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Shop Owners – How Do You Stay Alive?

I’m passionate about shop ownership. Owning a small business with a constant stream of foot traffic, whether that be a restaurant, creative firm, or a retail storefront, is hard work. Freelancing from home in your jammies is one thing, but when you have a storefront, you have to be on your game from the moment you turn the key in the morning to the second you step foot into your home that night. It’s not all ice cream and cupcakes, unless of course, that’s what you happen to sell.

Camp on Perry, NYC

You may notice on decor8 that I often write about indie stores, many with mini tours of their space so you can see what they look like even though you may live thousands of miles away. I come from a family of business owners, right down to my parents, who once had two restaurants and a day spa. And although I’m charmed by the whole experience of small business ownership, especially a retail storefront, I know that reality is much different than the dream of being a shop girl. That’s why I write about these stores, to show my support and to hopefully stir a need in you to either shop small businesses more, or at least, refer your friends and support local stores when you can. I shop both large and small, but in the end, it’s the corner shop experience that I enjoy the most.

London and Paris are my favorite shopping destinations. As the British Pound grows stronger, London becomes less attractive from a shopping standpoint, but I still shop indie when I’m there for the sake of supporting shop owners and walking away with a bag of rare finds. A large part of the appeal of such cities is the local arts scene, and along with that, these privately owned boutiques give them their charm. Boutiques keep the tourists coming back for more. Why cities aren’t more supportive of independant retailers is beyond me. Replace them all with CVS and Dunkin’ Donuts, and let’s see how many tourists drop by in the years to come.

Unfortunately, high rents are driving so many indie stores out, only to be replaced by retail giants or expensive housing. Nowadays, a good shop is increasingly hard to find. Let’s face it, when your city becomes trendy, your section of town the ‘next big thing’, it’s as scary as it is exciting. Some people I know say that when the big developers start coming in, they know they’re screwed. Sounds a bit harsh, but that may be true. If you’re a shop owner just making the rent, and suddenly your lease isn’t renewed because the building is turning into condos, or it can be renewed for several hundred dollars more a month, your life can change overnight. When rent soars, your area becoming the next big thing suddenly lacks appeal. As the money moves in, creatives can feel a bit uninspired to do anything more than return to their 9-5 to sustain a ‘normal’ life, giving up shop ownership and their dreams. But this isn’t meant to depress you, so let’s look at the options. You don’t have to close up shop.

Camp on Perry, NYC

I ask you shop owners, is there a way to maintain an independent store amidst the clone wars? Let’s see what others are doing.

Storefronts alone are so expensive to rent that some stores have to double up with others to afford a single space. Tivoli Home in Brooklyn sells gorgeous Scandinavian wares both online and at the popular DUMBO General Store Cafe & Bar. This is how owner Kenneth, keeps his dream alive. And owner Holly Waterfield of Camp on Perry in the West Village shares space with real estate agent, Richard Florke of The Rural Connection. Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

Continue this series by clicking here or simply scroll to the next post: Frau Zimmer (Shop Owner: Collaborate)

Posted in small business on March 14, 2007

Formenreich (Shop Owner: Partner Up + Ask For Help)

Formenreich in Hannover, Germany leases a space in Galeria Kaufhof, a popular German department store. All three partners (Rike, Mareike, and Anette) are fashion designers and wanted to bring their designs into a retail environment, so they approached the big box retailer about a dead space they noticed adjacent to the music department that appeared to be used only as storage.

To their surprise, the massive retail giant supported their indie store plans and approved their lease for a trial period of one year. Excited, yet no doubt fearful, these ladies jumped in and created Formenreich, a collaborative effort where they, along with other up-and-coming fashion, jewelry, and accessories designers from Germany and other parts of Europe, share this unique space that offers soaring ceilings, tons of natural light, a workspace, and a prime downtown location. They even have access to one display window on street level near the Kaufhof entrance.

I guess their mentality is that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Join ’em as long as you are still doing your thing that is… And these ladies are. I think it was such a smart move on their part to see an opportunity and then to actually do something with it. That’s an inspiring story, isn’t it?

Formenreich overlooks old Hannover and a beautiful church dating back to the 1100’s. Of course, without the support of other designers who pay a small fee to rent space in the store, it may be difficult to make it work – but with their creative colleagues on board, these ladies found a way to turn their dream into a reality.

I visited them in their store this past November and met with Anette and Mareike, and they told me their story along with some very good news – Galeria Kaufhof extended their lease and they’re now in their 2nd year of business. I can’t wait to visit them again this Fall to see if they’ll be signing on for a 3rd year. Fingers crossed!

