What Is It Like, Having Your Own Store?
July 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
Years ago when I was still taking classes at UMass-Boston and tending bar at night, I decided that my dream job would be to own a shop. At the time, I imagined my dream shop would be clothing and apparel based, like an Urban Outfitters. I even wrote a detailed business plan to figure out what kind of money I would need to actually make it work. Once the hard numbers were staring me in the face, it looked an awful lot like a pipe dream so I continued to chip away at school and make drinks for money.
A couple of years later, my mom had backed into retail herself through a fortuitous meeting with Annie Sloan (the creator of Chalk Paint decorative paint). Annie had encouraged my mom to open a store, as her interior design/DIY/blogging background was the perfect fit for the types of people she encouraged to carry her paint. Soon enough my mom became Chalk Paint stockist and had a home boutique of her own. Less than a year into her new venture, she realized that nobody had claimed the Boston territory for the right to sell Chalk Paint. I soon awoke to a phone call (I was a bartender, I slept in late a lot) from my mom explaining that she’d like to claim the territory, open another store, and have me run it. I already had a taste of working with the paint on some projects with my mom, so I knew how great it was, and I thought we could fill a void in Boston’s retail scene. My mom’s brand is Maison Decor, named for her penchant for French decor and style. Though not my style, I was happy to jump into a family business and start working for myself. Soon enough our little Maison Decor Boston outpost had less French appeal and began to take a hard turn toward rustic Americana as I put my personal stamp on that shop.
After a couple of years of trying to blend our styles and realizing that my creative vision had become paramount to my professional happiness, my mom gave me her blessing to venture off on my own and start Pioneer Goods.
Early this year, my mom decided to retire from retail and do what makes her happy which is interior design and blogging. She couldn’t be happier and things have seemed to really take off for her. Though Pioneer Goods is it’s own shop, we operated as sister stores and had each other’s back where we needed it. Now that her shop is gone, I’m truly on my own.
I sometimes have people tell me that I have their dream job. I’ve heard it from people with worse jobs who make less money and I’ve heard it from ballers with big, successful careers. I recently had a lady stop in to chat last week and pick my brain in what I thought was an innocuous discussion about my experience as a retail store owner. By the end of our conversation, she revealed that she was thinking of opening a shop of her own. “I just decided that’s what I want to do.” Great.
Here’s what I can tell you about owning a store of your own: The highs can be incredible, the lows can be extremely low, and you will never work harder in your life. I think a lot of people think you get to hang out at this cool place and shoot the shit and listen to music as people come in and pay you money all day. Sure, that happens sometimes, but that just isn’t the reality of most days. For starters, I often remind myself that unless you’re a supermarket or gas station, you’re essentially selling stuff that nobody truly needs. In order to get people to enter your door (even that’s harder than you might think), part with their hard earned money, and spend it on something that looks nice is to perform a miracle. When you have winters as brutal as this past one, people don’t shop. When you have absolutely gorgeous weekends as we’ve had most of this summer, I can’t compete with the beach. But when everything goes right? It’s magic. Spring and Fall are typically our busy seasons and I come home most days beaming at the people I’ve met and the sales we’ve done. It’s fantastically gratifying. Pioneer Goods is such a reflection of who I am that I can’t help but take it personally when we perform well and when we perform poorly. When people come into my shop and have real experience, and they linger and they inspect every single item while smiling from ear to ear, those moments are priceless. I’m honored when people photograph my shop and share it on social media. I’m humbled when people say they want their entire home to look like my shop. All of those things quickly make every ounce of sweat I pour into this place worthwhile.
A quick little story to sum up the way I feel about having my own store took place last week. I was driving in to the shop, thinking about how now, in our mid-summer slow season, I wasn’t exactly loving our inventory or how the shop was looking. Believe me, there are times where I crush it and the store couldn’t look better. There are also plenty of times where we are making do with what we have until new inventory is sourced or ordered. This day was one of those downtimes. “Oh whatever, it’s slow nobody will notice and nobody important will be in anyway,” I thought. Cue ten minutes after we open and suddenly my store is filled with what felt like twenty hipsters who were going over everything with a fine-tooth comb. My friend Heidi, who was in the shop at the moment, shot me a puzzled look and genuinely asked, “Wait–what day is today?” Through the crowd, my friend Richard emerged. Richard is a visual merchandising manager for Anthropologie and was bringing his visual team into my shop for an inspirational field trip. I died! I was equally honored and embarrassed. I always look to Anthropologie as the gold standard in visual merchandising, creativity, and what a retail experience should be. I was humbled they’d consider me for any shred of inspiration, yet all I could think about was how lacking my store was as they were poking around. I’m always my worst critic, so I’m probably exaggerating how underprepared the shop was for such a visit.
In the end that’s really what it boils down to. You do great work that rewards you and gets you noticed or admired even, but you’re also only as good as your last day. I haven’t even touched on the challenges of being your own accountant, book keeper, cashier, manager, handy man, and on and on. Don’t even get me started about hiring people and trying to find good help or waste your time bitching about the amount of emails I have to sift through on a daily basis. There’s always more work to be done, better work to be done, and there is zero guarantee that you’ll succeed. But when you do, there is nothing better in the world.