WOODBURY – Mainstream and business media would suggest that Amazon has taken over the retail world. But Maison St. Germain proves that a brick and mortar shop can outdo an ecommerce giant.
Maison St. Germain was born as an online business selling vintage items back in 2008. By 2011, co-owners Debra Germain and Nicole Germain Perez abandoned their online venture and opened a 630 sq.-ft. storefront on Main St. North.
Later that year, Maison St. Germain moved to a 1,200-sq.-ft. store in Middle Quarter. And in November 2015, it moved next door to a space nearly three-times the size (3,300 sq.-ft.).
“We had so many ideas and so many things we wanted to do, but it was claustrophobic,” Perez says. “Our creativity was too big. Alone, we have a lot of ideas, but together they explode and no one shoots the other one down.”
Maison St. Germain still has a website. But it has embraced Main Street, while leaving the ecommerce world behind.
Germain said the reason they don’t have an online business is twofold. First is the time commitment to running an ecommerce shop while they operate a brick and mortar location.
The other is the shopping experience that she says cannot be reached via a laptop or a smartphone.
“Online is fun, but when I buy something, I want to touch it, feel it and try it on and see if I really love it,” Germain says.
Down With Brown
The first thing shoppers notice when they walk into Maison St. Germain is that nothing is brown… unless Germain and Perez are in the process of refurbishing an item that was originally brown.
“Brown items will not sell in our store,” Perez says. “Also, if we paint something white, no one will touch it.”
The reactions shoppers have when they come in for the first time is great, Perez says.
“There are so many [gasping] noises they make when they come in and throughout the store” Perez says. “But their initial reaction is hysterical.”
“They love the look of it, they love the feel of it,” Germain says. “Sometimes people come in and they aren’t in a good mood, but they leave here happy. It’s colorful and happy, and you can’t get depressed walking through here.”
Perez says Maison St. Germain has been compared to a better version of Antrhopologie.
“People picture antiques as all brown and ‘don’t touch,’” says Perez. “We want people to buy furniture and not worry about it. A lot of our customers are moms. So, if you get [a credenza] and your kid dings it, it adds character.”
Germain says 95% of the items they sell are vintage. They do not sell reproductions, and anything “new” they sell must have a vintage flair to it.
“We’re kind of different from everyone else [in Woodbury] in which we sell antiques and vintage, where everyone else is 100% antique or mid-modern century,” Germain said. “We kind of just do our own thing.”
Dare To Be Different
If you’re looking for true, mint condition antiques, then Germain says you’re in the wrong store.
“There are many other wonderful places in town you can shop for that,” Germain says. “But if you’re looking for something unique that nobody else is going to have, then this is a wonderful place to start.”
Maison St. Germain is known for its vintage furniture collection. Germain says they buy furniture that needs a little TLC, paint it using their own techniques and change out the knobs to make it something “new.”
“An antique shop will take it, clean it, re-period it if they have to, and keep it as-is because a lot of people are under the impression that if it’s an antique, you should keep it in the state that it is,” Germain says.
Germain says she and Perez have their own style of painting and distressing and no one else around Woodbury can do. They have been doing it for so long, and they’ve developed their own techniques over the years.
“If you have your grandmother’s china cabinet in the basement and you love it and you don’t want to get rid of it because it doesn’t go with your house, let us paint it for you because that’s what we do for a living for other people too,” Germain says. “You’ll still have that antique, but it fits into your home.”
How to Succeed in Business
2008 was not a great year to start a business. But Germain says she’s kind of spontaneous. Perez, Germain’s daughter, says Germain is “impulsive.”
And while Germain just decided one day to start a business – one she says she’s been studying for her entire life – Perez was in the process of being downsized in her day job. Perez was also having a baby.
While the timing wasn’t right with the state of the economy, it was an appropriate time for the mother-daughter team – which often completes each other’s sentences – to collaborate as business partners.
And collaboration is one of the things that makes Germain and Perez a successful team.
“One of us will have an idea and they’ll put their idea in with it and it comes out totally different,” Germain says.
“We have different styles and visions and when we put both of them together, we’re really unstoppable,” Perez says. “We’re kind of a big deal.”
What else has made Maison St. Germain a success?
“Be creative and constant,” Perez says. “We have a lot of events at the store, we’re always coming up with different promotions.”
Be true to your own style, Germain says.
“If something is popular, we won’t go out and do it,” Germain says.
“We’re never trendy,” Perez says. “We wouldn’t sell fidget spinners, although I’m sure we could have made a lot of money selling them.”
Germain adds that businesses need to stay true to their own style and vision, and not be afraid to try new things.
And of course, honesty is the best policy.
“Be honest with your customers,” Perez says. “I feel like in the antique business, sometimes dealers tend to make up stories or not be totally 100% honest. If we don’t know something, we will tell the customer we don’t know, and we can try to find out for you. But you must be honest.”