2023 Street Stories

Can’t stop the POP: Canberra man’s small business journey

A smiling man stands behind a counter with products on display around him. He stands under a lit up sign that says 'Buy into something good'.
Key points
  • Gabe Trew wanted to create a shop for Canberran creators to sell their products
  • The idea started as a pop-up shop but after seeing the success, Gabe decided to open a permanent store
  • The store opened as Canberra went into its first lockdown and the team struggled to maintain sales
  • POP Canberra is now very successful and continuing to grow in popularity

“It was kind of like Canberra was beckoning this shop, I felt this sort of responsibility to do that.”

A man with an “eclectic background”, Gabe Trew, founder of POP Canberra, has always had a love for all things music. Throughout school he studied music and followed this passion into university, pairing it with a teaching degree. But on his first practical lesson, standing in front of a class, he had the realisation he “can’t be a teacher”.

He bounced around the social work sector, whilst teaching private music lessons. He travelled with friends, exploring parts of the world. It was during these travels he saw his friends buying and raving about body scrubs. Inspiration hit, and he focused his attention on developing the perfect recipe for body scrubs.

“I started off with making those products, and then I thought it might be cool to sell them somewhere that’s not a market,” Gabe said.

“No one’s actually put everyone from a market into a shop yet in a really fun and exciting way.”

POP Canberra has flourished and customers now have around 5000 individual products made by small Canberran businesses to browse and choose from. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Initially the business started as two pop-up shops in the city in 2018, and within the first two weeks of opening, 80% of the stock sold out. Gabe decided to open POP permanently in Braddon after the pop-up stores saw a significant rise in customer interest during 2019.

Unluckily, the opening day, 3 April 2020, was right when Canberra went into its first lockdown.

In the 2020-2021 financial year, more than 5000 businesses opened within the ACT. However almost 3,900 closed in the same year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and loss of profits.

“Literally the worst timing possible,” Gabe said, “it was a very bizarre time to start a shop.”

From March to October of 2020, online sales in retail saw an annual rise of 67.1%, due to COVID. The POP team were one of these rises, as they adapted and made an online store within a week. Unfortunately they struggled to maintain sales as a new business.

“It was really challenging coming back from [opening during lockdown] financially and emotionally and practically as well”.

Despite all the challenges, POP Canberra is now thriving, with a new app and a recently renovated shop seeing more customers flooding through the doors.

“Maybe I am completely insane but I just always had this sense that I could do it and get through it, and I think you kind of have to have that perspective if there’s something you really want to do.”