year in review | Jan 3, 2024 |
The best insights from independent retailers in 2023

In Business of Home’s Shop Talk column, we chat with owners of home furnishings stores across the country to hear about their hard-won lessons and their challenges, big and small. With the new year already in full swing, we’re looking back at some of the most valuable insights that shop owners shared with us in 2023.

Hold On to Authenticity
The owner of Los Angeles–based Pop Up Home, Tricia Benitez Beanum has had her share of social media success (one sofa priced at $17,000 sent TikTokkers into a tizzy), but the entrepreneur has stayed true to herself even as her business has grown. “I’ve handed over social media in the last two years, but before then, I built it all myself,” she said. “I gave people a peek into my sourcing process and my finds. My social [audience] grew a lot during the pandemic, because in a time when everyone was speaking about death and fear, I only spoke about creativity and process. When [Instagram] Reels started, we did these stop-motion furniture videos that really grew our social [audience] too. So we’ve always been pretty creative on the content side—but really, there’s no planning. … We just do what’s fun for us in the moment.”

On Existing Alongside Big-Box Stores
Todd Carr, who co-founded the Hudson Valley botanical shop Hort and Pott with his partner, Carter Harrington, spoke about his hopes for the future of small businesses like his. “You have to continue to grow and embody the qualities that make you unique; that puts a face behind the product. Anybody with a huge budget can fabricate campaigns, but if there’s a small business telling the story, I think people are looking for that connection,” he explained. “Small businesses have the opportunity to stay more niche and focused. There’s a lot of noise out there. When you have a small business, it’s got to have a pretty clear idea of what it offers. It gives kind of a respite, like: Oh, wow, a little moment of clarity. We’ll never make a billion dollars, but offering people something special is the biggest strength that small businesses have.”

Check Your Sources
When Maryland designer Laura Hodges launched her Catonsville store, Domain, she envisioned a place where she could stock and source accessories and objets for her design projects. Since opening the doors in 2018, she has seen the value that comes from being highly selective about her vendors. “I’m always thinking about different opportunities to make unique pieces that are still sustainable and within this aesthetic,” she said. “We try to keep it local; we try to know the vendors if we possibly can. For me, it’s also part of the sale—to be able to tell somebody, ‘Hey, you’re holding a vase—let’s go to [the artist’s] Instagram page to watch her make it.’ … We work with a local woodworker here, and they make a lot for us. One day, I just saw this stack of wood offcuts, and I asked, ‘Could you make chopping boards for us?’ Now they do.”

Something for Everyone
Abby Hetherington of the Bozeman, Montana, store Architect’s Wife, has seen her hometown weather a tourism boom in recent years and has found that having a wide-ranging product assortment has been good for business. “A lot of people love the store, love the items, but it might be out of their price point,” she told BOH. “So we’ve really tried to cater to that: We have cash-and-carry and grab-and-go that anybody can have—books and things. Our upholstery and furniture pieces are higher-end, but we dabble in some mid-grade and lower-end. I think any good designer knows how to mix and match different levels [for different customers]. We have a lot of male clients, which is super interesting. Families will come in and sit and stay a long time, touch and feel, and I think that’s the biggest compliment.”

Keep It Personal
Texas designer and retailer Laura Pankonien opened her store, Bleu by TPG, in part to bring her firm’s grandmillennial aesthetic to Austin, a town known more for its eclectic look. Despite mainly serving locals, the shop has recently eased into e-commerce. “We tried to baby-step into it, make it as manageable as possible for our staff,” Pankonien explained. “I’ve been surprised by what sells on e-comm, because we have not taken the approach of free shipping or lots of sales. I price-shop us against our online competition, and I feel like we offer a good value. But at the same time, I try to look at it from today’s shopper’s perspective, which could be an Amazon consumer. I’m just trying to make it a clean experience. One thing that I’ve really enjoyed doing—and I’ve been surprised by how many shoppers appreciate this—we’ll reach out with a personal email. It’s not a form letter. Within 48 hours, our staff say, ‘Thank you for shopping with us. We’re so glad you’re interested in this item. We’re in the middle of packing it now.’ We’ll exchange emails back and forth with our shoppers, and it’s been a really great way to start a relationship.”

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