Girl bosses go retail

The author's daughters/girlbosses standing in front of their jewelry in MonkeyFish.

The author's daughters/girlbosses standing in front of their jewelry in MonkeyFish.

A year ago I was right here with you talking about the Loopholes Boutique Etsy shop my daughters had launched to sell their handmade earrings.

Man, what a 12 months it has been since.

Online sales have been brisk, customer feedback universally glowing, and just this spring, they’ve gone retail with an exclusive collection designed for, and for sale in, the fine local independent specialty toy retailer MonkeyFish Toys in West Chester and Chester Springs.

And word is, sales in the store have been brisk too with nearly 75% of the stock already flying off the shelf in just two months’ time.

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The past year hasn’t been as great for the larger toy business.

Toys-r-Us has left massive concrete husks all over the country and holes in quite a few hearts too. As avid toy lovers and fans of childhood in general mourn the end of that halcyon era in retail, I’ve been wondering: might the future of local retail be in the bedrooms, garages and workshops of regular people like my pair of girlbosses?

Could MonkeyFish’s involvement in the community — fundraisers for elementary schools, plus free in-store craft, LEGO and play days — along with the pair of entrepreneurs under my roof be part of the answer to keeping local businesses alive and well?

Sure, my girls sell also on Etsy and could expand their online presence to Amazon and other outlets but what they have, the jewelry they make, isn’t a commodity. It’s best experienced in person, in a local store with knowledgeable staff who care about the products, and stories, they are selling.

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The earrings being made by my daughters are rooted in stories, in the personal narratives of sisters who travel the world, source materials in foreign locales, and make jewelry based on the things they see and experience.

That’s a story, and a product, harder to tell online or at least harder to communicate to potential consumers. This is where the marriage of narrative-based products that give back (my girls’ donate $1 from each pair sold in MonkeyFish to a favorite animal-based charity of my young daughter) and specialty retail brick and mortar stores is crucial to the success of each type of business.

Within this arrangement, local specialty retail stores have products that are found nowhere else (again, the set of earrings sold to MonkeyFish were made exclusively for them) which positions the stores as having something special, local and with a cool charitable story behind it. The employees are able to talk knowledgeably and passionately about the products, how they were made by locals, and how with each purchase, a donation is made. The retail stores can then harness their own social media channels as well as, in this case, Loopholes Boutique’s too, to generate authentic buzz around this unique value proposition in the community.

This is the kind of customer interaction and engagement that didn’t and simply could not happen in a big box store like Toys-r-Us. It might just be the very thing needed to save specialty retailers, to set them further apart from their failing big box and booming internet competitors.

I recognize that a few dozen earrings and a few dozen dollars to charity isn’t the totality of the solution for local businesses in the Philadelphia area or across the country, but there may be a blueprint here in fostering and supporting the creative talents of local artists and entrepreneurs to further engage the community, to rally and grow a customer base by providing merchandise that is better seen and touched and bought in person, and to hopefully stay afloat in the age of Amazon Prime and Google Home shopping.

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