Our Guest, MadeHere PDX
We had the pleasure of connecting with John Connor, co-founder of MadeHere PDX, one of our favorite places to shop here in Portland, (and unapologetic plug - the very first retail shop in Portland to carry Goodwell products) to take a quick look under the hood at how MadeHere got its start, and what it takes to keep it afloat.
How would you describe your company?
MadeHere is a Portland-based shop focused on locally made goods, from salt and soap, to sunglasses and small leather goods, to the stand-up paddleboard hanging from our ceiling.
Why did you decide to start MadeHere?
About ten years ago, I became friends with several creators and artisans and in hearing their struggles to build a business around their individual passions, I thought I could help them and others like them by creating a venue to house these products. I knew there was a large community of people like myself that would appreciate finding a collection of uniquely made products in one place. People don’t have the time to spend hours online and often don’t know what they may discover, so we do the legwork and the result is our showroom in the Pearl District area featuring products from over 200 designers, artists and craftspeople.
The humble before picture of the very first shop.
Who or what inspires you as an individual or as a company?
The initial kernel of inspiration for MadeHere came to me as I observed how my friends made their goods – came up with the ideas, put them into a prototype stage, tested and refined them, then completed a production run and so on. I’m a total dork for really interesting, beautiful, yet practical and useful products, whether it's climbing gear (avid rock climber 20+ years), or a kitchen product, EDC (everyday carry), or elsewhere in my life. For example, I saw Ken Tomita building Grovemade, Bill Amos at NW Alpine and just thought I would love to share my enthusiasm for their goods, their process and the true integrity of their products and brands with the public. I’ve always thought that the potential for customers lies in the awareness or availability of products – you could be a fan of high quality, locally made products, but can’t possibly know of all the great choices out there. So there’s a higher likelihood of finding something in one place like MadeHere, where we introduce customers to new things all the time, like a backpack from Truce Designs, or an heirloom-quality denim coat from Ginew, and of course, a Goodwell toothbrush! The fact that we really have something for almost anyone, starting as low as 75 cents and up, is something I’m very proud of.
What are near-term (and longer-term) plans for the future of your business?
Right now and always, we’re focused on doing the best that we can every day as small business owners. As the Goodwell team can relate to I’m sure, this last year has been a rollercoaster and really forced us to refocus on the fundamentals of our business. Futurewise, it’s impossible to say but, we know there is more opportunity out there, since there is a growing community of people who appreciate locally-owned and operated stores and products.
What do you look for in a new brand to bring into your store?
It has to be gorgeous, immediately useful, and locally and ethically, made here in Portland or nearby in the Pacific NorthWest.
What impact do you hope or want to make on consumers, communities, society in general?
I believe that we, along with many others in our community of retailers and product makers, are changing the way that people shop, and the way people think about purchasing their everyday products. Of course, this is proportional to our size and the range of goods we’re able to stock. But, we’ve learned year after year that people do have a strong desire to be connected with the products they use – to learn its origin and story. We’ve seen the same reaction in customers about a 12” Finex skillet that might be handed down, a Ranger chocolate bar or Aesthete tea that sometimes gets consumed before it leaves the store! We’re all humans, and learning about the person or people that made something you love using is really inspiring.
What is/was the hardest obstacle(s) you've had to overcome?
Our first major hurdle was bringing together a compelling assortment of products for our launch on November 1, 2014. We were able to showcase about 40-45 brands that took the plunge with us then and that felt great! Two months later, we doubled the product inventory and a year later we actually doubled it again. We’ve built our network primarily through individual connections and word-of-mouth promotion. Now, it’s a mix of our outreach and brands coming to us.
Can you share an important mistake you made in the business?
Early on, we took many risks and focused on opening store locations when we really should have been focused on other opportunities. Our team learned a tough but meaningful lesson when we had to close our first location. I always say, “You step up to the plate, and have to take a swing. But, even the very best players aren’t able to hit half the pitches they swing at. You try to do it anyway.”
Can you share something about yourself (your business) that many might be surprised to learn?
One thing that our founder crew shares is prior experience working for Columbia Sportswear, another local connection that enabled us to get together years after we all left, and put our ideas together that resulted in the launch of MadeHere.
Standard retail is typically a super cash intensive endeavor, how much capital did it take to go from your idea to opening the store? And how did you come up with the consignment idea?
You’re right that the barriers to entry in retail can be quite high, and while I don’t feel comfortable sharing exact figures, I can tell you that the two questions are linked. Consignment allows us to showcase a very wide assortment of locally made goods, working closely with our community of vendor makers. Being locally focused has enabled us to forge close bonds with our vendors, unlike a more typical retail establishment who may have vendors from all over the world. Consignment allows us to show the full breadth and depth of making, to show the skill and talent of makers from Portland and the Pacific Northwest. It has always been our interest not to focus on any one or two categories, but to make a stronger impact with our clientele by showing this broad spectrum of makers, categories, materials, and styles. The Pacific Northwest is a tapestry of contrasts, cities and towns, mountains and beaches, farmland and industry, rivers and ridgelines; what we’ve done is to represent that incredible diversity of culture and landscape through the products and makers represented in our showroom.
Thank you John and the awesome crew at MadeHere!
To learn more and shop at MadeHere you can find them online at www.madehereonline.com or visit their location:
What it Takes is a series of interviews with founders who were brave enough to take the leap, make mistakes, pivot, and keep going. This is What It Takes to be an entrepreneur. If you're a creator who is determined to follow a purpose or push the boundaries, then you’ve signed up to make mistakes, that’s the price of innovation.