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A Well-Traveled Blog

What Other People Say of You When You're Not In the Room

What Other People Say of You When You're Not In the Room

One of the things I admire most about Amazon is their brand recognition: Fast, Reliable, Has Everything. Like….I could literally order seven million, tampon-covered duvet covers on a Thursday night, and they would show up in a cute little, unobtrusive brown box first-thing Fri AM. Jeff Bezos, I’ll give you two thumbs up the moment you can LITERALLY deliver tacos to me by drone within a five-minute period. But even so, I'm still pretty impressed. 

Amazon's operations are immense, and their $6.4 billion in retail subscription services are clearly illustrative of a monstrous following. And Jeff Bezos (its founder) is notoriously protective of its brand and culture. Of brand, he says it's "...what other people say of you when you're not in the room." We think that's pretty on point.

I think about companies like Amazon, Google, McDonalds, Starbucks, Target, etc. a lot. Like, a lot, since opening the doors at Jaunt. They are so on-point with their physical branding, space planning and decor, color palette, messaging, and products that you never doubt where you are. Whether you’re in Cedar Rapids, IA, Boca Raton, FL, or Denpasar, Bali, a Starbucks is a Starbucks is a Starbucks. And those JavaChip Frappacinos??? They will destroy your Paleo diet equally well in every hemisphere on Earth.

At Jaunt, we continuously work to maintain our agility by playing a game called “We are, we are not” — a concept taught to me by an amazing neighbor who has spent decades in C-level positions throughout the corporate world. This exercise allows us to understand whether a single decision we make (i.e., should we hang this chair on the wall? Should we invest in urban onesies? Should we pivot to only US-made?) aligns with our brand, and by extension the experience we want to offer our customers. Not only does this exercise give us clarity in our overall mission, it often allows us to say “no” to certain questions we’re struggling with at any given time. 

There is always an overall vision, but it is natural and healthy for that end-vision to continuously change. It’s a delicate balance we must strike between realizing our own business goals and objectives, while aligning our products and our services with the end users who are trusting us to make them happy. I think about how we are doing this in a single town (for now…), and Jeff Bezos is doing this on a global scale. Puts things into perspective. Never stop learning, never stop changing. 

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An Agile Approach to Retail

An Agile Approach to Retail

An Agile Approach to Retail

Given our backgrounds in IT and software development, it’s tough not to draw comparisons between that world and Jaunt. In both worlds, we prefer the Agile Method. Agile is a flexible, adaptive approach where a product (software, retail store, whatever) is built rapidly and then continuously improved. Just so we don’t get too geeky about it, let’s call the key ingredient out for what it is: hustle. In software development, and in building a business, you have to HUSTLE: don’t be too precious about your concept, listen to your audience/customers, adapt when needed, and get something cool into as many hands as possible so you can revisit and refine. Don’t spend forever building in a vacuum only to find out that your concept sucks, or that you’ve lost the motivation to make it a reality. Get your idea out there. Iterate. Improve. This isn't just for retail startups!

When we first came up with the idea for Jaunt, we didn’t know a whole lot except we wanted:

  • To offer statement pieces that were different from what the big box stores could offer
  • To stay in a price range that was achievable for most people
  • To offer funky urban style out in the ‘burbs

That’s pretty much it. And we’re learning that, like art, it’s tough to engineer a compelling experience for your audience or customers but you know it when you see it (and hopefully you know it when they see it, too). So we made what felt were smart selections for our key ingredients: space, inventory, branding, customer service. We built a business model and our initial investments around those things. And we’re still trying to figure the rest out.

Every week, we review our space planning, online presence, pricing strategy, signage (or, usually, lack thereof), merchandising, technology, and partnerships, and, like good software, roll out as many updates and improvements as we can. Listening is a super-important part of these exercises; listen to your customers, your partners, and your instincts. Ask people what they think. Don't let anything be too precious that you can't change it and move on. We're still making changes on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis, and that's what makes this fun.


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Bringing the City to the Suburbs, Part 3: Building Out

Bringing the City to the Suburbs, Part 3: Building Out

Brick and mortar retail is dying. At least, that’s how many experts are reading the recent poor performance of several large retailers. Being cocky young entrepreneurs, we naturally feel like that doesn’t apply to us. We aren’t interested in building up a sophisticated storage and logistics operation, or selling mass-produced junk that you can see just as easily online as you can in person. One of the things we love about great boutiques is the discovery aspect of them: here is a piece that inspires, that you never knew even existed, that you have to see and touch in person. You just can’t do that shopping online. 

Our search for retail space in our hometown yielded a lot of choices but few contenders. Furniture takes up a lot of space but our budget was limited. There are some very important metrics for retail space dealing with inventory turnover and sales per square foot, but when you have a brand new business and no historical data it is difficult to factor these into prospective locations. Instead, we focused on locations with high foot traffic, complimentary businesses nearby, access to public transportation, and on-site amenities like window space and storage. We also found that commercial real estate should be much more of a partnership than personal real estate, though (unfortunately) not all of the property owners we met with seemed to see it that way.

