Retail Spotlight: Having a Grand time

Jane Kitchen, August 3, 2013

Greg, Patty, Katie and JoeGreg, Patty, Katie and Joe Roedler focus on the in-store experience at Baby Grand.
The Roedlers have been in the juvenile industry for three generations. Joe's grandfather was a rep for many years and that's how Joe's father, Greg, got his start in the business.
     Greg's wife, Patty, the mother of four young children, soon became interested in the products her husband was repping, and wanted to start her own store.
     "It was a natural progression," said Joe. "But she wanted to be sensitive to any conflict of interest, so she started smaller with clothing and christening gifts."
     After Greg's father passed away, Greg left the repping business, and he and Patty put everything into their retail store.
     The original Baby Grand, open for 29 years, is housed on St. Paul's Grand Avenue, a quaint, historic street that's nationally recognized for shopping, in a two-story Victorian home.
     "It's a very unique shopping experience," said Katie Roedler, Joe's wife. "We're very fortunate to have created a store on Grand Avenue. It's been an instrumental part of St. Paul's retail development - people come from all over to shop Grand Avenue."
     Certainly much of the charm of Baby Grand lies in the setup - the Victorian house features two vignettes on the porch, and the front door of the store is the front door to a home.
     Since the store is a house, the Roedlers use that to their advantage. The bedrooms are nurseries, the bathroom is a showroom for baby bath products and the kitchen is used to demonstrate feeding items, including hook-on high chairs.
     "It's a very, very intimate setting," said Katie. "But what's really made the Grand Avenue store so special is Patty and Greg, and their expertise in the industry. Some customers say she's a baby whisperer. She's a resource in St. Paul for anything baby."
     Joe grew up in the store, working the retail floor for years, but by the time he was out of college, he looked at his parents' paper files and outdated POS system and knew he needed to help them update.
     He set Patty and Greg up with Mac computers and a custom POS system, and Katie, whose background was in web design, helped create a website.

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     Soon after, Joe and Katie realized there was a need in the Western suburbs for another store.
     "People would drive from 45 minutes to an hour (to get to Baby Grand)," said Joe. "So we made a leap of faith."
     Katie and Joe set out looking for an area with the same charm as Grand Avenue, and settled on a historic main street in Hopkins, Minn., 20 miles west of the original Baby Grand and a suburb of Minneapolis.
     The Hopkins main street, rebranded as Mainstreet, had been a bustling area in the 1950s, said Joe. Katie and Joe lucked out with a brand new construction building on that historic Mainstreet.
     "It worked out well," said Joe. "It was a blank slate, and we got to pick out exactly how to create the flow."
     They created the flow by looking at what had worked at the original Baby Grand for more than 20 years, focusing on open-air spaces, gallery-type experiences and vignettes.
     They also used some of the original Baby Grand features - a kitchen to display feeding products, and a bathroom that doubles as a bath product display.
     "It's very easy to demonstrate products when you're in a real kitchen," said Katie. "People can visualize things in their own kitchen."
     "It's less overwhelming for them - they feel more at home, and feel more comfortable," added Joe.
     It's that comfortable feeling, the charm of the store, and the Roedlers' expertise that keeps customers coming back - and perhaps more importantly, referring their friends to Baby Grand.
     While Baby Grand doesn't do a lot of advertising, vendor websites drive traffic into the store, especially when it comes to gear.
     "People from Iowa, the Dakotas and Wisconsin come to our store to see unique strollers," said Joe.
     The gear is located towards the back of the store, so that those customers that do travel to demo the strollers also have to walk through the rest of the merchandise mix.
     "They might just get stuck in a comfortable glider," said Joe.
     Joe said he's always ordering new gear products, and prides himself on carrying the best of the best, though he admits the category can be tough with Internet competition.
     "We've been able to hang on because we have that knowledge, and we can demonstrate exactly how a car seat is going to work with a stroller," he explained. "... And we've won over a lot of customers for life when we install their car seat."
     Joe has also created a buy-back program, where customers can get in-store credit to buy another stroller as their needs change - for instance, when they have a second child. He found the inspiration for the project in the refurbished products in the Apple store.
     "I thought, if I'm trusting refurbished electronics, why can't I do that with strollers?" he explained.
     Refurbished products are not a large part of Baby Grand's inventory, both because they turn around so quickly and because of the selective nature of what the store will take in, but it does keep customers coming through the door.
     Another thing that keeps customers coming through the door are the classes Katie has recently organized at the Hopkins store, where 1,500-squarefeet of office space upstairs has been transformed into space for educational seminars and special events. She's partnered with The Bump Club, which uses its social media connections to invite area moms to several events a month, including an upcoming "gearapalooza."
     "It's a great opportunity to offer education," said Katie. "...That avenue for us is really exciting, and I'm hoping to do more and more."
     They're also looking to improve their online presence, with a new website and blog launching this fall, and plans for a new, easy-to-use registry in the works.
     And while classes and the website and a new registry are all part of the plans for growth, the Roedlers know that it's their stores that keep the customers coming back.
     "It's an exciting time," said Katie. "...But our bread and butter is in store. I want our in-store experience to be phenomenal.

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