The “buy local” movement has a new ally. Herberger’s, which is part of the parent company Bon-Ton, is expanding its Close to Home program that features merchandise from local entrepreneurs.
It’s looking for new artisans, makers, vendors and designers to submit their locally themed, locally sourced or locally made products that could be put in stores this fall.
The current line includes apparel, glassware, pillows, blankets, home decor, handbags, scarves, candles and bath products from $3 to $125, but the company said the field is wide open.
“We’re hoping for all sorts of categories that we’ve never thought of before,” said Kathryn Bufano, Bon-Ton’s chief executive. “There is a tremendous number of artists looking to get their work out there.”
The program initially launched in 45 stores in eight states, including Southdale, Northtown and Rosedale locations in the Twin Cities.
The initiative started as a way to keep the firm’s brand regional and had no set sales goal. “We did not think it would be in the millions, but it is,” Bufano said. “You wouldn’t think of a big department store wanting smaller vendors, but it adds to the quirkiness and specialness.”
It includes products and gifts from local artisans. Heidi Danos of Fosston, Minn., contributed Dirty Knees Soap, a product she’s been making since her husband tried it and told her, “Never quit making this stuff.”
Other Minnesota companies that contributed to the initial launch include Minnesota Mittens in Winona, Kiyi Kiyi Cosmetics from Willmar, Sota Clothing, MPLS/STP Clothing, 14 Gauge metal works, all in Minneapolis, ReclaiMNed wood products of Waconia, Howard Soap Co. in Greenbush, Sister’s Heritage candles of Elk River and Acadian Candle Co. of Richfield.
Former University of Minnesota student Jesse Purvey took an idea that he originally used as holiday gifts for family and friends to submit: a laser cut metal bottle opener in the shape of Minnesota. The product is designed, manufactured and assembled in Minneapolis, but Purvey has expanded his idea to include other states.
Close to Home displays are about to be expanded to another 99 stores, bringing the program to more than half the company’s 250-plus locations, mostly in the Midwest, Northeast and upper Great Plains.
In Minnesota, Herberger’s will add the program by the end of February to stores in Stillwater, Bloomington (Southtown), Mankato, Rochester, Alexandria, St. Cloud, Virginia and Moorhead. In March, select stores in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa will get them.
“We didn’t want to roll it out too broadly because we didn’t know what the response would be,” said Susan Praus, regional merchandise director for Bon-Ton. “It’s been very popular.”
She said that the three Minnesota stores have had excellent sales of the Minnesota-themed T-shirts, the soaps from Kiyi Kiyi Cosmetics, and the barware and drinking glasses with “Hockey” etched on them. “Minnesotans are proud of their state and they want it on their T-shirts and hats,” she said.
Quantities ordered from vendors are generally small. The T-shirt vendors started out with orders of 12 per style per store, but that’s now increasing to 24 or 36 per store per item. Bon-Ton works with the vendor to see what they can realistically produce, but only those already selling the products online or in a store are considered.
Bon-Ton has avoided children’s products because of the costs and time for testing.
Most products made in state
Most of the products are made in Minnesota. Some of the Sota Clothing is made in Nicaragua, and an Outside Inside bird house is made in China.
“It matters a lot to me that the items are made in Minnesota,” said Mary Becker of Eden Prairie, who shopped the Close to Home section at Southdale last week.
Her shopping buddy, Patty Scanlon of Richfield, said she didn’t care as much where they were made. “I’m just glad they’ve got all these hockey items now that the Wild are doing so well,” Scanlon said.
Sarah Bowles, the marketing director at ReclaiMNed, said that she and her brother Mike only collect barn wood from Minnesota around Cologne and Norwood for their lake country-themed wall hangings. “Everything is made in-house in Waconia,” she said. So far the brother-and-sister team have shipped about 300 carvings to Herberger’s.
“This is the first time we’ve partnered with a chain,” she said. “We wondered if we could handle what they would want, but it’s been a very positive experience.”
Herberger’s buys merchandise outright, so vendors don’t have to worry about unsold goods. Near the end of a product cycle, items will get marked down in stores and online.
Bon-Ton stores consists of 263 stores in 25 states under the nameplates Bon-Ton, Herberger’s, Carson’s, Younkers, Bergner’s, Elder-Beerman and Boston Store, but its mission is to be the hometown department store in each market. “It’s the heart of our brand,” Bufano said.