Continue this series by clicking here or simply scroll to the next post: The Derby Store (Shop Owner: Get Online!)

Posted in shopping, small business, travel on March 14, 2007

Frau Zimmer (Shop Owner: Collaborate)

Outside of the US, there’s a rising trend in collaborative boutiques, as well as online storefronts for those who rely on internet sales to supplement their income in order to maintain their storefront. In Hannover, Germany there’s a terrific example of a collaborative space that I visited called Frau Zimmer.

Located in Linden, a district known for it’s creative inhabitants, this store stocks gorgeous home accessories, fashion, and jewelry, arranged beautifully in several small rooms – one room a dedicated sewing area.
I had the chance to meet shop keeper Orike Muth, a textile and accessories designer that I wrote about last year, and she told me all about Frau Zimmer with details on each and every artist featured in the store. It was amazing to hear her tell their stories, but what struck me the most is how she knew their stories to begin with. That made shopping there such a unique, and memorable experience for me.

Left: Handbags by Dorothee Lehnen. Right: Orike Muth and the accessories that she designs with her business partner, Sandra Lindloge.

Frau Zimmer is yet another example of a well-organized, collaborative boutique owned by passionate artists. If you can’t go it alone, pull in others that you love and do it together.

Continue reading this series by clicking here, or simply scroll to the next post: Formenreich (Shop Owner: Partner Up + Ask For Help).

Posted in shopping, small business, travel on March 14, 2007

The Derby Store (Shop Owner: Get Online!)

While in Berlin in November, I spotted several boutiques that had a similar approach as Frau Zimmer and Formenreich – artists coming together that have a similar aesthetic and opening a store. One that stood out is Derby Store, a graphic design shop that features screen-printed tee shirts and accessories from some of Europe’s best graphics designers.

It was at the Derby Store that I met Mike Friedrich, and the designer behind Bloody Bunny, Britta, both artists that design and sell out of Derby Store. Both were excited and pleased to be working together, along with other creative types, and mentioned that in Berlin, this was becoming more and more popular. On one wall, I spotted Mike’s artwork along with his skateboard art, and in the window, was Bloody Bunny’s crochet and textile accessories. Mike was working the desk and Britta stopped in primarily to meet me and show me her wares since we linked up online via Flickr before I visited Berlin. I’ll be back to visit her in September, a trip I’m very excited about because I think she is a lovely person in all ways – she’s authentic, like all the artists I met in Berlin and Hannover. Their passion for what they created gave them the drive to make it work no matter what.

Mike manning the desk at the Derby Store

Both Mike and Britta bubbled over with enthusiasm and the prospects that await them. Through the store, as well as online (Britta has a small etsy store, a blog, and is on flickr and Mike has several websites, including a blog), both are able to make a living doing what they love.

That’s another way to make your storefront work, bring your store online by using the websites that are in place already to offer your products and services. Flickr alone can be an amazing way to connect to others, and of course sites like Etsy and eBay, as well as adding e-commerce to your own website. On days when your store is slow, you can still keep busy by networking online and running your business on the web. You are also able to reach out to a broader customer base.

From my own personal experience as an eBay shop girl for several years while I worked in the corporate world (interestingly enough, it was a business selling home decor), I can’t stress this enough: go international. Often, your best customers live in another country. People want what they can’t find next door, I know I do, so make sure your doors are open to everyone. You can increase your business up to 50% in some cases!

Sharing space and taking your business online, in addition to a storefront, is becoming more and more popular because the dream of sole shop ownership is quickly slipping down the tubes. Passionate business owners are thinking of alternative ways to keep their dreams (and their stores) alive. Many indie shop owners left behind a world where they felt out of control, which is why they elected to go solo and open their own business in the first place. We leave behind fat paychecks and bennies to gain our freedom. But, how much freedom do you have if you’re forced to go in with several others to create your business? I imagine giving up the control you longed to have is a difficult thing to do, so I applaud those who do it, and find success this way.

It almost comes down to survival of the fittest these days, doesn’t it? Are there any decor8 readers that own/rent a storefront, and if so, how hard are you finding it is to survive? Would you consider taking on partners, or leasing spaces in your store to independant artists? What are the challenges you’re faced with on a daily basis?

I’d love to learn more about this so I’m inviting you to comment with your thoughts below with hopes that we can open up a discussion. You can comment by visiting the first part this series by clicking here. It seems that’s where the discussion is going on…

Posted in small business on March 13, 2007


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