Published on November 8th, 2013 | by Alexandra Carr0
Poppy and Co. give Seattle a taste of Tacoma’s creative business boom
Downtown Tacoma’s Poppy and Co. shines as an example of the city’s flourishing small business community. The store has been open less than two years, but owners Alison Bryan and Merri Van Houte are already branching out into the Seattle market.
On Saturday, November 9, Poppy and Co. will throw a grand opening party at its new downtown Seattle location. While the new store will carry the Poppy and Co. name, it will operate under a slightly different business model.
Whereas the Tacoma shop is open four days a week and carries a variety of repurposed furniture, home accessories and holiday décor, the new Seattle branch will open by appointment only until the ladies at Poppy and Co. find their Seattle groove and settle into a routine.
During the week, the Tacoma-based store is frequented by locals, but the weekends bring in a mixed crowd. Bryan revealed, “A lot of people who are coming to buy furniture from us are from up North.”
Opening a Poppy and Co. store in Seattle is thus a natural progression for the business.
A dedication to quality furniture
The decision to open a second location after only just establishing a name for their store in Tacoma has certainly been exciting for the Poppy and Co. co-owners, but was by no means an easy feat.
Bryan and Van Houte love what they do, and that passion drives them to provide quality repurposed furniture and home décor to their customers.
Their homes are their studios, they rely on social media, Craigslist and blogging as their marketing strategy, and they work around the clock with clients to find new furniture to refurbish and sell in the store.
It’s a lot of work, which is why they’ve had to set some rules for themselves when it comes to sourcing furniture.
“We don’t fix things!” said Bryan. Painting furniture, running the store and getting home to spend time with family leaves no room for carpentry. Van Houte added, “I can tighten a screw or straighten something out, but that was part of the learning curve – don’t buy things that need to be fixed.”
Finding strong pieces of furniture that don’t require additional fixes is not only a result of time constraints, it’s also part of their business ethic. Van Houte said, “We’re committed to buying really good, solid, quality vintage pieces.”
And they have been able to give sourcing well-made furniture the majority of their attention in large part due to the low risk associated with their business.
Testing the waters in the Emerald City
Bryan revealed that she and Van Houte have been fortunate enough to find affordable retail spaces for both stores, which, combined with a strong inventory and growing customer base, took some pressure off the co-owners when they first opened the Tacoma shop. The new Seattle location now offers them the chance to test out a new market without the worry of sales numbers and challenging rental rates during the store’s early stages.
“We’re not stressed about it,” said Bryan.
“We’re just going to see what happens…who knows. We’re just excited about it,” Van Houte added.
Reflecting on their relatively new business, Van Houte said, “We’ve really let the business pay for itself, and that’s been our philosophy all along. We try to keep our overhead as low as possible and we try to keep our prices really reasonable.”
She also shared, “Part of our pricing philosophy is blending something affordable with value and being able to make a profit on it too. So there’s a happy little balance.”
Secret to success
The co-owners may be happy to discuss their good fortune when it comes to the spaces they rent and the prices they are able to charge, but they still keep some things to themselves.
When I asked where they source their furniture, Bryan replied with a laugh, “We kind of keep that a secret!”
Bryan admitted that sourcing pieces for the store is the hardest part of the business.
However, she was able to share that they find a lot of quality furniture through clients with whom they have developed a strong relationship and, of course, through good old fashioned word of mouth.
Their financial situation has been a business blessing, in large part thanks to Spaceworks, a joint initiative of the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce designed to match creative entrepreneurs with vacant spaces. Spaceworks has done a lot for Tacoma’s creative community. The recently featured Feather and Oar also got its start with the same initiative.
After being on a waitlist for a year and a half, Bryan was eventually granted a Spaceworks storefront, rent free, for 6 months. She brought in some of her blogger friends, who were also furniture painters, to share her temporary Spaceworks store.
Bryan met Van Houte as a result of Spaceworks, and the two teamed up to open Poppy and Co. on Broadway’s Antique Row in July of 2012.
While operated under one business name, Poppy and Co. actually consists of four different refurbished furniture brands: Bryan’s The Modern Cottage Company and Van Houte’s Nest as well as Vintage Hart and Bride on a Bike, which belong to their other two business associates.
Looking to the future
It’s been a busy couple of years for Poppy and Co., and their success is really a reflection of the changes in the larger downtown Tacoma business community. A few years ago, downtown was mostly corporate offices and restaurants along Pacific Avenue.
As Bryan put it, “People are just getting comfortable with coming to downtown Tacoma, and it’s great because there are so many fun businesses popping up…it’s a brand new movement.”
Van Houte added, “I really think Spaceworks is a huge contributor to a lot of cool, funky small businesses you’re seeing coming down here…they’ve really invested in Tacoma and make it really cool and unique.”
Now, antique and repurposed furniture stores are blossoming, vintage and boutique clothing shops are growing, and new cafes are emerging.
Poppy and Co. may be expanding to the big city to test a new market, but Bryan and Van Houte are certainly proud to be a part of Tacoma’s downtown business boom.
As Van Houte said, “Local, small businesses. That’s what makes Tacoma so cool.”
Poppy and Co.’s Seattle shop is located at 1307 First Ave, Seattle. Its grand opening celebration will be held at the new store on November 9 from 5 to 7 p.m.