After a few false starts, we found it: a former bank next door to a wine bar owned by good friends of ours, within walking distance of the train line and other shops and restaurants in downtown Arlington Heights. A perfect spot for home accessories, home furnishings, and decor (and awesomeness): lots of window space, lots of back office and storage space too.


At 5,000 square feet, it was much bigger than we’d originally planned and budgeted for. Remember what I said about it being a partnership? The owner gave us a great deal on rent and other incentives in order to fill a space that was vacant for 9 years and get us started off on the right foot. Much like personal real estate, the process and the build out took much longer than expected. We had hoped for an October opening, but ended up finishing just in time to open our doors the week before Christmas! I would say a few words about our budget during this time, but I’d start laughing so hard I wouldn’t be able to finish typing. Our landlord did cover most of the build out, though (remember: partnership!). 


Having received our first shipment in early Fall, we were now officially a Real Boy. Doors open!

Next up: the real work begins.

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Bringing the City to the Suburbs, Part 2: Buying Stuff

Bringing the City to the Suburbs, Part 2: Buying Stuff

Now that we had our idea, it was time to put our money (and our time, and our sanity) where our mouth was. First question: where should we source in the first round? Google was, and continues to be, one of our best advisors in all areas of the business. We looked at global marketplaces like Alibaba and made inquiries, but ultimately decided there wasn’t enough transparency and intimacy for newbies like us. Heading to China and India likewise seemed a bit daunting. We settled on Indonesia for a variety of reasons: a good partner there (back to that in a second), ease of access, broad coverage of diverse product types, and solid craftsmanship.

A quick word on partners: if you own a business that sources products from overseas, then a reliable, trusted partner is worth his or her weight in gold. This is the person that helps you select the right suppliers, negotiates pricing, performs quality checks, distributes payments, and coordinates local shipping among many other things. Pro tip: when selecting a partner like this, make sure they aren’t compensated by any of the suppliers - only by you. We (read: Tory) also spent a lot of time putting together look books and other materials to share with our sourcing partner to communicate our brand and style: eclectic, unique pieces spanning a variety of genres from industrial to French country. 

Many Skype meetings and e-mails later, I was buying a plane ticket and Tory was strapping on her Wonder Woman bracelets to manage our four kids for a week. Just over a month after Tory had the idea for the store, I was touching down in Indonesia for the first buying trip. It was a grueling trip: slogging through Dubai, dealing with the sun and heat in Indonesia, being driven around by our partner.

Seriously. Grueling. 

Ok, maybe not so grueling. However, I soon learned much respect for anyone who is a buyer, or who performs that function for their own business. My first trip included a lot of dumb questions (by me), great questions (from our sourcing partner), and generally me making several trips to each supplier as I tried to guess what to buy and how much I needed to fill a retail space we didn’t yet have. I did have my trusty look book in hard copy provided by my brilliant business partner back home, and nightly discussions of what I found that day and where I should go next. Another pro tip: Internet speeds vary by country, so come up with some creative ways to collaborate and share large files (like pictures) if you need to. I did a lot of puttering while I waited for uploads to Google Photos.

The puttering was grueling, too.

As my first buying trip drew to a successful close, I headed back excited to hop on the next phase: finding a space. We’d soon find out that wasn’t quite as easy as we’d hoped.

Next up: putting the Store in store.

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Bringing the City to the Suburbs, Part 1: From Washington to Chicago

Bringing the City to the Suburbs, Part 1: From Washington to Chicago

Almost two years ago, after 14 years on the East Coast, my wife Tory and I moved back to Arlington Heights. We came back primarily to raise our four small children, and to be closer to Tory's family. I drove the moving truck, which was packed to the brim with acquisitions made over the years from local artists and from our travels in the US and abroad - unique things, each with their own story. 

Finding ourselves in the land of big box stores and chains, it was really tough to find similar items with which to furnish our new home. Our choices were to go high-end and pay top dollar, or make do with mass production (and lower quality). We made countless trips into the city to find cool, funky, local shops like what we'd had in DC. It was on one of those trips that my wife had an epiphany: what if we could bring one of those funky city boutiques out here to the suburbs? And we could carry the same kinds of unique, handmade things we love! And at great prices! And we could have pony rides!

Livestock aside, this wasn’t the first time the subject of opening our own business had come up. We had both worked in the Information Technology field for most of our professional careers, and we were ready to change to something more tangible, and more artistic. Having worked at startups, both my wife and I knew a little about running a business. I attended art school for a few years and she had been studying interior design, so we at least had a basic sense of style. Finally, we had in Arlington Heights a great community and a great opportunity to contribute to a fast-growing downtown area. None of these things in any way qualified us to build a furniture and home decor business, but that’s exactly what we did. All that remained was finding a storefront, filling it with furniture from……somewhere, and figuring out the finances. And making sure someone was watching the kids. And, at least initially, keeping our day jobs. Easy, right? 

