Thursday, January 29, 2009

Retail Therapy: Anthology

Quick Facts:
+ Laura and Sachi Komai, Owners
+ 2 employees (Laura/Sachi) and one occasional assistant
+ Each works 6 days/week
+ Sachi wrote a business plan
+ Doors opened March 14, 2008

>> 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 opened the shop - something that neither biz, how-to books, small biz workshops or any "SCORE " workshop prepared you for.

People's reactions. No matter how much you read or study, it's hard to predict how your store will be received until the doors are open and people are coming in. We get everything from someone walking by and saying (loudly, I thought) "I give it 6 months," to people who are truly inspired by what we've brought together, who come in to work on projects at the craft table. It's easy to make snap decisions about who will be a good customer, but people are always surprising you, for bad and for good. We THOUGHT we had a good concept but we didn't really know until it was confirmed by our customers.

>> click here to continue reading about Anthology

2. How did you come up with the name? Can you share 3 other names that were close runner ups or ones that would have been disastrous in hindsight?

I made a list of different words and concepts, like "art" "craft" "hand made" "collection" and then looked up synonyms in the thesaurus. "Anthology" came up and the more that I read the definition and etymology, the more it seemed perfect. It has Greek roots: anthos means a flower, logia means collection or collecting. It is commonly used for literary collections but we use it more broadly as a collection of artwork that we have gathered together, the blooms of various artists and craftspeople. There never was another name in the running.

3. Were there any stand out books, resources or tools that were really helpful during the planning phase or even up until now?

Sachi checked out How to Write a Business Plan by Mike McKeever from the library and followed it step by step. It asked a lot of questions that helped her as she thought about our business plan: whether we had a clear vision of our shop, whether we had the passion and dedication to carry it out, whether we could handle all the responsibilities between the two of us. We also took a workshop that helped us understand more about each others' working styles. You'd think we'd know all that since we're sisters, but it put things in context and actually helped explain some of our age-old sisterly aggravations with each other.

4. Can you tell us a little about your background and what compelled you to get into retail and start an online business?

My sister has an MFA in illustration and I have an MS in Geography. Our retail experience comes mostly from working at a gift shop in downtown Madison. I worked there for 10 years; my sister for five years, during which time we co-managed. It was the best way to learn about retail and to learn about working together.

We've talked about having a store of our own for several years. To a large extent it is about control and independence, shaping a place that we'd like to work and shop at. As artists ourselves, we've experienced frustration with trying to sell our own creations; we wanted to have a store that supported local and indie artists and crafters. I also feel strongly that there needs to be more creativity in the world. We tried to create a store that would encourage people to be creative: to stop in and work on an art project, to take supplies or ideas home for art projects, and to sell their works. Right now we are mostly focused on the brick & mortar store. I have a blog with information about the store and products but we haven't quite made the leap to online sales.

5. Do you have a magical "buying" formula and what three tips can you share with first-time buyers getting ready to make their first batch of wholesale orders?

First, anything we bring into the store has to be something that we like. I think the buyer's tastes really need to come through because that's what distinguishes one store from any others. Second, you can always try things out and then reorder. I do tend to err on the side of caution. But third, don't be afraid to take risks. If you never try anything new, only rely on old "safe" products, never take a risk with a large quantity, your store will never change, will never sell the huge quantities, and will not grow. You will have failures but you can also set yourself up for tremendous successes.

6. Owning a shop means constantly wearing different hats. Here's how Laura and Sachi end up spending their time:

Buying: 10%
Marketing & Promo: 5%
Production & Operations (photos for site, hang-tags, display): 5%
Customer Service: 40%
Fulfillment/Shipping: 2%
Accounting/Billing/Finances: 8%
Restocking: much of what we sell is made by us; we are constantly making more: 30%

7. They say that "A business that doesn't grow eventually dies..." How has your shop evolved since you first opened your doors back in 2008?

The great thing about selling work by artists is that things are constantly evolving. Our consignment artists often call us up with new products that they are working on; my sister and I also have tons of ideas for new products. Now if we could just find the time. We've gotten a better feel for our space and have done some rearranging and filling in - for sure we've built up the amount of product in the store. We've also been able to make adjustments based on what our customers are asking for, creating different projects for the craft table, expanding upon popular activities, finding new products to meet demands.

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

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

We have a mix of consignment and wholesale sales. It is really useful for us to work with people on consignment because that reduces our risk and our up-front expenses; the advantage for artists is that we don't mind carrying more of their creations in the store, and in turn, we usually sell more. Often, people will approach us with possible consignment items. There are definitely more artists out there than we could ever have room for! Finding new designers and crafters is one of the most fun parts of retail. We've traveled to trade shows such as the New York Stationery show and the Craft & Hobby Association show, but we've also found some great artists at our local art fairs, online, and through word-of-mouth.

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

For our consignment artists, we ask people to email us pictures of their work, rather than stopping in unannounced. Every two months or so, we look at new submissions as well as areas we want to expand upon in the store. We are looking for products we like and which fit into the style that we are trying to create in the store. We look for items that are unique from other items that we already carry, and also keep most things within a certain price range. It is helpful too when artists have experience selling their work, and especially with the retail/wholesale realm. Finally, we are really trying to build up our collection of regional imagery so we are also open to new Madison/Wisconsin souvenirs.

>> 3 things artists can do:

1. Follow the rules (see
2. Be prepared. If you've never sold on consignment before, do a little research. Find out about our store - does it look like your products would be a good match?
3. Come up with some Madison/Wisconsin souvenir options. Seriously, we could sell a lot more of those come tourist time.

10. 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?

We'd donate a percentage to local youth arts programs, in keeping with our mission to facilitate creativity in the world. We grew up here in Madison and were fortunate to have lots of summer and after-school art programs to fuel our creativity. We like to pass that on to new generations of crafters.

And the rest, what would any artist tell you? ART SUPPLIES, of course!

11. What's one thing that you wish you had known prior to opening your shop?

That even though everyone asks if we offer classes no one can actually commit to taking one! Everyone seems to have good intentions but busy lives in practice. We adapted pretty early on and now focus on drop-in projects and craft parties.

Mention Heart Handmade and get 10% off your purchases.

1. Reconstructed sweaters decorated with vintage embellishments, appliqué and buttons by Rebecca.
2. Recycled sweater potholders by Julie.
3. Crafty Pins
4. Tag portraits by Sachi
5. Bottle cap bead necklaces, beads made in Minnesota, necklaces assembled by Sachi.
6. Laura's French photo snippet collage

See other items for sale at the shop here.

218 State Street in Madison, Wisconsin


Thanks Laura & Sachi!!


Melissa de la Fuente said...

Such a wonderful looking shop! So fun and so much to see! Thank you for this, I so wish I could visit!

vadjutka said...

this shop looks great!
it is a pity, that it is on the other side of the ocean.

Heather said...

I usually get to Madison, WI every summer. I'm definitely going to check out Anthology. Best of luck and thanks for sharing your biz tips!