Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Thrift Core Brick and Mortar Story and Update + Lessons Learned

A couple years back I revealed plans to open a Thrift Core brick and mortar store. It started with sharing my daydreaming about a  peaceful vintage/art/cafe/book shop sanctuary filled to the brim with ample kitschy vintage wares, baked treats, books, local art, and a studious creative environment via the blog. From there I was shocked to be offered a $15,000 investment to start up! Since that time five partners dropped down to one sole proprietor (me!), my investor ran into tax trouble and had to postpone, and I almost had a location 3 times but the deals fell through. Through all of this I learned the following valuable lessons:


1. Opening a brick and mortar may not be for you OR me: I don't like the constant acquisition part of reselling. It unsettles me and give me hoarder feelings, it's a part of the business I'm really struggling with.

2. Keep Yo Big Mouth Shut: As soon as I learned I had an opportunity to open a shop I blabbed ALL over the place. With a big project of any kind cancellation is a reality, so hush until the last moments! I did a live presentation on the shop plans and wrote in various spaces on the web about it, my excitement was contagious but ultimately misguided. D'oh! You live and learn...


3. Be Careful When You Choose Partners: It's difficult to assemble the right group that works together beautifully. Start slow when choosing to work with others. Get to know them well and work with them on multiple projects first. Remember, you can do it alone. Thrift Core was entirely built by one chick!

4. Assert Your Damn Self: I tried hard to please everyone and ended up under valuing myself and doing myself a disservice more than once. I was supposed to be the boss and had the most capital to bring but let myself settle into a lesser role to be nice. Never again!


5. It's Okay to "Fail": I still want to open my dream café and/or shop. I'm realizing it might not fit into everything I want for my life into the future. I used to be embarrassed or ashamed of failure but now I know your career path is a constant evolution. It's okay to realize something may not be for you.


I still dream of my café/art/vintage shop and continue to hunt down the right location. Every time a location didn't work out it turned out to be for the best. (For instance, we almost bought an entire vintage shop but it was given to another owner. The shop ended up closing down. Could have been me!) I feel like carving out my own physical space would be better for sales than my limited antique mall booths and I'd love to make a creative local hub. I'm taking it slow, evaluating the options, and still thinking deeply to determine if it's still for me. If I find an amazing low-priced spot I may pounce!

*Photos taken this morning walking around my neighborhood. They've started two local breweries and an entire arts district, all within a five minute walk from my pad. Inspiring stuff! The big building with two "antiques" signs nearby seems to be abandoned. Curious and curiouser!

Got any business or selling confessions to share? Have you opened a brick and mortar shop of your own? I'd love to read your story! Let's discuss in the comments. And feel free to ask any questions about the shop and my brick and mortar journey. I really appreciate everyone's initial support with the project. Thanks for reading along, it means a lot!
Daily thrifting updates, information, & Inspiration: Follow Thrift Core on Twitter and Facebook.

44 comments:

  1. Thanks for the honest update and advice. I too would like to have my own store front in the future. It is a lot of work though so for now I keep shuffling along. Good luck!

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    1. It is definitely not for the weak, there's a constant shuffle of merchandise that you have to stay on top of! Good luck to you, too :)

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  2. Years ago in San Marcos, TX I opened up a small antique shop... a dream come true! Except...as a sole proprietor, that meant that when the doors were open, I was there. I had another full-time job working 4.5 days a week. So the other 2.5 I was at the shop and doing nothing else. I lasted 3 months and then providence would have me move back to Houston. So, now I know, an antique mall that I don't have to work in is best for me because I'm all about the acquisition and some free time! 8-)

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story Crystal. That was another thing I didn't touch on in the post, it's definitely a life-sucker and having a physical location isn't good for the location independent lifestyle I want to live. I the future if I get to open something I want it to small scale! I ain't ready to put down roots just yet.

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  3. The BEST business partners - "Me, myself, and I..." {Far less drama!}

    I did open a small retail store, which was originally intended for eCommerce outside of my house {and keeps the inventory from cluttering up my home!}...I am only OPEN 2 days a week, plus I maintain two booth locations at two different antique malls. I like the freedom and flexibility it allows me...{During slow days, I post/ship merchandise...}

    pj

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing, pj! Agreed, working with yourself is tough when it comes to lots of heavy lifting by your lonesome (physically and metaphorically) but so very liberating. Your plan is what I was thinking exactly, a small retail space to do double duty as an office/storage where I could list items/work on web biz during the slow times. I'd still keep antique mall space for extra sales and PR, too. :) Great minds think alike.

      Still keeping my eye out for something that fits the bill.

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    2. This is what I do! I have a "showroom" where I store, process and photograph stuff. I do keep inventory in a Tuff Shed in my backyard as well. My showroom is 300 sq ft and I do open by appointment and during the art walks (it's located in the Arts District which gets a lot of foot traffic.) The only downside is that it is on the 3rd floor. So I try to play up the private and secret aspect. I also have an antique mall space but the entire mall is not doing so great. They are horrible at marketing.

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    3. Thanks for sharing Sandra. We came super closet to opening at this location in the heart of our busy art walk, soooo much foot traffic and potential for sales there! Right now I'm on the prowl for a tiny space at a low price I can carve into a destination spot. :) And storage.

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  4. Your idea is great, and it sounds like you are in a good location too. Nothing that inspiring around here. I think you'd be a great shop owner! Good luck; things usually happen when the time is right.

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    1. I'm definitely in a developing area, it's a great time to find a spot and get started. Thanks for the encouragement and kind words, I'm excited to find a roost of my own somewhere out here.

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  5. I've been thinking that speaking it out = making it reality. But I've been realizing that that isn't MY reality. Dreams are good to have, but often good to keep close and safe.

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    1. I wrote about that before too and think of it. Speaking it out definitely was the catalyst for making the dream become real. It was a case of realizing a big shop may not be -my- dream. For now. :)

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    1. Been holding back too long. :) It's been ongoing behind the scenes. The third shop-almost-opening scenario actually happened a mere month ago! Like I said in point two, I've learned to wait on announcements. You never know when something will get cancelled!

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  7. Well, I've shared my story. 15 months and still going . . . just remember, the grass is always greener. I get sad about not being available for my dream job should it come available, frustrated with not having a regular paycheck. But after 15 years I'd have trouble working for someone else anyway. :) I enjoy having my shop most days. Wish it were in a higher-traffic place, but that'd come with higher rent! Just a word of advice - do it right the first time, don't take a sub-par location "just to start out" or you will set yourself up to fail. That was my biggest mistake. So yeah, you're doing it right; take your time.

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    1. Lack of a regular paycheck is the biggest pitfall of self-employments, keeps us working hard to keep sales up though. Never bored with this lifestyle, EVER. Thanks so much for the reassurance and tips. No point rushing into failure!

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  8. I should have clarified -- that was my mistake last year - we have moved to a new location that's much better. You do NOT want to do that. Moving is HELL. Even if it's just a block away.

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    1. I have considered picking an out-of-the-way cheap location just to save money, glad you gave me some honest advice on that one! Good traffic is so essential to stay afloat.

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  9. I totally feel you! I've had a very long-time dream of wanting to open a brick & mortar shop for handmade / eco-friendly goods. It's evolved over a lot over the years, with many years of me building my way to it via selling products made by myself and other artists all around town at art markets and festivals, plus selling out of town too.

    But finally over the past year or so, between getting burnt out on doing shows constantly (and dealing with weather, loading & unloading and all the other elements that go with it...), plus some other things (like seeing how my mom's business has created so much personal and financial stress in her life), I've come to the point where I just want to BE in the store, but someone else's store. I'm really lucky to have a great job that I love, and I'm now at the point where I'd rather work within that space and do retail that way, and be able to focus on the parts of it I love rather than all the minutiae I hate.

    I'm glad I came to this realization this way, rather than having dived in to soon and gotten into mountains of debt trying to rush my dream. It sounds like you've taken a very smart approach too, working your way there. There's always going to be lessons to be learned, the important thing is to be open to learning them. Which it sounds like you are.

    Good luck with your journey!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story, there's nothing wrong with taking it slow and building up your business first. Good luck to you, too! I'd love to have handmade / ecofriendly goods in my shop if it ever opens, haha ;)

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  10. We work from home in a completely different profession (consulting). Part of the reason we are successful and can make money is due to low overhead. I hate to say it but brick and mortar = high overhead. Having a physical space may also tie you down so you can't go find the treasures you love. Don't let this deter you if you really want to do it, just try and keep your overhead as low as possible. Partners? Well, nobody will have the same kind of passion as you do so partners may be the hardest part. You have ETSY, you have your stall and neither ties you down. If you still really want it after all that then maybe a Brick and Mortar store IS right for you, maybe just not right now. Don't permanently shelve your dream, just ponder it a while longer.

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    1. Very true on the brick and mortar being high, HIGH overhead projects. I just got off the phone with another potential spot that was out of my budget at $1,600. Which is the minimal going rate in the area I want to be in/areas with good foot traffic around here. Imagine having to make over $1,600 in sales before you can even start paying for utilities and extra fees, then eventually paying yourself. Mind boggling! But I keep hunting for some magic spot with low rent that could appear in my dream area. And of course, I'm pondering, re-planing, and streamlining all the time. It may not be for me, and that's fine. Like you said, I still have Etsy, this blog, an antique mall space, and lots of opportunities and possibilities to explore.

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  11. That's what I love about you Van, you put it all out there and give us an honest report on what's happening.

    I haven't had a store, and the thought of having one hasn't really come into my thoughts much. I'm not all that certain that my business and it's niche would be all that successful in a bricks and mortar store unless I unless morphed my business into other things to widen the scope. But as I say that the cogs whir and who knows it's something that may have legs, time will tell. I work organically on things coming together, melding and changing anything is possible with time, brainstorming and connections I guess.

    On another note I ave friends who are have just closed their bricks and mortar store due to lifestyle changes. They will continue to sell online, but in the time they've had a store and been online they have built an enviable following online and they have other big projects they're working on. So the answer is going to be different for everyone, isn't it?

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    1. I work organically, too. With a brick and mortar in the advent of successful selling online the cons can outweigh the benefits, but it's a creative expression and feeling of pride/liberation that can't be beat. With brick and mortars closing left and right like you've said though, a scary move to take!

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  12. Ah man, I would love to have a thrift shop one day, but I'm afraid I won't make enough money to support myself.

    hall-of-randomness.blogspot.nl

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    1. I can't be too sure about your area, but I think running an actual thrift shop wouldn't be too bad since you're getting ample merchandise for free and there are many shoppers hunting for bargains. When it comes to running a vintage shop/boutique/art shop things get a lot trickier.

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  13. Seriously, get out of my head!! lolzzz No, I have had the same 'dream' and almost had a partner for about 8 weeks ha! I feel like the brick and mortar would help me with the hoarding because I would keep everything in the store and also list it online-- no prob these days with an easy computer inventory system. I love the idea of having a creative hub, it's why I throw the art shows and am trying out this summer mini market idea. I believe in collaboration and inspiration and I think people come to buy your goods for more reasons than just the merchandise itself... Small business is very personal. For me, a partner is also part of the dream. I enjoy working with others who have a shared vision and it would help with the technical aspect of literally running the store daily. Nobody cares like an owner! Now, I am not pushing so hard for it... We'll see :)

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    1. You hit the nail on the head! Having the merchandise out of the houses/storage and in front of eyes sounds like it would increase sales on paper, if it wasn't for all that insanely high, pesky overhead ;) I feel the same way about everything, people buy small business for more than the merchandise, and creating events, working with others, and having your own physical space to stage definitely makes the brand more personal and takes it to the next level. Good luck to you! I want to try markets and take the brand in different directions too, to start.

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  14. Loved my brick and mortar shop. I had a business partner and she was great, we worked really good together, we were in a very small town, not even a town really, but right off the interstate and a tourist destination too, but we did pretty good. Our first store was a remodeled motel room, we eventually added two rooms, our husbands did the remodeling, there was a video store and a wreath making shop in the other rooms, also remodeled. Then that building sold, so we partnered with another antique store in town that needed a person to be in the store during business hours, the owner lived out of state and her brother was a musician with over 60 gold albums and busy working nights and living in the apartment in back. I worked the store 3 days and my partner did the other 3 days. And the owners brother worked one day a week, plus we paid minimum rent ($100)for 2700 sq ft. that had lots of stock and fixings, and we were able to arranged how we liked it, It was a win-win for all. Then she sold that building, darn! What did I learn? Talk to your customers, best part of the job, always change up your displays, and keep lots of different items in stock, we also did consignment and sold imported and crafter's wears, supplies and children's toys, so I guess we were a emporium mercantile for five years. So, maybe there is an existing store that needs a little help?

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    1. That's one thing I would look forward too, actually talking with an engaging with the customers. Your story sound so idyllic, thanks for sharing it! I have pondered if there were some existing stores I could collaborate with an might have to start investigating that more. I have a lot to bring to the table. Hopefully I won't offend people or get snubbed asking about it. ;)There is one reseller with a immense amount of merchandise who's trying to open a huge vintage shop that wants to collaborate with me on getting merch photographed and put online, so we'll see. Need to network more, thanks for reminding me!

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  15. There is beauty in knowing what you love to do at such an early age. Your B&M will come to you and when it does it will be perfect, exactly as you envisioned and all yours :)

    Question though, as I've been thinking about this a lot. How do you decide to make the venture from antique booth to your own shop. In my head I can never make the numbers work...I think about all those overhead costs with the largest being rent. That's a whole lot of vintage you got to sell before you are even even.

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    1. Excellent point about the overhead, it is absolutely terrifying how much you have to sell before that's even paid. You would have to have a LOT of merchandise and/or an amazing marketing strategy and a constant influx of new things coming in and out. I'll have to write a follow-up on the break down of monthly expenses but in general you're looking at:

      Rent: $1,200 - $3,000 for a good spot around here
      Utilities: $275 for a small space, goes up with store size
      Phone: $85 - $87 (necessary for some credit card machines or buildings/leases)
      Alarm: $32 if you're required to have one or want one
      Bank Account Merchant Fees: $120-$165 depending on how your banking is set up
      Property Insurance: varies, we saw average of $48 a month

      Then there's web fees like your web hosting, ebay/etsy stuff if you're doing that...

      You can use a square card reader (paypal has one now), I see a lot of brick and mortar business owners do that these days, to cut down on POS system mess and cost. If you avoid payroll systems and keep it a sole proprietorship and use your personal bank account for everything you can save money. It's a little more risky (you file the business taxes using your social security like normal and don't get a business EIN number) and if you fail it's all on you, but it's cheaper!

      Keeping a strong focus on online sales would be a big help while you're establishing a brick and mortar store. Focusing on the online presence and listing deals on craigslist/facebook/twitter/store blog/etc to keep people coming in this highly technological era is a big help.

      Hard work! But I still want it ;) Just patiently waiting for the right time/place.

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    2. Whoo, I'm glad I don't pay nearly that much for those things! And I do use the square, love it. I do sell a lot online.

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    3. It can be crazy pricey! When we almost set up shop we were going to eliminate banking merchant fees, no alarm, found a place with insurance included in the rent, and use our cells for biz phones to reduce many fees. The rent here is just astronomical though. Breaks my heart. ;p Oh that line up neglected maintenance fees you may be required to pay, too!

      You use the square exclusively instead of a POS, too? How's that work for you?

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  16. I think that having other forms of income help with affording a shop. Renting booth space to offset the rent or living over the shop would be a big help. Having auctions or room for outdoor flea markets would bring in extra money. Providing services like managing estate sales or interior design. A small cafe rented to someone that would bring in regulars but not be something you need to manage. The other thing I'd love is to buy matching vintage items to rent for weddings and parties. Lots of ideas just need more time....?

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    1. I love your ideas, when we were first planning the shop we had a lot of the same ones planned to keep us afloat and earning as much as possible to survive. There are all kinds of creative ways to make income while running a brick and mortar- limitless opportunities. But it makes me wonder, if the poor shop can't stand on its own legs and we're working our asses off to support a money-pit shop, why do it? It shouldn't be a priority to ensure it will be a sustainable shop making money on its own, too.

      Two vintage shop owners I know rent offer to rent their vintage items out, especially in today's economy everyone seems to be doing something on the side. Unless what you're opening is a bar, those are flourishing around here ;)

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  17. Hey, Van, thanks for sharing your story and updating us on your status with the brick and mortar. I'm glad you are taking your time. You will know if and when the time is right if you just do things organically instead of rushing into something that will be a real time and financial commitment. I know having a B&M isn't for me because I can't stand standing around when business is slow, and I love working from home too much. But I can see how it can be fun despite that. You just have to know what you want and can tolerate because every job or business has things you love about it and things you hate.

    You mentioned one way to save money is to use your personal banking account for everything. Just wanted to clarify that the IRS really frowns on commingling of personal and business funds. If you want to save money by not opening a business bank account, just open another personal bank account and run all your business expenses, payments, and receipts through that account. Just don't have one account for both business and personal. Otherwise you may get into big trouble with the IRS if you were to ever get audited.

    One last thing - I don't know if you have cable, but there's a show on MSNBC called "Your Business." It's a weekly half hour show that covers small businesses. It profiles and interviews owners of small businesses and offers lots of great advice from experts on anything and everything having to do with small business. In California, the show is on late Saturday/early Sunday at 4:30 am with a repeat on the following late Friday/early Saturday at 2:30 am. Go check it out. It will really open your eyes to the reality of having a B&M small business.

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    1. I'm so bad. My day job was a marketer for a tax debt resolution company and I wrote hundreds of small biz tax help/audit or tax debt avoidance articles yet I still take risks by not having a separate personal biz account at the least. I guess I operate on such a tiny scale that I feel safe but I should make one. If I were to open my own store I'd definitely at least have a separate bank account, definitely more vulnerable to auditing when you have your own shop! I don't have cable but I have some free basic channels, I'll have to see if I have that show and check it out.

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    2. You can catch past segments of "Your Business" here: https://www.openforum.com/yourbusinesstv/

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    3. Thanks! Gonna check 'em out!

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  18. Wow, a vintage/art/books/baked goods shop sounds awesome. I would definitely be hanging out there all the time if it were near where I live. I'm sending good vibes your way that one of these days you'll be able to make that dream a reality!

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