Next up: Globe-hopping.

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Getting to the Starting Line

Getting to the Starting Line

Everything is always twice as hard and twice as expensive as you anticipate, and that’s certainly been true of getting Jaunt up and running. Fortunately, it has also been twice as fun and twice as rewarding (we think). Provided we can knock out the last few build-out projects and get Village approval in the next couple of weeks, we are aiming for a grand opening around December 17th with a soft opening a few days before that. We are so excited!
One thing we have learned over the last several months is that having the right partners makes all the difference in the world. The following people have been worth their weight in gold in terms of getting us to the finish- rather, starting- line: sourcing partners, suppliers (foreign and domestic!), friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Some surprises and observations from our journey so far:
  • Planning and designing a home is like a jigsaw puzzle. Planning and designing a retail space is like a rubik's cube: not necessarily harder or easier, but so many more dimensions to the problem. 
  • Demand the best of yourself and your partners. You will either pay up front or pay later. This is a lesson we have had to learn a few times in life, and it’s certainly true in starting a brick and mortar business.
  • So many things in retail can run counter to common sense, from customer behaviors to visual merchandising. Unless you’re an expert in all of these areas, and even if you are, talk to people who have been there. Learn from their successes and their mistakes. Plus, it’ll help you make friends and get to know current ones better; it’s interesting how personal these stories feel when you’re going through the same things. 
Everyone who has worked with us to fulfill orders, liked and shared our posts, worked in our space, or just asked how things are going have made this exciting new venture even more special. We’re going to talk about sourcing partners and suppliers to better share what we’ve learned in an upcoming blog post. For now, just this: thank you all. And see you soon. 

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We're All In This Together

We're All In This Together

From our earliest days planning Jaunt, we knew we wanted to help support local Chicago and Midwestern small businesses. There are SO many talented artists and artisans in the Chicagoland area, and the prospect of building our business together with local partners seemed like a no-brainer. Plus, staying on the lookout for the coolest products and artwork to carry in the store sounded like a never-ending shopping spree.

While the process hasn't exactly been as carefree as buying a new chair or a new pair of shoes, it has been a blast so far. We have been working since March to identify a variety of home goods, artwork, and accessories that share our focus on natural materials and unique pieces for your home. The process has been pretty straightforward so far:

  1. Come across a product we love
  2. Get to know the supplier
  3. Try it out
  4. Figure out how much we can afford to bring to the store :) 

A key tenet of our business is that we will never offer anything in the store that we wouldn't want for our own home. That's certainly true with our first group of partners; everything from original sculpture and artwork to hand-poured, all natural candles, to the coolest, funkiest ceramics we have ever seen, all arriving in time for our grand opening this Fall! We're placing orders now and are so excited to share these wonderful products - all of which we're enjoying in our own home (ok, I guess the shopping spree comment was kind of true). Like everything else in our store, every piece comes with a great story and a personal journey and we'll share those in the coming weeks as well. We'll share more as we get closer to opening, so stay tuned! 

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Our First Shipment

If you ever want to learn a TON about international shipping and importation, logistics, rail freight, local delivery, inventory control, and having to be patient when there is literally nothing you can do but wait, go into the imported furniture business. The last several months have been largely calm periods of waiting punctuated by brief moments of immense stress and many, many lessons learned. Today our first shipment arrived and we could not be more excited. Seeing all of the pieces we hand-picked arrive here in Arlington Heights is as surreal as it is invigorating.

Build out should last 4-6 weeks and we are hoping for a mid to late October grand opening. And oh, will it be GRAND. 

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Hello World!

Starting a new venture can be both scary and exciting...a lot like traveling somewhere new. We love to travel, and we love independent home boutiques - just not necessarily combining the two. We started Jaunt to help bring sophisticated style and unique home furnishings closer to our friends and neighbors here in the Chicago suburbs, and to support local artists and artisans. 

What qualifications do we have to undertake such a venture, you ask? Well, to paraphrase Ralph Wiggum, we...like...stuff? Despite some retail experience, design training, and about 15 years of business experience, we are completely new to the home goods industry (and the owning-a-retail-store industry). We have worked incredibly hard to make this a reality and have already learned so much, and there are still many miles left to go.

We're going to document our journey here in this blog. We'll try share some cool things about the store and our travels along the way. And we'll be there to help you on your journey to make your space beautiful. Bags packed? Fueled up? Tickets in hand? Let's go somewhere new together - it'll be less scary that way.

Thanks for visiting and stay tuned.

 

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