Retail incubator concept brings nearly 100 vendors under one roof

Chambersburg – When 1833 Schiers Market opened its doors to the public for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 1, Chambersburgers were presented with the wares of more than 80 vendors in 15,000 sq. ft. of sales space. In the following days, the number of vendors has rapidly approached 100.

While the concept of assembling a diverse array of merchants under one roof might sound familiar, the Market hopes to differentiate itself by approaching brick-and-mortar retail with a startup mindset.

1833 Schiers Market includes antique dealers, but it is not a flea market.

It welcomes local artisans, but it is not a craft fair.

The Market has attracted established businesses, but it is not a mall.

Instead, what will truly separates the Market from other multi-vendor sales environments is that it approaches retailing from the perspective of an incubator.

Incubators are most commonly associated with tech companies: several startups sharing a workspace, cross-pollinating ideas and working out the bugs before taking the product to market. Incubators have also been used in other industries such as shared kitchen spaces.

When ideas fail in an incubator, the entrepreneurs are more likely to survive financially, learn from their mistakes, and try again in a cycle of constant improvement.

By applying the incubator concept to retail, Kristin Joy Laidig, a partner at 1833 Schiers Market, hopes to create a sandbox for artisans and retailers to experiment with merchandising, displays and marketing before they leap into their own brick-and-mortar spaces.

This was the original concept for the Market, but it was quickly discovered that established business owners – particularly ones located on Main Street – were also seeking new ways to expand their customer bases.

At launch, the businesses with spaces on Main Street and at the Market included: Ludwigs Jewelers (121 S. Main St.), Another Man’s Treasure (76 S. Main St.), and The Gift Enclosure (78 S. Main St.).

These businesses typically create shop-in-shop experiences at the Market as a form of marketing that also generates sales. Their vendor spaces widen the companies’ sales funnels by introducing their products to new audiences, and – hopefully – funneling foot traffic back to their primary locations.

“I hope that it does drive traffic,” said Laidig. “We’re trying to capture some of that traffic here and also push it downtown as well.”

The situation for independent businesses and national chains has turned grim as they have struggled to redefine what it means to be a brick-and-mortar store in the age of e-commerce.

Going forward, Laidig is betting on quality control and unique customer experiences to lead the way.

“We are aiming for higher quality,” she said of the items for sale at the Market.

The application process requires prospective vendors to present their merchandise for approval. If an item that doesn’t meet the standards somehow does make it to the sales floor, the vendor will receive a notice to remove it.

“We’re pretty strict about that,” said Laidig. “We want to keep the culture more upscale.”

This rigorous attention to quality is also part of Laidig’s emphasis on overall in-store experience.

“You have to give them something that they’re not going to get from the big box,” said Laidig.

Shane Huckle of Surfin Cow Comics is an excellent example of a business owner who is making full use of the Market’s experimental incubator concept.

However, instead of using his booth to steer people back to a single primary location, Huckle has ditched his primary location on Main Street in Waynesboro altogether in favor of four decentralized micro-stores that are supplemented by online sales.

His booth at 1833 Schiers Market is his newest location, but Surfin Cow Comics can also be found at the Fayetteville Antique and Craft Mall (3653 Lincoln Way East, Fayetteville), 1884 Market House (15 Schier’s Way, Waynesboro) and Pen-Mar Antique Market (11870 Buchanan Trail E., Waynesboro).

By not being tied to a single physical location, Huckle is freed up to focus on other aspects of his business such as acquiring new merchandise.

“I’ve noticed that the less time I have to invest in being somewhere, the better my business does,” said Huckle.

Huckle’s booths have different merchandise and customers, and he has found that he can often sell slower-moving items by moving them to a different booth and putting them in front of a fresh audience.

“I have two in Chambersburg: one would be my discount booth, and the other one is prime time stuff,” said Huckle. “Same with Waynesboro….If stuff gets stagnant at one booth, it will get moved to another one to get blown out at a cheaper price.”

The brick-and-mortar retailers of Chambersburg seem to be very eager to solve the puzzle of attracting customers to physical locations, and their excitement was demonstrated by the speed with which they had initially signed on to the incubator project.

“We actually have not advertised beyond ‘now accepting vendors’ on our billboard, and that’s been there for a week,” said Laidig. “We have relied heavily on word-of-mouth.”

The initial concept was pitched to 12 hand-selected businesses.

“We had to present it to them as a dream and get them to commit with checks,” she said.

And they did.

“We actually got 12 of them out of 12. They committed, and from then on, they started talking about it, and more people showed up. And now, we literally have three to five people per day coming in and requesting space.”

Laidig credits Harry Morningstar Jr., the owner of both the building and the business, for being receptive to the idea. She said that Morningstar was instrumental in helping to take the concept “from idea to open for customers” in a whirlwind seven weeks.

Laidig has an impressive history of both physical and digital entrepreneurship including InterACT, LLC, The Book Ninja and two retail storefronts: Toy Box Gifts & Wonder and Nerdvana Outpost (47 D N. Main St., Chambersburg).

Toy Box Gifts & Wonder is currently in the process of transitioning its inventory entirely into 1833 Schiers Market.

Laidig knows first-hand the challenges of operating a brick-and-mortar retail business on Main Street.

Now, she and her husband Tony leverage their collective business expertise to provide workshops and coaching for vendors at the Market while maintaining their own business channels.

Her first piece of advice for people wanting to succeed in retail:

“Really listen to those around you that have been there and done that,” she said. “We didn’t. We thought we could go against the grain. We thought we could affect specific types of change, and we were warned by existing retailers that we had an uphill battle.”

Approaching retail with an incubator mindset encourages business owners to find strength in numbers and keep trying things until a new way forward is discovered.

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