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Monday, March 18, 2013

From E-Commerce to Brick and Mortar: A Perfumer's Journey

You are ecstatic!  You are thrilled!  You are excited!

You are nervous.  You are stressed.  You are on a budget.

You are opening a retail store.

Yes, that's right.  After years of dreaming of owning my own retail store, I've taken the leap and signed a lease.  I thought I might document the process of getting the perfumery up and running here on my blog.  (While I have a blog built into my website at , I choose to keep this blogger account for a more personal narrative.  Here, I might describe my initial disastrous attempts at candle making whereas I may not want to post such -ahem- forthright information on my website.)

Perhaps my process it would be helpful to others contemplating opening a retail store.  Maybe it would be funny to look back on years from now and see how many mistakes I made or how naive I was.  One thing is certain, it will be an honest account of a small business owner opening a brick and mortar store on a budget.  Incidentally the words budget and launching a retail shop are oxymoron's--more on this later.

What facilitated this leap of faith foray into retailing?  To start, I was outgrowing the small studio where I created my fragrances.  My studio space was feeling tight.  With each new account opened, the space I needed to create, produce, package and ship my wares seemed to get larger, while the square footage available seemed to diminish.  Scrambling to find space to teach perfumery classes was a challenge.  Each time the phone rang asking where my "store" was located, every email asking for directions to my physical shop caused me pain as I would direct customers to local wholesale accounts and wish I could direct them to my own brick and mortar shop.

While I built my business on an e-commerce platform, I desired a little shop of my own filled with amazing things to sniff.  A studio space.  A classroom space.  A shipping and receiving area.  I began perusing commercial real estate listings, checking craigslist every week, driving slowly up and down streets I thought might be ideal for my perfumery looking for vacancies.  When I saw an established high end perfume boutique on the east side of Providence was closing it's doors, I pounced.  The shop was located in one of my ideal "targeted" neighborhoods, was walking distance from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, and was located on a street known for it's artsy Mom and Pop type shops.  The landlord hadn't even posted the commercial listing when I called to inquire about renting the space.

Coming Soon: Providence Perfume Co.!


When speaking with the realty company that owned the space I wanted to rent, I discovered that they wanted me to sign a five year lease.  Uncomfortable realization #1.  Despite having looked at numerous properties over the years and discussing leasing terms, I was unprepared for such a long term lease.  I back peddled quickly, and after an awkward moment or two on the phone they seemed open to making the lease slightly shorter.  There is something incredibly heavy about committing to a five year lease.  I felt as though I were signing away five years of my life.  It made me realize that I was undertaking a very serious long term commitment.  While I had always envisioned running the shop for many years--maybe even until I retired--I was worried about failure.  What if I worked as hard as I could and I failed?  What if I didn't turn a profit?  What would happen if I couldn't pay the rent?  I had been working towards obtaining this shop for years.  Having my own store had been my dream since I was a child.  I suddenly realized I was really and truly committing myself to my dream, it was actually coming TRUE . . . and I was a tiny bit TERRIFIED.

Over subsequent meetings with the owner of the property, I was able to negotiate the rent down a couple of hundred dollars to a slightly more comfortable monthly rent.  The lease was drawn up for three year commitment.  I then requested that they add the option of me continuing the lease for two additional years at a $50 per month rent increase for years four and five.  That way, if all was going well I wouldn't suddenly be hit with a large monthly rent increase when a new lease was drawn up if I wanted to keep the shop at it's current location after the third year.

There was one clause in the lease that was confusing and it involved a percentage of property tax that I was required to pay beyond my monthly rent.  Uncomfortable realization #2.  The portion of the property tax I was required to pay was 20% and it was steep.  After speaking at length with the real estate manager I discovered that the tax was currently built into my rent, and I would only pay an increase if the property taxes on the building went up after my base year.  Even if the property tax increased $5,000 on the entire building (which was excessively high and had never happened historically according to my agent) my portion would be 20% of the $5,000 split over 12 months and equaled approximately $83 more per month.  Sigh.

After going over every bit of the lease, I signed.  I knew who was responsible for the trash (them) and who was responsible for the landscaping outside the building (me.)  I had one off street parking spot (imperative in the city) and a start date: April 1st, 2013.  I tried to ignore the ominous whispers in my head about a start date that landed on April Fools Day.


The commercial space is about 800 square feet, and a little choppy.  See floor plan:

Shop Floor Plan

As you can see, there are five rooms.  One main showroom as you walk into the shop, One secondary room, a third room labelled "changing area" and a small kitchenette and bathroom.  I was thrilled there is a very small patio on the back with a cherry tree.  I've decided to use the room labelled "changing area" as an office and shipping station.  The other two rooms will serve as retail and classroom space for teaching perfumery classes.  The building is over 100 years old and part of the original foundation runs the length of the shop.  It resembles a stone wall about knee height running the length of the showroom.  While unique and original to the property, it represents some challenges with setting up displays and/or fixtures against the stone wall.

I requested the inside be painted white and outside purple to match my company colors.  Here's a few pictures of the carpentry chaos going on inside of the shop:

The office

yes, that's a toilet in the middle of the floor

front showroom, see the original foundation wall

In my next installment, I'll describe my foray into display shopping, having signage created and why my answer to all questions regarding the style of shop furnishings is "Swedish Modern."  (That's an IKEA joke people!)

Click here to visit the Providence Perfume Company website.


Unknown said...

Good luck, Charna !

Charna said...

Thank you Diana! Appreciate it.

Sue said...

Oh this is exciting. A courtyard!..simply delightful and I know you will make it beautiful!

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing your journey! I can related in many ways, just having moved from my little home based studio to leasing a production/retail space. I look forward to hearing about your journey!

zboudreaux said...

I can't wait to come shopping!

Charna said...

Thank you Sue and Zee! Heather congrats!

Allens Pharmacy said...
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Leona said...
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Donna Maria @ Indie Business said...

This is so incredibly exciting! I am opening commercial space now too. I signed a lease a few weeks ago and filed my permit applications last week. We are now waiting for everyone to approve, including the architecture commission since our offices are going to be located in an historic district. So excited to see all of this happening for you!

Unknown said...

So, whether you are setting up a shoe store, a shirt κατασκευή eshop shop, or even a gun shop, your page is likely to get reached and you can target potential clients faster.

Kerry Che said...

Wow, good luck! I look forward to reading about your journey. I hope one day to get to the point where I need to open a retail space!

Monique said...

Congratulations Charna! You are a truly an inspiration. Thanks for sharing.

Many of blessings to you.

Julia Smith said...

Nice information thanks for sharing.