Thursday, January 15, 2009

Retail Therapy: Grand

Quick Facts:
# of employees: 4 (myself and co-owner Jon, plus 2 part time employees)
How many hours do you work/week? At this point I probably spend about 30 hours in the store, but outside of that I probably spend another 20-30 hours working at home.
Did you write a business plan? Yes, my partner Jon did…I don’t think either of us has looked at it since we opened though!
Day your doors & online shop opened: January 21, 2008 and launched our online shop in mid-August.
Owners: Wendy Friedman, Jon O’Toole

Where: Somerville, MA

Use promocode “HEART” and
Receive 20% off your purchase at Grand.
Offer good thru 01/31/08

**20% will be deducted once the order is processed and the discounted price will be reflected on the confirmation email

>> 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.

So many things! I think the first surprise was that after working non-stop for months and months, when the store opened we kind of just had to sit there and wait. After such build-up, it was somewhat anti-climactic, but really stressful having no control over how things would go at that point.

And everyone will tell you that starting and owning a business is work work work, but I really wasn’t prepared for how much work it would be. It was one thing to devote all my time to the business, and not see my friends, and not have time to eat dinner or do laundry, and then it was another thing to be completely physically and mentally exhausted and know that there was not a foreseeable end. That probably sounds dramatic…but it’s true! But it does get better.

I will say, one thing we were prepared for was that most things will not go the way you plan. We worked with a contractor who also owns a café in the neighborhood and he was extremely helpful in managing our expectations so that we knew it was normal when the opening was delayed (by 4 months!) by permits, or talking us off the ledge when we were freaking out in the early days (okay, that still happens occasionally).

>> click here to continue reading about Grand

Use promocode “HEART” and receive 20% off your purchase at Grand. Offer good thru 01/31/08. Note that the 20% will be deducted once the order is processed and the discounted price will be reflected on the confirmation email.

1. Pablo Tube Top lamp ($100)
2. FluffyCo mini wallets ($20)
3. Wooden Bulb Light ($120)
4. Roost Carved Wood Duck in Flight ($150)
5. Roost phrenology head ($64)
6. Nooka watches ($150)
7. Sun Jar ($40)
8. Apartment Therapy Book
9. Thomas Paul tote ($36)
10. Thomas Paul Pillows ($40)
11. Poketo Magnolia tee modeled by our employee, Jeisa ($36)
12. Thomas Paul Sea Life Coasters ($14)
13. Organic onesies ($30)
14. Foliage Handsoap ($18)
15. Nervous System Large Algal Bloom Pendant ($45)

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?

We always wish we had a better story for this one. Jon and Adam (our creative director and initial third partner) and I were sitting around brainstorming, and throwing words out there, and someone said Grand and it just seemed right: simple, classic, even iconic. I honestly can’t think of anything else that was even close, although Jon wanted to call us Scorps, because we’re all Scorpios and born within days of each other, but that was quickly nixed.

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

I must admit that we both read “Starting a Business for Dummies,” or whatever, but the most helpful thing was just talking to other business owners. The neighborhood we opened in also has a great organization that helped us a lot in the beginning called Union Square Main Streets. They have been very helpful with promoting our events and connecting us to other business owners and customers. The bottom line is that you have to work with both neighborhood organizations and your neighbors to make your business work. Especially in retail!

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

My first “real” job when I moved to Boston was working at a record label (where I met Jon and Adam). I kind of stumbled into graphic design and had a few different jobs before ending up in advertising. I’ve always loved design, and have always felt the urge to really do something, create something. Jon came up with the initial idea because he was looking to try something that was completely different from the marketing world he had been in for the previous 10 years. So the three of us came together with various ideas and all agreed that retail should be the focus. We had spent a lot of time in New York City and San Francisco and saw so many cool and unique retail spaces that inspired us, and we felt that Boston had plenty of room for growth in that area.

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?

I wish! I think I’m definitely getting better at it, but I don’t know if it will ever be automatic or formulaic. I’ve always just gone with my gut, and that has seemed to work so far. Having made it through a year is great, because now we can look back and really see what worked and what didn’t, and if there are seasonal patterns and all that exciting stuff. But on to the tips:

1. Everyone probably says this, but trust your instincts. I think it also helps to have some sort of filter to check any potential product against. I usually only buy things that I would personally buy*, then I ask myself if the product would make sense visually sitting next to the other items in the store…and finally I run it by Jon for his approval (although I don’t always listen). For the initial batch of orders, I spent weeks and weeks creating sheets of images to make sure everything worked together and we had covered a good range for types of products and prices.

*While this is mostly true, there is a point where you have to step outside of yourself and be flexible once you see what sells and what doesn’t. It’s great to be passionate about your products, but your favorite things might not be the best sellers, for one reason or another. Once you open, it’s important to listen to your customers and get a better feel for what their needs are, while not sacrificing your personal standards.

2. Buy conservatively. That way you can learn what works and what doesn’t without getting stuck with a lot of unwanted stock. I am still a fairly conservative buyer, and it gets a lot easier once you get a feel for the timing of how quickly certain items will sell, and how quickly reorders can be shipped.

