Opening a storefront as a maker and product designer is no easy feat! Today I’m here to share the top 5 things I learned by opening a brick and mortar shop.
Hi there folks! I’m Angie and I’m a member at Team Lucky Break. In addition to working with some of the planet’s best brands at LBC, I also run a thriving product-based business called bobo design studio and I’m here to share the…
5 Things I Learned By Opening a Brick and Mortar Shop
In May of 2018, I was offered the opportunity to be part of a landmark retail experience in Downtown San Jose. I was selected by the city and an organization called San Jose Made to be part of an inaugural group of up and coming brands and artisans to bring quality retail to the area. I’ve spent the last nine months nurturing that shop. As my lease comes to an end, I’ve been meditating on the magical, complicated, exhausting experience of running my own shop.
The process of opening and running this store has been an incredible learning experience that can only be described as trial by fire. This was not a traditional brick and mortar where I had to locate a retail space, obtain permits, etc. My experience and reflection in this post focus on the operational side, being a maker, and opening a storefront.
With that said, I wanted to share some of these lessons. I hope they prove helpful if you’re considering opening a physical store for your own business. And if this isn’t in your business plan, don’t turn the dial just yet! There are good tidbits here that you can still apply to your business.
No amount of planning or preparation will get you ready.
When I was notified of the opportunity to have the store, I had almost no time to put it together. Running a brick and mortar was not on my radar, but when your home city says “you would be a great ambassador to our community and help bring quality retail to Downtown,” you just don’t say no to that.
I had approximately 2 weeks from when the ink dried on the contract to the opening day which involved a massive street closure, big ribbon cutting ceremony, Mayor kissing babies… the whole nine. Those two short weeks was utter chaos. Creating enough inventory to supply an entire store, merchandising, finalizing packaging, and developing store operation procedures were things I had to learn and build quickly.
I could have easily obsessed over each minor detail and fussed over creating a wide variety of products to fill a shop, but the success is in being nimble as you go while staying true to your brand. The saying “done is better than perfect” could not be more relevant here.
You don’t get a return on the investment of a storefront unless you’re in it for the long haul.
There are investments you plan for, and there are others that you didn’t anticipate. There was so much I didn’t know about or factor into opening a store. The large amount of capital spent in setting everything up was rough to fork over. Even on my best sales weeks and months, if you factor everything in- fixtures, rent, parking, staffing, unforeseen maintenance, retail software packages, and insurance, there is a chance that you might not come close to breaking even. The investment in creating a quality, branded shopping experience in your store is one that pays back over the life of a lease that is closer to 5 years. But how many folks are ready for the risk of a 5-year lease?
Be prepared to be chained to your storefront.
Unless you have remarkable staff that you trust, expect to be there every day. The working hours further increase if you are also the maker. Imagine operating your shop for 8-10 hours a day. 8-10 hours of being friendly, telling the same jokes over and over again, dealing with unruly customers, cleaning, tidying up, inventorying, marketing, and more. But when that day is over, you might have to go home and make more products to refill sold inventory. Maybe you have kids, or a family that require your attention when you get home. Want to go on a vacation? Think again.
Some other things to consider are the rules and requirements outlined by your landlord, the local Chamber of Commerce, city associations/boards and other governing bodies. For example, the series of shops that I am a part of are mandated by the city to be open from 10am-8pm every day. These hours are tough and take a toll on one’s personal life, sanity, productivity, and bottom line.
But with that said, there are fantastic things that happen by being in a storefront day in and day out.
Success is in being present and connecting with those who come in- especially when you are the maker.
There’s no rush like hearing positive feedback. Folks pick up my items and comment on how much they like, appreciate, or need it, never realizing that the person who makes them is standing right in front of them. This never gets old to me. That real-time feedback loop is so valuable. I also found that I convert more people who discovered that I was the maker. I easily increased the order value when they got to engage and connect with me. They love what I’m creating and felt that they were supporting something they believe in. But remember, being present also means, being in store, a lot.
Stepping into the role of the buyer.
One of the best lessons I gleaned from this experience was being able to step into the shoes of a buyer. I curated an array of goods to sell alongside my bobo treasures. Acting as a buyer gave me a better understanding of how shop owners think about their stores. They want to create an experience and tell a story. I’m now less fearful about approaching store owners who are most likely frazzled, tired, and looking to find new goods to wow their loyal customers.
Strangely, I also got a glimpse at how poorly some brands manage relationships with buyers. In some instances, I have had to turn people away who wanted to sell things that didn’t align with my brand. Other times, I had to chase down vendors to place my order, process my payment, and even to ship my goods. Just by being thoughtful, a good partner, following up, and caring, you are already ahead of much of the competition!
Opening a brick and mortar for 9 months has been an incredible learning experience. I felt the pressure of the summer slump and the adrenaline rush of the holiday season. I learned to thoughtfully listen to feedback from customers and adapt my offerings as needed. Converting meant hitting them on multiple touchpoints: in person, and online. I learned more about my business in these last 9 months than I have since I started it in 2008. For that, I’m truly grateful.
Have you opened a storefront for your business? What lessons did you glean from the experience? Are you considering opening one? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts!