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Over the past year, we've spoken to store owners all over New York City—from Bed Stuy to the Meatpacking District—compiling their business tips, feelings about normcore, and stories of opening-day jitters into a weekly interview, Better Know a Store Owner. Now it's time to look back at some of the feature's key tidbits, from how the city's best independent retailers set their price points, to who their core customers really are.
In Support Of; Photo: Driely S. for Racked
Tanya Sheikh and Ivan Gilkes, In Support Of: "The Meatpacking District is mostly mono-brand stores. And then you have your Jeffrey and your Scoop and your Intermix which are essentially department stores—they carry established, department store brands. Even Owen is getting there, where it's really established brands now. It would be cool if In Support Of could stay this way, where people can come in and find things by designers they haven't heard of before."
Alexander Olch: "I feel like the Lower East Side is the last exciting neighborhood. I've always lived in Manhattan, and I used to live on Mott Street by Café Gitane. As that became more expensive, and as more fancy stores opened, I felt it was more interesting to try and stake out some new ground. Our decision to open here will quickly be considered not that out there. I think it's going to change very quickly. At best we're a year ahead of the curve. These two blocks along Canal don't have any traffic lights. So there's something much more neighborhood, more low-key. I take pride in being the shop owner who knows all of my fellow shop owners. I spent New Year's Eve going around to all the stores and having drinks with the owners."
Rachel Shechtman, Story: "I wanted to choose a geographic area that emulated the principles of the business model. So something that was new or different but not too out-there. In 2011, there weren't a lot of people opening up stores in Chelsea, and there was no retail store north of 16th Street on 10th Avenue. There were bookstores and restaurants and galleries, but there were no stores.
Originally the space was 4,000 square feet and I called up Steven Alan—who's one of my dearest friends—and said, 'we need to divide this, I think you should be my neighbor.' So he moved in and now there are two more clothing stores two blocks away. The neighborhood is totally changing."
Kai Avent-deLeon, Sincerely Tommy: "We are the pioneers of the contemporary retail game over here...I think if people start seeing these sorts of things popping up they'll be more prone to stay in the neighborhood on the weekends, stay local, and hang out. Because we're the only place here, I feel like people are still getting used to being able to shop in this neighborhood. The clientele is here, because you see it when you go to the Bed Stuy restaurants and bars."
Nora Kogan: "I always hang out in Williamsburg. Even when I lived in Park Slope, Williamsburg was the place I'd go for coffee or dinner. My lease was coming to an end, and my business partner and I said 'We really need to have a store in Williamsburg.' Literally, the first time we drove out, we saw this fantastic space. I called the real estate agent and it all happened within three weeks. It was serendipitous."
Kris Kim, La Garconne: "I used to live in Tribeca. This is a neighborhood I really love, and so from the very beginning, even though we looked at other places, we knew that if we found a really nice spot here that would be it. And as soon as I walked in, I got that feeling like, 'Wow, this is good, this feels right.' We didn't schedule a date and try to fit the space into that date. It was more like, let's find a space first and work around that. The location was very important. The type of space just really lends itself to all of this, and it's all about giving people a beautiful experience, whether it's online or offline."
Michael Saiger, Miansai: "The brand is kind of raw, and I like that it's slightly removed from the main part of Soho. We've been selling with our neighbors Saturdays Surf forever, and we have a really good partnership with them. I was looking for spaces for a year and a half, and this one just felt right. This place was a restaurant before, and we gutted it. The bar had been here for 30 years, and the floorboards were rotted out. We had to demolish everything. I designed the whole store. To see it finished was the best feeling, I can't tell you how many months I was conceptualizing and laying it out."
On Core Customers:
Electric Nest; Photo: Driely S. for Racked
Leana Zuniga, Electric Nest: "A lot of singers and dancers come to the store. There's a freedom to the clothing. It's very interactive, with the belts and the draping. Most of the pieces can be personalized—you kind of have to get involved. A lot of creative people are drawn to that aspect of it, so I'm very lucky."
Alice Cheng, A. Cheng: "I think it's someone who is very no-fuss and wants really clean details. She's feminine but not girly, and is really strong. Kind of old school proper, and doesn't care what people think."
Tassy de Give, Sprout Home: "When we first started, a lot of long-term residents would come here—a lot of avid gardeners. A lot of people have yards, but you just can't see them because they're in the back of all the buildings. But with new people coming in, they're definitely more focused on indoor plants, and on terraces and rooftops."
Amy Yee, Maeven: "She's urban, and she can be in her 20's or she can be in her 60's. I definitely have a lot of local customers. I'm shipping to people that live right down the block. It's exciting for me to go out and get a coffee in the morning, and see somebody wearing a piece that they bought from me. It's happened several times, and I get chills."
Anna Sheffield: "I try to design for these different archetypes and muses and I feel like there's a values system that our customers have. They want something unique, but enduring and classic. They want something that's made by a person and not a massive corporation. They value that we use refined metals and antique diamonds...I have other tattooed ladies like me who come in here, and they'll gravitate towards something pristine and delicate and then I have girls who come in and they look very delicate and they're like, 'I want that black diamond. I am all about it.' It's a total mix. I try to play with sweet and salty, and I feel like most women have that in their nature—a sweetness and a fierce side. Where it comes out and how they highlight those attributes is up to them."
Meagan Delaney, The Rising States: "They're more thoughtful than most shoppers. The girls who shop here don't come in with a bunch of shopping bags from other places. They stop by when they know I've gotten a delivery from a designer they're particularly excited about. I'd prefer selling a $100 piece to a girl who I know is going to wear it all the time to selling a $1,000 piece to someone who's going to leave it in the closet with the tags still on."
Jey Perie, Kinfolk: "The whole neighborhood is changing so fast. It brings new blood every day. We have a lot of tourists because Williamsburg is in every guide. So tourists from Europe are spending one day in Williamsburg. They come to the Wythe and then they come to our shop. The New York Times article also helped the Manhattan crowd get interested in what we do."
Wolves Within; Photo: Driely S. for Racked
Bethany and Max Vogel, Wolves Within: "Bethany and I always try to find the balance—we don't go for just expensive stuff. We try to find things that are a little more affordable but also have a story behind them. We're into things you can wear for a long time—if you pay premium price for something, you want to be able to wear the next year and the next year and for seasons after.
Guy and Shay Wood, Harlem Haberdashery: "We want to make sure you can share in our experience. You don't want to walk into a store where everything is beautiful but unaffordable. And we're right in the neighborhood, so we have to make it affordable. When people say it's too expensive, they haven't come in here. We have $10 tee shirts. You can get a lapel pin for $40. There's something in here for you."
Matthew Rosetti, Brooklyn Running Co.: "Price point hasn't really been an issue, just because of the inherent price points in the business. We have jackets that cost $250, but that's the high point. The shoes are in the range of $90 to $150. It's more about functionality and if it's the right product for the person, as opposed to price point actually being an issue."
Jamal Motlagh, Acustom Apparel: "One of my goals was to democratize the cost of custom clothing and compare it to a traditional retail brand, like Hugo Boss or Ralph Lauren. I had gone to enough men's clothing stores and seen $200 button-down shirts that are just pre-sized."
Fiona Thomas, Thomas Sires: "It's definitely more fun to go somewhere and pick things up. I was just in Guatemala and I bought a lot of things from different vendors and had some things made. I packed a ton of pom pom keychains in my suitcase. Someone just came in and bought 40 of them. It's part of keeping it fun in here. Someone can come in and buy something like that for a gift. Clothing is expensive to make. I don't want people to think, "Oh I can't go in there, it's too expensive."
Joy Gryson: "Something from the Tribeca line is anywhere between $95 and $250. Olivia Harris goes from $100 to $500, and then Gryson is $450 to $950. A lot of it is about the material I use, and the structure of the bag. It's about who the customer is in that particular brand and what she's willing to spend. With Tribeca, it's a little bit easier, and you don't have to be so specific about certain things. But with Gryson, being on the higher end, that's really for the woman who wants an investment piece...There's a lot of hidden details and construction, and I think a woman who really appreciates that level understands why the cost is what it is."
On Social Media and E-Commerce:
International Playground; Photo: Driely S. for Racked
Virginia Craddock and Johnny Pizzolato, International Playground: "Some of our best customers are 15-year-olds who sit at home and study our Instagram and study our designers' Instagrams and are super obsessive in that sort of way. Or it's like an 81-year-old who comes in and picks up the same piece as the 15-year-old. It's a personality type, they don't have to be told that something is cool."
Anna Sheffield: "Instagram and Pinterest are our biggest drivers for finding new clients. I do all the Instagram posts, and a couple of girls on my team help me with aggregating things across different channels. I write all of the blog posts. It's kind of blissful because I like aesthetic storytelling."
Rachel Shechtman, Story: "When a lot of people are screaming and you scream, no one can hear you. But if no one is screaming and you scream you can be heard. If I were to take this and launch it as e-commerce first, we would have had to work a lot harder to make noise because there's a lot of noise there, a lot of newness."
Bethany and Max Vogel, Wolves Within: "We did everything for our e-commerce site. We shot everything, we styled everything, we found all the models. Our really close friend, Anthony Blasko, did our lookbook. We went to this wolf hybrid reservoir in New Jersey and shot with these big, beautiful animals that are 80 percent wolf, 20 percent dog."
Kirna Zabete; Photo: Driely S. for Racked
Beth Buccini and Sarah Easley, Kirna Zabete: "We try to have six languages spoken at Kirna Zabete. We do French, English, Italian, German, Spanish, and Russian. And different clients respond to different vibe. Some people want mellow, some people want girly. We have every different kind of vibe, sometimes coexisting in one person."
Vera Balyura, Verameat: "I look for creative, positive people who fit in with the rest of the team. We all work really closely with each other and ask each other for advice. It's not a solo business. I really look for someone who adds something that we don't currently have to the team. I try to hire people who are brand ambassadors, and who already have the type of style that I admire."
Rachel Shechtman, Story: "I'm a big believer in attracting what you need and adding what you do well. We do creative chaos very well, so I like hiring people who come from more corporate environments. A lot of our employees come from places like Apple, Bloomingdale's, or Lord & Taylor. It's important to be proactive, not reactive. In traditional retail, it's about maintaining systems, and here it's about creating them. One month we'll be doing in-store yoga and pilates on the weekends and another month we'll be doing mixology classes."
Wendy Nichol: "I look for someone to literally blow my mind. If I get a resume that does that I will do everything in my power to get that person into my studio and hire them. It's how you write, it's the images that you send, it's how everything is put together...I'm looking for extreme thoughtfulness and talent. Our interview process is intense. Especially to come into what we call a "maker" position—it involves an audition-style interview.
Virginia Craddock and Johnny Pizzolato, International Playground: "Customers have to feel comfortable to walk into a space and discover something. We don't want them to feel judged or like someone is pushing for a sale. We really are trying to educate people about these designers, so we look for employees who can provide that experience. Also, nice people. So much about fashion can feel exclusive, and we want everyone to feel invited to the party."
Nora Kogan: "I look for people with enthusiasm and creativity. I like people who are easygoing. You have to have a passion for something, it's hard for me to work with someone who isn't into it. I want them to participate and enjoy what they do."
Kris Kim, La Garconne: "I look for a real genuine sense of love for fashion. Passion. How long have you been reading magazines? I've been reading magazines since I was a kid. You have to really really love it, and I look for that love."