E-commerce companies hitting the bricks — and mortar
Small firms with big online presence see benefits of having retail shops.
Adam Kail has been tracking foot traffic.
In the three weeks since he opened the Brothers Leather Supply Co. retail shop at 15 S. Division Ave. in Grand Rapids, he’s counted approximately 1,000 customers.
But actually, he’s not too concerned with brick-and-mortar sales at the moment; Brothers Leather Supply’s e-commerce site is already a year and a half old.
“I didn’t think we’d sell thousands of products a day,” Kail said. “This is a cool way to get our name out there in Grand Rapids. We could have spent our money in Facebook and Google ads or a billboard, but being a part of the community, a physical location is important to us.”
Next door, Bold Socks is readying its new retail location for the holiday season. Following five years as a pure e-commerce business and working in basements, Bold Socks needed more space, said co-founder Ryan Preisner.
Preisner said since a website re-launch, featuring 360-degree product photography, the company has seen sales increase 60 percent. Bold Socks will open a holiday pop-up store in November, then will spend January to March working to create a vision for a full-blown retail shop.
“Being e-commerce, it would be logical to have a warehouse,” Preisner said. “But we weren’t finding anywhere we were excited about going to work. That’s also a pure sunk cost — no opportunity to sell new products.”
Bold Socks co-owner Ryan Roff was talking with Kail about the Brothers Leather new retail shop when Kail suggested the empty space next door. Kail said the buildings have been empty for at least three years, and the interiors feature some of the oldest brick in town, dating back to the late 1800s.
Having a community connection was also a draw to the Bold Socks business.
“We see a lot of exciting things happening downtown, and right now there isn’t a super strong retail area,” Preisner said. “We want to be a part of the developing segment of unique retail that draws people to downtown.
“Hopefully, we help attract more unique businesses — hopefully, started in Grand Rapids — to help work toward making it a great shopping center.”
The e-commerce portions of both businesses will allow the companies to show off their products without the pressure of making sales.
“That’s a huge part of it: They can feel the bag, write the name down and order it later if they decide they want it,” Kail said, also mentioning the free shipping. “It makes no difference, here or online.”
While Bold Socks motivation for moving was more about the fact that it had outgrown its basement operation, Kail said the leather goods company is taking an aggressive approach.
“We could have waited another two years for more cash flow, but we run our business aggressively, and if we had a perfect situation that would allow us to drive local sales and be a part of the community, we would do it.”
Kail sees many positives about the location on South Division just off Fulton Street. It’s a short walk from the pedestrian-friendly shopping of Monroe Center and from the restaurants and bars of Ionia Avenue. He also sees the added benefit of being part of the creative community that makes up Division Avenue’s Avenue for the Arts.
Kail said his desire for retail space was either to be on South Division Avenue or on Bridge Street on the west side so the store would be a part of not only a growing downtown but also a developing neighborhood.
Like Preisner, Kail hopes Brothers Leather is a good addition to the unique downtown retail collection. He hopes the e-commerce business also will continue to grow.
Kail has hopes of Brothers Leather becoming the kind of brand Founders Brewing is today. He said for tourists visiting Grand Rapids, Founders is the kind of draw that Niketown was for Chicago when it first opened.
“We already have amazing food, beer, great parks. The city is growing; the traffic is only increasing,” he said. “Ideally — and this won’t be anytime soon — people will come to town with Brothers Leather on their to-do list.”