Have shipping container, will travel.
That’s become the mantra of Birmingham’s Westcott Shaw and Dirk Dominick. For the past six months, the couple has been traveling Alabama as proprietors of Le Pop-Up, a shop filled with soaps, baskets and other items from France.
Le Pop-Up, which operates out of a 20-foot by 8-foot shipping container, has popped up a few times in Birmingham, a couple of times in Montgomery, once in Opelika and this weekend will be making its debut in Auburn, in the parking lot of the Depot restaurant.
Selling French goods comes honestly to the couple. For years, Dominick owned an apartment in France.
“During my travels, I was constantly finding products that I thought would sell well in the States,” he says. “The idea of importing has always appealed to me, so by the time we were ready to pull the trigger, I had a pretty long list of unique products to look into.”
What he wasn’t sold on, at least immediately, was the location.
“Westcott and I were driving to, of all places, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, one snowy Friday afternoon when we decided we wanted to start a small business together,” Dominick recalls. “We both love to travel, and we both had an interest in importing interesting goods to sell here. Westcott easily sold me on the idea of some sort of pop-up shop. She then said, ‘Let’s sell our stuff out of a modified shipping container.’ I thought she was insane for about five seconds, and then I was sold.”
While most pop-up shops open temporarily in vacant retail spots, the container offers more flexibility, Shaw says.
“The container obviates the need for a brick-and-mortar store,” she says. “We pop up for a weekend, and then when we are done, we don’t have expenses for rent or utilities. Also, the container really does seem to be a great visual hook. It’s unique and people love to ask about it. It doesn’t hurt that it’s visible from far away, either.”
It takes Shaw and Dominick about three hours to set up shop in a location, and then they go to work selling their handpicked glassware, linen aprons, tea towels, pottery, toys, beach sarongs, backpacks and more. The only item Le Pop-Up sells that is not from France is olive oil from Tuscany.
“We like to find our merchandise the old-fashioned way, by hopping on a plane and tracking it down,” Dominick says. “We both love to travel, and when we started this thing we decided we would do it under two conditions: that we get to travel together and that we have fun. We want to meet the people we do business with. It makes for a much more satisfying experience for us both.”
Le Pop-Up “popped up” first in April 2016 in the parking lot of the old V. Richard’s supermarket in the Forest Park neighborhood of Birmingham. Stints at the nearby Pepper Place and in Homewood followed, and now the couple is traveling Alabama, setting up shop for a weekend at a time. After Auburn, where they’ll be through Sunday, Le Pop-Up will be in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Nov. 5-6 and, Shaw says, hopefully back in Birmingham before Christmas.
“We aren’t doing this full-time, yet, but our goal is to get there by next year,” Shaw says.