Liz Sieber’s stores are simultaneously super-friendly and exquisitely curated and designed. Walking into Omoi Zakka or Sieber’s new store, Select Shop 215, feels like stepping into a story that unfolds shelf by shelf. The gorgeously practical is nestled next to the outrageously creative -- and it’s all with a consistent voice and point of view. Handmade goods sit alongside Japanese imports; luxurious splurges and economical little items both have their spots. It’s the kind of place that is as inspiring as any museum, but also so accessible and welcoming that you feel instantly at home.
So when Liz gave us a call on one cloudy Philadelphia afternoon, we leaped at the chance to hear about her buying process. Select Shop and Omoi Zakka are not exclusively handmade stores, so her perspective is especially helpful if you’re a maker who is interested in a broader range of boutiques, especially those most focused on a particular style or aesthetic.
Liz shared everything from hyper-practical tips about packaging, to what to share in your emails, plus never-do-this stories about a box of broken soaps and a guy with all his products in his backpack.
Anytime works to share your product, if the fit is right.
“I’m always looking, for sure. In terms of timing, we do a big lump of orders in January and February, and then a big lump of stuff toward the end of summer. But I like to make sure we constantly have new stuff to show. And now that we opened a second location, it’s even more likely that I’ll be buying throughout the year.”
Show some basic respect for the store owner’s time.
“There has to be a certain level of professionalism. I had a guy who emailed and said he’d be in the area and told me to text him. But I’m not sitting around, twiddling my thumbs, so can’t see people with no notice, and I’m not going to text anybody. I’m not asking for anything fancy, but it has to be professional. I’m always a little perturbed at people who just start opening their briefcase and backpacks on my front counter.”
When it comes to an introduction, email is just fine but be thoughtful about what you say.
“An email is just fine for me. When people send big giant packets of samples and lookbooks and they spent so much money but I know right away when it’s not right -- that is not helpful. I’m happy with an email because I can click through to the website and make a decision.
“I don’t like if I can tell you’re emailing everyone. Spell the name of the store right. Be familiar with the concept of the store. For instance, you can say, ‘I noticed you carry x product so…’ Show some connection with me and my design aesthetic. Or perhaps it is: ‘I was on your online store and I noticed you don’t have a lot of x thing’ or ‘I noticed you have a lot of candles and not a lot of soaps.’
“If there is a website, that helps. Linking to Etsy is fine but it’s nice if there’s something a little more personal. Not so much: ‘Here’s my work, take it or leave it.’”
“Honestly, if the product is a fit, whether or not I buy often comes down to pricing, It has to sit on the shelf next to larger manufacturers, so the price has to make sense for my customers. For example, I have a hard time bringing in ceramics from smaller vendors because it’s hard for them to compete on price with manufacturers in Japan.
“On the flip side, I don’t sell anything that’s really cheap. It just has to make sense, in terms of what the product is, and how that price is going to be perceived, when it’s on the shelf.”
Be as attentive to packaging as you are to your product.
“When I’m deciding to buy a product, I’m looking at a level of professionalism, and that the product comes in packaging that makes sense. For instance, greeting cards need to be in sleeves.
“One time I had a vendor that shipped me a bunch of awesome soap but she didn’t wrap a blessed thing and it all came to me chipped. You can’t just pack the box like you’re taking it to the craft show in a car. My customers don’t like the idea of buying soap that’s had a million people’s fingers on it. And if there’s not real packaging, there’s not any way to even put a price tag on it. And having branding on it, especially if you are a smaller brand — that is half of the story. Long story short: make sure your product doesn’t get to me broken and damaged.”
Find Liz’s insights as a store owner helpful? You might also want to check out our store owner interview with Chelsea of the gorgeous, bohemian store Moon + Arrow.
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