Mary Hamel is executive director of the Twin Cities Metro Independent Business Alliance (MetroIBA), an organization of locally owned businesses; she’s also a former small-business owner. Julie Kearns is a veteran of Best Buy and Capella Education, who abandoned corporate life five years ago to focus on building Junket: Tossed & Found — an online and storefront retailer of secondhand goods on Minnehaha Avenue S. It’s a century-old neighborhood that’s sporting a number of new shops and refurbished stores that cater to the neighborhood and thrift shoppers. Kearns also is a neighborhood resident who recently expanded her store.
Q: Mary, what is the purpose of MetroIBA?
A: MetroIBA, also known as BuyLocalTwinCities.com, works to support and advocate for locally owned, independent businesses in the Twin Cities area. This is our 10th year. We have about 350 members. They range from appliance retailers, such as Warners’ Stellian, to restaurants, hardware stores, such as Nokomis Hardware, Web developers, professional service firms, including architects, accountants, banks, such as Northeast Bank and Sunrise Banks and other local financial institutions, even trash removal, recycling and health-and-wellness businesses.
Q: Why is it more important to buy socks or shoes from an independent, locally owned business than Target or Wal-Mart?
A: When you buy from a locally owned business, the impact and the profits generated stay in our community. They buy other goods and services. It creates a multiplier effect. The [Minneapolis-based] Institute for Local Self-Reliance several years ago studied how much of a dollar spent at a local independent store is spent in the local area as payroll, goods and services purchased from area businesses … profits spent locally by owners, and charitable deductions. Each $100 spent at local independents generated $45 of secondary local spending, compared with $14 for a big-box chain.
Q: The media focused on Black Friday shopping, mostly big-box stores after Thanksgiving. You launched “Plaid Friday.” What is that?
A: Plaid Friday was originated in Oakland, Calif., by one of our sister organizations. … It’s a metaphor. A plaid fabric is colorful. It’s about multiple fabrics, or small businesses, woven together to create a stronger fiber. We promoted the day as “Plaid is the new black.” It was a hit with our members.
Q: How do your members market, particularly those mom-and-pop shops that can’t afford media advertising?
A: Each member is listed on our online directory. They attend free monthly networking events, including coupons and offers to fellow members. They get mentioned on social media. Our smaller businesses do use some print media, especially community newspapers.
Q: Julie, you quit a corporate job to pursue a business that you started in your home and online several years ago. And you leased space in 2012 and expanded at 41st and Minnehaha Avenue S. in 2013, just a couple blocks from your home.
A: Most would consider Junket to be a giant vintage shop. I consider it to be a secondhand merchant for the do-it-yourselfer and sustainability set, with a deliberate focus on providing ongoing access to a broad range of useful, needed items not easily found in the existing reuse marketplace. I started out dumpster diving and helping clean out houses five years ago. I sell mostly secondhand stuff and make space available to some other individuals and resellers — pickers, thrifters, scavengers and collectors. We also support artists who work in secondhand materials. But we don’t buy or consign goods from the public.
Q: What do you sell?
A: We carry some clothing and furniture, but we spend the bulk of our time and floor space sharing those small, useful items that other resellers consider a pain in the butt to manage … sewing notions, individual hardware items, office supplies, manual tools for the kitchen and workshop. We have a lot of little bits and pieces ideal for creative projects. And we also carry locally made art from nearly two dozen artists who use salvaged materials in their work. I’m collaborative. When I started out, there were three other resale shops on Minnehaha Avenue [between E. Lake and 42nd Streets]. Now there are six or seven. My goal also is more businesses on this strip.
Q: How’s business?
A: Business is great. I’ll have revenue of about $350,000 this year and I can afford to pay myself a salary, although I still have some debt [from starting up and inventory]. Most of our business comes from word of mouth and/or social media endorsement, which tells us our model is working. We believe that there’s pent-up demand for sustainable shopping options that offer the ease of a more traditional retail experience. You can always find something uncommon in the resale sector. And we’re also working to lead the way in demonstrating that you don’t need to sell a lot of furniture to be successful in resale.
Q: What’s new?
A: I am going to work with the University of Minnesota’s Business Law Clinic to incorporate Junket under the new Minnesota Public Benefit Corporation in early 2015. Under Minnesota law, being a PBC will help us raise funds from investors through crowdfunding or otherwise. … It helps attract a certain type of investor. And we couldn’t be sued by investors if we make a decision that’s first in the community interest over that of short-term profits.