Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shop Girls, Shop Local

An interview with Michelle Germain the curator/owner of the gallery boutique, Shop Girls.

Situated in Toronto's Parkdale at Queen Street West, Shop Girls has become the place for Canadian designers and consumers who are looking for something local. New designers are able to sell small quantities of their product in the store to test the market before going into full blown production. Customers are always looking to buy items that they feel good about. What is better than supporting your fellow Canadians? Interviewing the owner of the gallery boutique became my mission as I was curious about what inspired the concept of such a store and what it takes for new and aspiring designers to have their products sell in Canada.

Every child has dreams but not every child grows up to become what they expected. For Michelle Germain, life took turns in ways that she did not plan. Originally from Ottawa, Germain studied French literature with intentions of becoming a teacher some day. However, after she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree, she realized teaching was not for her. This led her onto a whole new path as she moved to Toronto.

After schooling in Ottawa, she decided to take on another two years for merchandising at the The Academy of Design. On graduation day, she did not attend and instead went to a Holt Renfrew orientation. To this day, she feels it was the best decision she could have made at the time. She was hired at Holt Renfrew as a sales associate. Prior to the job, she did not have much sales experienced but was able to work the floor and sell for six months. Eventually, she worked her way up into advertising, a position which was essentially a middle person for the company and everyone else. The job entitled her to deal with buyers, worked with photographers and stylists, involved in events, and worked on the Holt Renfrew book. A lot of grunt work was involved and a major down side at the time was the lack of a travel budget which meant she did not travel. After six and a half years, Germain leaves the company as Advertising Manager and pursues another career path.

Aware of her ability to lead and manage, Germain takes on a business of her own. A wellness company she named, “Lucid”, provided services that were delivered to your home and office. Employees included dieticians and massage therapists. The business went on for one year before she went back to work for a preexisting company once again. A new business is always tough and she decided it would be better to have a steady income for the time being.

Taking on the role as Marketing Manager at HBC, she left for maternity leave and when she was ready to go back into the work force, she realized she preferred being her own boss. During her life time, she had met many great designers and knew that their items could sell. However, she did not open a shop immediately but instead wanted to see first hand how consumers would react to local products. She started with pop-up-shops inviting the artists to be present to interact with the customers. The idea of a story behind the product was appealing and was an extra incentive to purchase. When the time was ready, she opened up Shop Girls.

New businesses are often difficult, Shop Girls did not become stable until after two to three years. Germain says, “it takes three times the money one expects and two times the work.” At first, she mainly did consignment but the assortment was limited. The products she took on were from artists who had leftovers that could not sell elsewhere. In order to maintain income, she sold wholesale as well. She hopes to focus more on the artists and the consumer now that her store has been established. Her market is very broad and intends on narrowing it down a bit more to make products more focused on her target market and their need for comfort.

Germain receives daily requests from designers who want to sell their products in her store, sometimes as much as a couple times a day from the same person. She advises anyone who is interested to understand the stores aesthetic, know the price range is under $200, and to be able to offer a product that is unique. Once one feels confident, they may send photos to

The store works on consignment but also unique to Shop Girls is their Artist Circle. Consignment means the store gets fifty percent and the designer gets fifty percent of the profit from the item that is sold. The Artist Circle means the designer works at the store for eight hours a week in exchange for seventy-five percent of the profit while the store collects twenty-five percent. Any items that are not sold at the end of the season is returned to the designer/artist.

Germain's advice to new designers is, “take it slow, know your market, and don't go full on production.” She believes it is important to understand clientele response so attending The Clothing Show or The One of a Kind Show would be important as one is able to interact with the customers. In the mean time, study hard, have a goal, and eventually you may find your niche in the Canadian market.

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