We recently celebrated the grand opening of our 30th Soft Surroundings store at Legacy Village in Lyndhurst, Ohio so we asked our Store Operations Director Marc Galloway about what happens behind the scenes before we open the doors to our customers for the first time.
What are the main things we look for in a retail space?
Having an extensive history in the catalog business, the search logically starts in areas of the country where we know we have the greatest density of already loyal Soft Surroundings customers. That’s the easy part. The hard part is then finding a space available that meets a long list of other required or desirable criteria like total square feet, linear footage for a storefront, structural conditions that allow for our store layout, ease of parking and access near major entries and proximity to co-tenants that our customer would also enjoy shopping with.
What is the most important thing to making the store opening run smoothly?
There is no more true statement than, “it takes a village” when it comes to opening stores. We rely on a well-coordinated effort between our vendors, internal departments, and field operations to make each project a success. To say one is more important than the other doesn’t work. We could hire the best team, but if our marketing department doesn’t let our customers know where and when we are opening, it will be a slow start. Additionally, our construction team can build a beautiful store but without obtaining proper registrations and business permits we wouldn’t be able to open the doors.
While everyone has their hand in an opening, where the magic actually happens is in the set week prior to opening the doors. This is where the physical space takes on the personality of the brand. We have a small team of operations and visual presentation support personnel present at each set but the biggest contributors are our managers and associates who volunteer time away from their own store to support and train the new team in their sister location.
What do we have to be most flexible with during the new store opening process?
Anything you can’t control! It could range from later delivery of merchandise that was planned as part of the opening assortment to last minute construction interruptions. We take the approach of “expect the unexpected” so progress doesn’t come to a screeching halt. We simply redirect the effort to something else and circle back to the original task when appropriate.
What is the most memorable moment from a store opening?
There are so many specific memories that I’m going to generalize them in two moments that happen at all openings. Internally, the experience for our team is like none other, it’s some of the hardest labor we could imagine doing, but it doesn’t feel like it. We have fun bonding with others who share the same passion for the brand and its purpose. The other is when we open the doors, and we get to experience the customer’s response to walking into their first Soft Surroundings store. They always appreciate that we built a store just for them.
What makes Soft Surroundings stores so special?
We spare no detail in the design and how the customer is affected by the experience. Our stores have a residential feel, so just like our product being ranked for softness, it’s just comfortable and enjoyable. How many other retailers have you visited where they insist your check out their restrooms? We do, because they are incredible.
What is one thing people wouldn’t suspect about opening a store?
I believe most people think opening a store is just part of someone’s job when they choose a career in retail but for so many of us, that is not how we see it at all. There will always be just one founder (Robin Sheldon) who had a vision of what Soft Surroundings had the potential to be, but opening a store gives every contributor a sense of that same accomplishment that their efforts are making a difference in the lives of both the people that work there, and the thousands of customers who will shop there in the future.