Marketing July 11, 2012 Last updated September 22nd, 2018 5,487 Reads share

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

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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

Elish Bul-Godley

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