For Victoria Roby the world of online retailing was beneficial.
In her dining room, office, or anywhere she could flip open a laptop and reach cyberspace, she could serve loyal consumers of her natural hair, body and relaxation products.
But it’s a new year and Roby’s ready to move her Natural Market business from her laptop to a store.
Formerly the Natural Hair Market, she sold goods in downtown Detroit before going exclusively online, and recently debuted as The Natural Market (shedding the “Hair”) in the west side Grandmont Rosedale community.
Roby is the newest tenant to occupy storefront space at 19120 Grand River Ave. and is part of Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp.’s (GRDC) Grand River WorkPlace business incubator program. That program launched in 2014.
Roby says she was driving through the neighborhood when she saw the building that houses short-term business tenants and six-month “pop-up” retail occupants. She decided to lease the low-rent, common space available to small company owners. Later, she applied to become the newest pop-up retailer. She began her six-month residency this January.
Apart from returning to a building, the pop-up program had special appeal for Roby. “Because I’m changing my business model from retail to manufacturing, I’m trying some things out,” she says.
Affordable space on the retail side helps Roby operate a second Detroit building for her products while she continues online sales.
“The end goal is to have a permanent location in Detroit,” says Roby, who lives in the Joy-Evergreen Road community, not far from Grandmont Rosedale.
Her goal to secure a permanent Detroit location fits the objective of WorkPlace “to grow our own businesses right here in the neighborhood,” says Tom Goddeeris, GRDC’s executive director. Pages Bookshop, a former pop-up, opened a permanent store down the street from WorkPlace last summer, and other former pop-ups are experiencing success, some beyond Grandmont Rosedale’s borders.
“I would say it’s really exceeded our expectations,” Goddeeris says.
About a dozen businesses share WorkPlace now, using the furnished conference room and meeting space at a cost of $75 a month. In addition, GRDC selects pop-up tenants like Roby to occupy a small, private retail spot in the building for a half year at a cost of $300 a month.
While not every entrepreneur is selected as a pop-up, tenants find the $75 “co-working membership” beneficial.
“They like having a place to meet customers outside their own living room,”Goddeeris says.
GRDC hosts entrepreneurial training for residents in and around Grandmont Rosedale for both WorkPlace tenants and non-tenants. Multiple 20-week sessions were held in 2015 with graduates mostly comprised of women and people of color. Weekly business preparation workshops also are held at WorkPlace with support from partners like Prosper Us and SCORE.
WorkPlace holds appeal for new entrepreneurs hoping to focus on strategies and worry less about overhead, he says. Its location is also a plus. Grandmont Rosedale’s exceptionally connected residential network gives new businesses a ready-made customer base and Grand River is a major Detroit roadway.
Even though not every pop-up has found roots in the neighborhood, Grandmont Rosedale residents tend to remain loyal. “There are still ongoing businesses that people have some relationships with,” Goddeeris says.
“It’s a very stable community with low vacancy rates,”he says. “We have a strong market, so that’s important. And people here are very community-minded and inclined to support new businesses. It’s a very organized neighborhood, so it’s easy to get the word out about a new business.”
Largely known for its successful home renovation and resale program, theGrandmont Rosedale neighborhood is an optimal location for new and expanding small companies. Formed in 2014, Grand River WorkPlace helped the non-profit win a 2015 Detroit Community Development Award from LISC in the “exceptional economic development” category.
Tahirih Ziegler, Detroit LISC executive director, calls GRDC’s work worthy of the award and points out LISC make its first grant to the organization 25 years ago.
“We’ve continued to partner with them on many projects since, and we are very proud to see how our investment in the Grand River Workplace project is catalyzing revitalization of the commercial corridor in Northwest Detroit,” Ziegler says. “An even greater impact will come from the services they offer to develop new entrepreneurial businesses. Ideally, the new businesses they are helping to create will move into nearby locations and increase commercial activity even more.
“Grand River WorkPlace is showing that economic development is taking root in neighborhoods as well as downtown,” she says.
Roby, who’s “definitely excited” about having a new address at WorkPlace, will take advantage of the chance to promote The Natural Market’s line of candles, scrubs, soaps, body oils, and moisturizers.
Her goal: “I want Grandmont Rosedale to have at least one (Natural Market) product in every home.”