Things I've Learned In The Last 5 Years Since Opening Our Store.

My main goal of We Thieves wasn't about just slinging vintage - it was about creating a store worthy of leaving your house for. A place for discovery, delight, connection, inspiration, and nuance - personal style has a bit of that doesn't it? Vintage happens to be our medium because it's not about "manufactured stories" (aka marketing) but actual story (history) and it forces creativity. Not just in how we get dressed, but also for me as a small business owner.  

As a veteran of big lifestyle brands and retailers I've had a lot of corporate unlearning to do and I've also had mega learnings as an entrepreneur and small business owner. I wanted to just drop in no particular order a smattering of what I've learned here for anyone who might be interested. 

Here we go...

  1. Start before you are ready. I got in my own way - thinking I needed more information and more "experience". Clarity comes from action. Just begin - no matter what you are thinking about doing or trying.
  2. Don't be afraid of starting small. In a world that feels like we need to go big or go home - it's the small things done over and over again that lead to bigger things.
  3. Pop Ups are a shit ton of work. In my past life we'd call this EVENT MARKETING. It is weeks of mental space, planning, organizing, sorting, and preparing.  It's the labor involved in setting up, breaking down, and putting away. It's lists and lists along with hopefully a great day of weather and a great day of sales.
  4. Social Media and technology that allows us to build fancy websites can make small businesses feel bigger than we are . It's an illusion. 
  5. Learn to lean into strengths (what comes naturally) and skills (what you've learned over time). 👆🏼 My strength is my eye and attention to detail, but my skills are deep knowledge of apparel, visual, and retail knowledge skills via my past life - plus I truly love brick and mortar retail. It took me time to accept this - meaning I tried to do other things before opening this store - and it was hard. Also, after reading So Good They Can't Ignore You, by Cal Newport, I leaned into strengths and skills. 

  6. Comparison really is the thief of joy. 
  7. A million instagram followers does not a good business make. Ultimately it's about the product, service, and experience that keep people coming back. 
  8. Repeat business is critical for the success of brick and mortar retail. That's why we have to make sure our product, pricing, service, and experience cultivate that.   
  9. No retailer sells 100% of their inventory unless they plan it as such (limited edition drops aka: planned obsolescence, drop culture) or they simply didn't buy enough.
  10. There is no FREE SHIPPING. Someone always pays. Either the customer pays for FREE SHIPPING with increased mark ups, or the retailer takes a hit. But someone always pays. 
  11. The laws of the universe apply to retail. After any great expansion, there is a natural contraction and after any great contraction, there will be a natural expansion. COVID has proven this and continues to prove this in the long tail of this pandemic.
  12. It takes years and trial and error to establish strong sources and relationships for procuring vintage goods. Once established they are gold. 
  13. Vintage businesses have a production portion of their business that does not exist for retailers who buy new. This increases our labor costs and includes the TIME to travel, procure, process, launder, mend, research and price our goods. Vintage dealers who buy and sell in bulk at lower prices remove key labor components to reduce costs. 
  14. There's a time and place for "haggling" on pricing. A vintage store is not one of them. If a store owner wants to offer a discount on an item (especially one we want gone) we will, usually without anyone asking. 
  15. When our store hours change -there are a million places we need to update it including The Facebook, Google, Yelp, the list goes on. It's truly ridiculous. 
  16. Control the controllable. Adjust sails when the winds change. 
  17. Done is better than perfect and execution trumps ideas.
  18. "I don't know but I'll figure it out." This quote reminds me that I don't have to have all the answers, but to trust the process and the fact that I'll figure it out. 
  19. Even doing what you love comes with a shit-sandwich. Meaning, all types of work come with tasks we hate doing. The hope is that those tasks are less than 25% of the whole, which makes it bearable. 
  20. There are no hacks. Everything worthwhile requires time, pain, anguish, mistakes, and learning. 
  21. It's not only about making money. Meaning - if you only make it about money you lose sight of vision and uniqueness. At the same time - it's a business - not a hobby. 
  22. Learning to let go and delegate is very hard for many small business owners - but it's hard to build a sustainable business if we don't. 

There's so much more I could add here. If you've been a customer of ours over the years - I can't thank you enough - you've been a part of my learning. My hope is to continue to share more and of course, I'll create a list of all the things I learned making and marketing clothes next! 



1 comment

SRO, this post oddly has me feeling nostalgic (and proud). Hope it’s OK I said that.

Harvey Bierman May 19, 2023

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published