3. Have a plan and a budget. If you can figure out roughly what percentages you want to devote to what kinds of products, it makes a very daunting task a little bit easier. Also, not many people will give you terms on your first order, but it never hurts to ask! Having terms is great because you get extra time to make some of the money back.

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

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

We don’t get approached that often, but we do carry a few lines that I probably would not have discovered if they hadn’t come to us. We always go to the New York International Gift Fair…it’s a lot to get through and we haven’t discovered a ton of new designers there, but it’s always nice to connect with the designers you do carry and see things in person. I spend a lot of time searching online, which can be totally overwhelming, but blogs have been an invaluable resource for me, especially in discovering lesser-known independent designers.

>> Hey guys.... don't forget to vote for Grand
Grand has been nominated for Daily Candy's Sweetest Things (congratulations!!)

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

I consider a lot of different factors in choosing merchandise. We carry a wide variety of types of products, but I think that everything hangs together aesthetically, so that’s important. I look for items that are unique and affordable, and if they’re not sold in the area at all, that’s a bonus.

>> 3 things artists can do:
1. Be organized when you present your work.
I like to have all the information to make an informed decision, so if I can’t see clear pictures or know the prices, I don’t really have much to work with. (This seems pretty simple but I’ve been surprised at how many times I’ve been approached with little to go on.)

2. Know the store you’re presenting to.
Get a feel for the store’s aesthetic and product lines to see if yours fits in. Like I said, it’s really important to us that everything hangs together and is unique or special.

3. Be flexible and creative.
If it does seem like a good fit but maybe the timing isn’t right, it’s helpful if you’re open to consignment or other selling opportunities like trunk shows. It’s a low-risk way for a store to try out your merchandise if they don’t have the money to commit.

3a. Be patient, but politely persistent…I haven’t always been great at responding when approached via email, so here is my blanket apology to anyone who I may have inadvertently ignored. But it can get really busy and sometimes things get lost in the shuffle. So don’t be afraid to check back in after a little while. And I would also add, keep stores updated! I love it when our designers send me email updates about new products, as opposed to having to check in on them myself…I try to subscribe to our designers’ blogs if they have them, but I am constantly struggling (and losing) to stay on top of my Google Reader account.

8. Owning a shop means constantly wearing different hats. Here's how Wendy and Jon end up spending their time:

Marketing & Promo 5%
Production & Operations 15%
Customer Service 45%
Fulfillment/Shipping 5%
Accounting/Billing/Finances 5%

9. 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?

I think we’ve already evolved a lot in only one year. Our initial vision was part art gallery and part retail space with a focus on high design home furnishings not available in the area. But we quickly abandoned the idea of a formal art gallery and included clothing and accessories, and realized that looking for items that were affordable and practical served us better. We have a large space (1800sf) and a lot of flexibility to expand or contract types of products, and we’re hoping to fill the space more and more as time goes on. We also realized as soon as we had our opening party that we have an ideal space for events. We’ve had whiskey tastings, book signings, art shows, and are open to pretty much anything. It’s a great way to get new people into the space, so it helps us, but it also helps the neighborhood, which is one of the reasons we chose our location.

We also just partnered with The Boston Shaker, an aspiring cocktail tool and supply shop, and gave them a space within the store to sell their goods. This kind of partnership is great because it’s a win-win for both of us, as it expands our offering and brings in new clientèle, and helps them to get a feel for the retail business without the expense or commitment. We’d love to explore our options for doing more of this in the future.

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?

I would probably use a little bit to pay off credit cards, but I would definitely put most of it into new inventory (and probably not sleep that week). One goal is to be kind of a one-stop shop, and increasing and enriching our current inventory would help us get there. I still get super excited when new products come into the store for the first time, and getting that much in at once would be awesome.

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

I think first and foremost, the amount of work that it requires (if I may mention that again). And how fast you need to adapt, and how creative you need to be to make it work. And that you will probably spend most of your time thinking about nothing but your store, and dreaming about purchase orders. Luckily, we love and believe in our products and neighborhood, so it’s important to have that since it will probably be all you can think of for a very long time.

Online Shop:

374 Somerville Ave.
Union Square
Somerville, MA
(617) 623-2429

Thanks Wendy & Jon!!


Melissa de la Fuente said...

This is awesome! So much great information! What a fantastic shop,sure wish I could visit! Wonderful online selection too! Thanks for this!
ps LOVE that horse on the shop wall! Wonderful!

Learning Spanish at 41 said...

Great interview, great answers. I like that horse on the wall, too...and love the fun facts about both of you. Thanks for posting this for us!

Creategirl said...

Fantastic Interview! Grand is a great store filled with items you need and ones you didn't know you needed. Not to mention they have a great collection of Thomas Paul items!

Marichelle said...

Thank you very much for your comments, I'm sure Wendy & Jon appreciate them as well! If I'm ever in the area, I will definitely be checking this place out!!!