For the next few months, decor8 will feature a Shop Girl series, posts that randomly pop up from time to time about shop ownership – brick ‘n mortar and online stores – to gather the perspectives of both owner and customer alike. The goal is to collect ideas that will help small business owners stay afloat which will make our shop experience as customers, a richer, more interesting one that fills more than just our bags, but may even help us meet new people in our community, learn about interesting artists, and walk away feeling refreshed and inspired.
The response from Shop Owners How Do You Stay Alive?, blogged on March 13th, resulted in some informative comments that extend beyond the typical ‘great post!’ that you usually see on blogs. If you haven’t already, please read the comments, enlightening to say the least. Shannon, from the blog Make It, brought up an interesting point that I’d like to get your opinion on.
Shannon said, “I love hearing of small businesses that also hold art/craft exhibits. Doe and Rare Device are two stores that do this very well and not only do they get great publicity from it, they support small artisans and give people another reason to visit their shop, even if they don’t feel like shopping. Small businesses need to think of creative ways to get people into their stores (classes, book signings, cocktail hour). Here in Boston, Magpie just reopened in a larger storefront with a temporary art exhibit as well.”
So readers, shoppers, friends of independent boutiques… What do you think? How can shop owners attract a loyal following? If you owned a shop, what creative ideas would you use to attract customers? What would you like to gain from your shopping experience?
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.
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.
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)
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.
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).
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!)