.

For more ideas here’s an Article from Time Magazine detailing US initiatives: The ‘Vacancy’ Blight: Finding New Uses for Empty Stores

Property Management

# 9. Pick a Pod Concept – Unused and unoccupied office space is being utilized in incubation programmes and short term lets. For example Pick a Pod is a company that sources unused office space having watched businesses suffer costly rental overheads. They have injected new life into empty Dublin office spaces whilst assisting and developing overseas and small businesses with short term flexible lets and low cost office units. A POD = Phone, Office and Desk flexible and office space.

 Re-Found Venue Ideas

#10. Corporate Sponsors are now starting to use Pop up units to sponsor festival or events activity as part of their larger CSR or event marketing campaigns – it also lends them guerrilla marketing cred vis a vis younger target markets and specific communities. For example IBM teamed up with the Science Gallery in Dublin to re-purpose vacant space in the city as a Pop up Hacker’s Space called IDEALAB in sponsorship of the “Hack the City” series of events.

# 11. A Property Developer in Dublin re-invigorated the communal space in his multipurpose docklands development by offering empty units to a pop up Arts festival called the Dublin Biennale. The festival also focused the discussions and installations on re-purposing vacant space. It brought more footfall to the nearby hospitality businesses.

# 12. Street Feasts and Urban Picnics re-purpose vacant urban green space, communal lots and green allotments. A great idea for tapping into the local community. If you are looking to develop some CSR, publicize your presence in the neighbourhood or just want  to fund raise, it’s a clever way to grab some local PR with your constituents by giving them an excuse to celebrate the neighbourhood.

# 13. Event Planners are already using derelict warehouses, factories and unoccupied government buildings for art exhibitions, fashion shows and festival venues.

In-House POP-UP Events

Too much vacant display space in your premises? Need to create footfall? Use your own empty premises to generate events.

# 14. Offer your vacant in-house spaces to event planners as part of your marketing strategy. Why not invite student design /art exhibitions from the local design school or craft-makers to create a destination gallery space in your premises.

# 15. Create an event or offer it to a relevant community meet-up to bring more footfall: For example:-

  • holding book readings and book clubs in your bookstore promoting your latest book release.
  • Free DIY workshops in a hardware store with the help of suppliers or
  • mother and babies coffee morning and talks in a nursery or toy store looking to sign up.
  • Do crossover events targeting the customer profile you are targeting by tapping into their interests If yours is a café allow literary live readings. If it’s a large furniture showroom, organise music gigs.

Storage & Parking

#16.  If looking for storage or parking spaces, why not hook up with landlords of vacant commercial space nearby. If you are sitting on empty premises – time to start thinking outside the box and looking at adjacent businesses who may be in the market for easy short term storage or parking facilities.

In Short

Re-Imagining | Re-ignite | Re-cycle | Re-purpose!

Making use of derelict and vacant property requires some out-of-the-box thinking, resourcefulness and a guerrilla marketeers’ eyes. It also means working locally with the authorities, agencies or landlords that can help you tap into them. Whether you own the property or require a space,  these ideas should help you to re-envisage creative marketing ideas that make use of the space around you, save you some cash and hopefully provide your local community with a more vibrant cityscape.

Have you tried re-purposing vacant space in your locale or tried any of these marketing methods yourself ? Share your experiences and  tips below. Stay tuned for our follow-up interview with a visionary social entrepreneur that has trail-blazed the use of vacant premises.

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Image: “Posted Rent Sign on a Metal Fence/Shutterstock

Elish Bul-Godley helps brands hone their marketing communications and establish a stronger online presence via Community Management, Copywriting and Content Marketing. Currently the primary marketing consultant for the Snap Ireland Group. She works with various SMEs, the guerrilla festival Bloom Fringe and traders. Her previous experience includes stints with digital and marketing agencies such as ebow and Rothco, as well as providing training sessions in content, social selling and social media. Also Co-Founder and creator of press accredited blog-zine Eurovision Ireland. Elish has also been a B2B Events professional with Retail Management, Visual Merchandising, Project management experience. Born in Singapore, now in Dublin having negotiated the associated cultural changes between east and west. Loves the odd shimmy as a belly-dance teacher and binges on Sc-ifi in her spare time.

