Retail 101: Onatah General

Photography by Leo Soyfer

Opened in 2016, Onatah General is bringing “consciously curated goods” to Indianapolis. This Fountain Square store partners with 100 different makers to create ethically made products such as plants, candles, gifts, and other sustainable items. PATTERN had the opportunity to learn more about the mission behind Onatah General.

Name: Jessie Eskew
Store Name: Onatah General
Store Address: Moving soon! Store
Website:
onatahgeneral.com Store
Instagram:
@onatahgeneral

When did you open the store:

We opened in October 2016 as Trailside General Store.

A number of full-time employees:

One (me), but plenty of other happy helpers!

What do you sell in your store:

Plants, refill bar/zero waste, apothecary, self-care, and gifts!

Previous jobs/ventures:

I’ve been working since I was 15 and have had a lot of jobs! I’ve worked in the music business, healthcare, and non-profits, and most recently I owned and operated No. 18 Paper Co., designing greeting cards and wedding invitations.

Why did you decide to open your own storefront?

I was designing greeting cards in Pattern Workshop + Makerspace alongside Eric Stine and Chelsea Van Der Meer of Yonder Bound. I always wanted to open my own store and we realized we were in the perfect spot for retail, so I used all my resources to open up the shop to sell the goods we were making in the workshop.

Do you have an online store as well?

Yes! Our online store helped us survive the pandemic and we wouldn’t still be here without it.

Which came first the online store or the brick-and-mortar store?

Brick-and-mortar!

List five skills/qualifications that you think are important to have before launching a storefront?

Time management, organization, motivation, self-awareness…. but PEOPLE SKILLS is the most important thing I recommend. Of course, there are other important skills and qualifications, but a lot of people ultimately decide to work for themselves because they don’t like working for other people. I’ve worked for a lot of those types of business owners. They were terrible at communicating not only with their staff but with their vendors and customers. If you can’t build a relationship with the people you work closest with, there’s no point.

14. What’s the most effective marketing tool that you’ve been using recently?

Instagram. I’m not a fan of social media in general, but the ability to find and connect with new customers is unparalleled.

What’s more important when opening a storefront: Location, having a nice cash cushion, or having a lot of retail experience? Why?

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION. The other two are helpful of course, but I opened this shop with $200, and, yes it’s been a LOT of hard work and sacrifice, but having a store in a visible and well-trafficked location is key. If customers can’t find you, they won’t spend their money with you.

 How do you decide which vendors/products/brands you want to carry in your store?

I’m pretty picky. Products need to pass a long checklist of requirements, although I occasionally make a few exceptions if they fit in other ways. Transparency, clean ingredients, sustainability, ethical sourcing and labor, locally unique, charitability, etc… and they have to look good and fit in with the other products we sell!

17. Do you work with vendors on a consignment basis?

Since I started the shop with basically no money, we accepted consignment, in the beginning, to get started. I don’t do any consignment now, it’s too much work.

 Do you carry any local vendors/brands? Why/Why not?

Sometimes! One of our goals is to offer unique products you can’t find here in town. There are a lot of other shops that sell local products and they do it well. One of the reasons this is so important to me is that when I was selling my greeting card line, there were only a small number of shops in town that would/could sell them. I couldn’t make a living off of only selling in town. But there are literally thousands of small shops across the US that were also a good fit, and I wouldn’t have been able to succeed if I hadn’t tried to sell outside of the city. I hope to do for these small brands what those shops did for me.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in running your business?

Honestly, I think it’s being a single, self-funded woman. Women don’t get taken as seriously or given opportunities like men are, and it’s happened to me firsthand more times than I can count. I’m not a trust fund kid living on my parent’s money–I work hard and have lived on a shoestring budget for the past 7 years without a cushion to fall back on. Banks won’t lend me money because I don’t have “reliable or spousal” income. I don’t even own a car! I don’t have a partner to come help out or lean on as most business owners have, but I do have a lot of friends who fill in that role! There are other challenges for sure, but I look at other businesses that are thriving and those are the biggest differences.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of opening their own storefront?

It is WORK honey. Be prepared to give up nights and weekends for a while if you want it to succeed. And that thing about not being able to pay yourself for 5 years? It’s true!

What advice would you give to an up-and-coming brand looking to build a strong relationship with a retailer?

If you’re new to the retailer, just make sure your products fit in with what they’re already selling, but also unique and new! Not speaking for everyone, but I get anywhere from 10-50 product/brand submissions a week. I wear many hats and I’m not always able to respond to these emails, so just know that if a shop is interested, they’ll let you know. It’s ok to follow up once or twice, but any more than that without a response can be perceived as aggressive.

If you’re already selling with the retailer, always share new releases and if they haven’t ordered in a while, check-in occasionally to see if they need a restock or help marketing your products to their customers. Remember, retailers are your customers too, so you want to keep these relationships positive and active!

Are there any online resources that you regularly visit to help you run your business better, or keep up with the latest industry trends?

I typically find new brands by traveling–this past year put a wrench in that, but there are a lot of great wholesale marketplaces and virtual tradeshows that have sprung up online to help. Instagram has been a great resource for that as well.

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