Thursday, August 28, 2008

Retail Therapy: Greenward


# of employees: 3 right now
Did you write a business plan (y/n)? Yes, but I haven't looked at it lately! I think we did OK on the numbers, though.
Day your doors opened: 4/18/07
Owner(s): Scott Walker and Simone Alpen

>> Think you're ready to open up a shop? Read on and find out what really goes on behind the register...

1. Name one thing that completely took you by surprise when you first started Greenward - something that neither biz how-to books or any "SCORE" workshop prepared you for.

I think we have been most surprised by how positive the response has been from our customers. We of course thought we had put together a nice store, but so many of our customers say how much they love the store before they leave. It's great to hear! We tried to do a lot of research beforehand to avoid any of the bad kind of surprises, and I think we've done a pretty good job so far!

>> click here to continue reading about Greenward

2. I know that Scott is a former urban planner. Why the change an
d what compelled you to go into retail?

Simone had started a store a couple years prior with some friends of ours (Magpie). She is no longer involved in Magpie, but it gave me the idea that it was really not such an outlandish idea to start a business - something that had not occurred to me before. I woke up one day with the idea for Greenward and pursued it actively from there. In my last planning job, I was working on bicycle and pedestrian projects, and planning in general is a field with an environmental bent, so I strangely don't really feel like the store represents a drastic change in interests. It is great to be your own boss--there is of course as much or more stress, but the stress seems a bit different when your efforts are really for you and not for someone else.

3. I once heard someone say "A business that doesn't grow eventually dies..." How has Greenward evolved since you first opened your doors?

We are actively working on getting our full-fledged web store open in the near future. We are constantly adding new items to our inventory and doing research to find new things to add. We try to be responsive to our customers and to carry products they request, so the store is always a little different from month to month.

4. Buying initial inventory is probably one of the most daunting tasks during the start-up phase. I know that Simone is a retail veteran, do you have a magical "buying" formula? Can you please share 5 things you've learned about buying and deciding how much inventory to purchase with first-time buyers getting ready to make their first batch of wholesale orders?

I think that, like many retail stores, we had less than we could have at the beginning and the store was a bit sparse. That was not a terrible thing for me being new to running a business, as it gave us time to get our sea legs.

5. Some say that the best business partners complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. Can you illustrate this balance using 3 points.

Simone and I are particularly well-balanced for our business, I think. I have an engineering degree as well and really have the engineer's approach to things. I am pretty good with spreadsheets, making plans, estimating costs and timeframes, and doing the accounting. Simone is great at choosing new products; giving direction to any element of design: colors, placement, displays, web pages; editing and helping to write the newsletter; thinking of new ways to expand our business. Since she has a full-time job outside of the store and limited time to offer to it, it really helps that the things that she most likes to do are the areas where I am weakest.

>> So you think your goods are perfect for Greenward?

6. Do most of the other designers you carry approach you, or do you actively seek out new designers? If so, where?

The great majority of our products are from producers that we discovered through our own research. We mainly do our research on the internet--Simone and I read a ton of blogs and receive a great number of email newsletters! We also look in other stores when we travel and just generally try to keep up with the latest and greatest. Now that we have been open for a while, though, we have had more people soliciting us directly either by calling, emailing, or coming to the store and we have discovered several good designers this way.

7. What is your process in choosing merchandise and what 3 things can artists do to stand out in your mind?

We hear about something we like, we contact them to get information, we place an order.

1) Present your products well
Have a website or a PDF catalog with lots of information and pictures of your items. Provide information about the materials used to make the product and the conditions under which the product is made. Show a clear commitment to producing eco-friendly goods.

2) Communicate with us
Be up-front with us about how long it will take to get things, tell us what sells best and how to sell it, let us know when you have new products.

3) Be organized

Respond to inquiries in a timely manner, don't screw up orders, stand behind the quality of your products.

8. What are your best sellers?

We sell a lot of reusable shopping bags, especially shopping bags that fold up to fit in a pocket or purse. We also sell many reusable water bottles--we used to carry only Sigg bottles, but we have recently started carrying Klean Kanteen as well, and they have been very popular. In somewhat of a surprise for us in our urban location, composting supplies are also very popular items for us.

9. Owning a shop means constantly wearing different hats. Here's how Scott ends up spending his time:

20% Buying
10% Marketing & Promo
10% Production & Operations
25% Customer Service
5% Fulfillment/Shipping (this will change once the web store gets going)
15% Accounting/Billing/Finances
15% Research into new products

10. You've been in business for a little under a year - do you have a target date when you'll feel some sort of sigh of relief and feel confident that you're not going to be part of a statistic? They say that in the restaurant business, you shouldn't expect to see any profit until your second year - is it the same for retail in your experience? What should aspiring store owners be prepared to expect?

The rule of thumb that I have heard for a business is 3 years before you are really established, and that seems like a reasonable figure to me. You should know after about a year or less whether you actually have the potential to ever make a profit, but it will probably take 2-3 years before enough people know about you to sustain the business. Always plan for things to be worse than you think they will be--that gives you more room to be pleasantly surprised!

11. If Oprah decided to give you $10,000 tax free for your business, but you had to spend it in one week, what would you do with it?

I think we would probably donate it to an environmental non-profit! Just having Oprah mention us would probably bring in a lot more business than we could handle!

>> VISIT Greenward
776 Massachusetts Ave. Unit 1
Cambridge, MA 02140 Phone: 617-395-1338

Greenward is conveniently located just a few blocks from the Porter Square Station on the MBTA Red Line. As you exit the station, take a left onto Massachusetts Avenue and walk about four blocks. Greenward is located on the right side of the street at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Lancaster Street, below the clothing store Susanna.

:: Here is a program that we participate in at Greenward to reward people that travel by bike -- check the web site to see if it's in your town yet!

Thanks Scott & Simone!!


Melissa de la Fuente said...

What a wonderful shop and admirable ethics! Sure wish I could visit!