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  • I love this post Elish – it’s full of great ideas. Ardmore is local to me and is a very pretty seaside village and they have unused walls which they have painted pictures on – one long one is painted as though it is a row of cottages and they even have a real wheelbarrow and bicycle leaning again the wall. Very clever and much nicer than a plain wall. Although it isn’t for advertising purposes it does help keep the village picturesque and unique which I guess attracts visitors and therefore business to the village

  • I totally agree! thanks for that Comment Sian – This post is part of a series that hopefully will explore the other organsiations and ideas that are working sustainably to repurpose our urban spaces – Guerrilla marketing activity is blossoming as people Hack the city and rejig our ways of communicating with the public

  • I particularly love the ideas of pop-up shops etc – I agree that the online following or community is important to provide marketing and create a buzz.
    They are becoming more popular and are definitely a win-win situation. And they provide a key buying message – “buy now, cos we won’t be here in a week” 🙂

    The others are fab ideas, and important to be mindful of the caveats too Elish. Great post!

  • Thanks Elaine . i definitely sense that the new marketing landscape is all about the successful fusing of the online and offline work- a double helix if information transfer and content so to speak.

  • Ele Gower

    This post is definitely full of great ideas – excellent tips for making the most of unused space. I also think that it’s worth highlighting that space (particularly in urban areas) often has value which extends far beyond the obvious. It’s current use might be spot on, but in many cases there are other ways in which the space can be utilised – and the more it’s utilised the more income it generates. Like you suggested, living in austerity should push us to be creative with what we have. There’s a new website which might be of real interest to you which I think really pushes that point – it’s called and has been set up by a friend’s son. Might be worth taking a look, I’m sure they’d appreciate any feedback you might have. Thanks again for the great post!

  • Thanks Ele! I think Urban space in particular demands Civic consciousness everytime we use it – too many developers have been let off with building spaces that reduce the quality of our lives. People like Street artists, urban hacktivists and cultural institutions and great Guerrilla marketeers,  help make the urban space a more enjoyable place to live in and encourage community. A good Marketing initiative or Business venture in that repurposes urban space should always try to accomplish this.

  • To see examples of community events take a look at

  • As ever with your blogs, Elish, this is informative and  thought-provoking. Lateral thinking and creativity combine in these innovative examples of  necessity being the mother of invention. 

  • Thank you Pat. I suspect the best examples of Guerrilla marketing and business thinking can actually be seen in developing economies and cities like Mumbai and the Favelas of Brazil, where unfettered creativity combined with scarce resources can result in some very resourceful and innovative ideas that are also sustainable.

  • Hi Elish,

    It’s almost as if you write about my beautiful home town of Drogheda. Unfortunately we have had a fair few shops close down on the high street and streets off it. Lots of reasons but no need to go into it now. However, a group of active and engaged citizens, which formed the backbone of the Local Heroes: A Town Fights Back initiative really blew new air into the closed shops. (The town and the Local Heroes campaign featured on Irish TV programme/documentary)

    One of the shops was turned into The Hub – which is at the centre of all the activity. Committee meetings, bulletin boards of what’s going on all happen here. Pop up shops opened just before Christmas and Easter. Virtual shopfronts are on other windows; street art promoting the new logo of the town was also done. Fellow shop owners are using other shop windows to display their merchandise. The list goes on.

    It just goes to show that using vacant lots are limited only by imagination and it is amazing what can be done when people work together to help other businesses out. Great article.

    Take care,

  • Wow thanks Denise- and so ggod to see it happens in smaller towns not just in urban centres
    In fact it all points to the community led and collaborative nature of a new business model for the times we live in.
    My next blog will showcase some of the cultural orgs in my city thats really provide great examples in positive can do thinking in this regard, just by re-using vacant space and turning them into Community venues.

  • Yep Lorna ! You touched upon the Idea of using it as a Bricks and Mortar promotion or showroom of the online business. Especially in the interiors design sector -the visual and tactile nature of the products deserve some presence in the real world even if sold via ecommerce. Perhaps it worked better than the ad because it helped you accurately target the shoppers in the town you were focusing in. The local and community element of pop ups and guerrilla activity is its best feature.

  • Elish Bul

    Am adding updates when I see them – just saw this new initiative for those of you needing help in the locale -a local city council in Dublin

  • Elish Bul

    Light at the end of the tunnel for those wishing to occupy vacant premises in Northern Ireland
    A businessman from Carrickfergus who is benefitting from the Empty Premises Rate Relief scheme. Mr Colin Campbell has opened a scooter shop on West Street in Carrickfergus and will now benefit from a 50% discount on his rates for 12 months.

  • How can I attract others to this cause when the property costs are so large (ranging from $300,000 to over $1 million)? The cost is disheartening because with so much unused land in the heart of our city center, this is exactly what we need.

  • hi Nicole, are you working with local municipal authorities and local business chambers?

  • This new SHAREDESK community allows you to rent out your excess office space to free lancers. The platform works like an Airbnb for office space.

  • Elish Bul-Godley

    in another update on maximising vacant office units – here’s a great idea – a portal for co working locations and networks

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