Nestled among the brownstones of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant historic district, designer Achuziam Maha-Sanchez’s visionary store, Peace & Riot, is the product of good old-fashioned passion, dedication, and exquisite taste — and it’s currently redefining “Urban Chic.” She spoke to the Insider about hot products and what first-time retailers and entrepreneurs can do to set themselves up for success.
After three years of consistent growth, Achuziam Maha-Sanchez, designer and owner of Bed-Stuy’s meticulously curated and eclectic home décor store, Peace & Riot, decided it was time to do what every shop owner hopes to: expand.
This past April, she relocated from a well-trod commercial strip near the subway station to a greener, quieter area, just steps away from the historic brownstones for which the neighborhood is known.
Peace & Riot now includes, in its roughly 1,200 square-foot-space – nearly double the size of its original home – two collaborators: Mary Wormworth’s Mary’s Hands Jewelry and Sheryl Roberts’s Indigo Style Vintage, a vintage-inspired clothing and accessories line.
“I’m thrilled to share this opportunity with like-minded people. Three Facebook pages, three Instagrams is the best way to do it.” Of the three entrepreneurs, “two of us are moms,” Maha-Sanchez explained. “So we kind of have an understanding.”
When we visited the new store, Maha-Sanchez’s seven-year-old was busy playing in the store’s children’s section he himself had designed.
The entire operation looks like a dream come true for a creative-minded business owner like Maha-Sanchez.
But her retail journey has not been entirely straightforward. Her first home décor store, Ibo Landing, closed, after a four-year run, in 2007. This was just before the market crashed, when Bed-Stuy had become the foreclosure capital, so, according to Maha-Sanchez, “it didn’t make sense to have a home store when people were losing their houses.”
Maha-Sanchez spent the following six years working full time in interior design, her specialty. Then, in 2013, she heard about a location available on Nostrand Avenue. “There were no home accessories stores in Bed-Stuy, the closest was up on Myrtle [Avenue].” Peace & Riot would quickly remedy that. And, it turned out, the community’s hunger for it was clearly profound – every Christmas, Maha-Sanchez found sales were 25-50% above the previous year.
“OK,” Maha-Sanchez recalled telling herself, “at least I know that the people who want it here are here.” But the location itself afforded little room for growth, so she started looking around the neighborhood for opportunities to stretch. On Tompkins Ave, she found two storefronts, one immediately available, the other, requiring a bit more work.
Undeterred, Maha-Sanchez ultimately acquired both and spent four months doing renovations and now occupies an airy, browsing friendly space with high ceilings and artfully crafted displays tailored to a wide variety of customers.
Trendspotting: What Makes a Vendor Standout?
Instagram and Social Media
When we asked Maha-Sanchez what makes a vendor stand out, she explained that, to start, she does “a lot of hunting, just online. If I see something in a magazine article I like, I might hunt them down that way, via Instagram.” Her husband has been invaluable in making decisions as well. “I like all the pretty,” Maha-Sanchez told us. “He likes the funky. I need that male aesthetic sometimes.”
Trade Shows and Margins
Before Maha-Sanchez will buy at a trade show, she needs “to know that I can mark up the product by 2.2, that the shipping isn’t more than 10% of my order and merchandising help is always a plus.”
The more affordable trade show pricing model is particularly helpful with Peace & Riot’s search for higher margins. “I’m always looking for trade show vendors with products that are both on-trend and offer more moderate pricing.”
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As the income disparity within the community grows, Maha-Sanchez works hard to cater to a variety of needs and spending habits.
“Our challenge here in Bed-Stuy specifically has been that we’re in the middle of hyper-gentrification. I know everyone is not my customer, but I would like everyone at least to feel comfortable coming in. Now we’re on a strip where people are strolling more, there are more pedestrians, and we’re in between two successful restaurants that are always packed. I already feel the difference. Yesterday, we did double on a Wednesday than we did on Nostrand.”
Maha-Sanchez has a knack for stocking the Peace & Riot with items that sell well. The Kikkerland line of brilliant, sleekly inventive toys and gadgets is “always a winner” but, Maha-Sanchez revealed, “what keeps my lights on is the spa section.”
Peace & Riot’s bath and body products include a variety of European soaps, bath salts from the k hall line, and Apotheke candles and lotions.
Pro Tip: Remember to carry multiple price points, mix in your high, medium and low.
A Brooklyn “Brand” + A Communal Space = Foot Traffic
The store has also been listed in New York Magazine three times, as well as in the HarperCollins’ travel guide, Insider Brooklyn, and, as a result, became a tourist destination, since “anything that says Brooklyn on it” tends to sell well. And the location expansion has shifted the customer dynamic as well. “It’s a communal space, now that people can walk around and hang out.”
While the store’s website is sleek and accessible, Maha-Sanchez only gets “one or two orders a month online, but we don’t get the traffic there that I would like.”
Customers tend to peruse online, choosing to come in the store to actually make purchases, perhaps a testament to the store’s magnetism and warmth.
Private Label Opportunities
It is likely thanks to this celebrated presence that Maha-Sanchez has the customer base to launch her own furniture line, drawing on the design work she’s been passionate about for many years. “I’m in the process of developing our own line of furniture and bedding. The plan is to launch that within the year. I just have to see how long it takes to make back the renovation debt.”
The collection will include a bookcase, nightstand, chest of drawers, and a club chair, all scaled to fit into a Brooklyn apartment.
“We want to offer our neighbors a communal space with beautiful, sometimes whimsical home decor and housewares,” she explained. “We also want to celebrate local designers and makers for a real Brooklyn experience.”
Pro Tip: Even if you don’t have have a furniture line in your future you developing high-margin private label products of any kind is a sound strategy that can supercharge your retail sales.
Tips for First-Time Retailers from Peace & Riot’s Achuziam Maha-Sanchez
Peace & Riot, in its new iteration, is the effect of years of Maha-Sanchez’s obvious passion and clear vision. In light of that, she gave us a few pieces of advice for how first-time retailers and entrepreneurs can set themselves up best for success:
- “Take care of yourself first, pay yourself first,” Maha-Sanchez advised. “I have a habit of putting money back into the business and not taking care of me first.”
- Surround yourself with like-minded people. “You have to be a little bit of crazy to be an entrepreneur. You need to be around other people who get what it is to be passionate about something and put yourself out there.”
- “Claim it.” Maha-Sanchez has met designers who won’t introduce themselves as such, but will instead say that, right now, they work a job in an office. She encourages them to do the opposite. “Announce yourself as [a designer] all the time. Whether you’re actively doing it yet or not, you have to claim it. Once you say that you’re doing it, they want to see it and the next thing you know, you have a client. Own that title. Put yourself out there.”
By Katie Schorr
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