The Approach: Trust Your Gut, Build Your Base
On the other side of the retail argument is Williamsburg’s Catbird, which has turned strong online and in-person sales into a highly successful business with a cult following. Since 2006, the “mecca for all things sparkly and exciting” has operated out of an absurdly small space on Bedford Avenue’s main drag, but that never deters eager customers from crowding in to try on the delicate rings and necklaces for which the store is known.
“I feel like that location is who I am,” says owner Rony Vardi. “The night that I got it into my head how much I wanted the space and how I could envision what it could be, I remember not being able to sleep.”
Though she wasn’t at all ready to open Catbird (she had another store on Metropolitan Avenue at the time), she went ahead and signed a lease for the 220 square foot storefront. It was a gamble, but eight years later, Vardi’s gut feeling has paid off, and the store turns a profit despite a steadily increasing rent. At this point, she’s been a small business owner for ten years and has two bits of advice for those aspiring to open a brick-and-mortar location, whether they’re selling rings or chandeliers.
First, be a low-maintenance tenant.
“If something is wrong, I take care of it myself,” says Vardi, describing how she recently upgraded the building’s electricity without involving her landlord. Like Allison Robicelli, she emphasizes the importance of having a good relationship with the person who ultimately controls your fate.
And second, don’t get ahead of yourself.
“Start as small as possible at every stage,” Vardi says, stressing that good products, good customer service and a great location should come first. Aesthetics (i.e marble counters, expensive shelving, pricy retail software) shouldn’t be a top priority. “You should save money where you can, so if it doesn’t work out, you have much less far to fall.”