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The Grommet's Next Mission: Pairing Makers With Indie Retail

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Last month, President Obama welcomed makers from around the country to the first-ever White House Maker Faire, an event that captured the attention of Somerville-based The Grommet. Also a proponent of the "maker movement," the e-commerce site saw an opportunity to launch its Wholesale Platform, an online portal allowing small retailers to purchase goods from makers featured on The Grommet to then sell in-store. We wanted to know what sparked the idea to launch a wholesale branch of the brand and how it plays into The Grommet's bigger picture, so we went to the source and chatted with co-founder and Chief Discovery Officer Joanne Domeniconi.

Tell us about the Maker Faire.
The Grommet Wholesale is creating success for the maker movement. We have been doing this for many years on the consumer platform, telling the story of the independent product creator. It's a core part of our mission. When we heard there was going to be the first ever Maker Faire at the White House, we decided we would announce the launch of our wholesale platform at the same time. It was a wonderful way for us to tie in a major strategic move with a national initiative. This is a trend that is so optimistic. The Grommet is a bridging platform using media and technology to help amplify and create success for the little guy. That is a very healthy thing for this country. It was an honor to be there and a great validation of the work we've been doing for five years now.

One of the strengths you've cited with this platform is that the grommets featured on the wholesale site already have consumer data behind them and a proven success record. Can you elaborate more on that and what else distinguishes the wholesale platform?
This platform is a very natural extension of the business we created in 2008. Our story was initially to reach directly to the consumer and now it's to sort of leverage all of that framework and offer it to the small independent retailer. When we talk about why we do this, you have to think about retail. A retailer competes on having unique and distinctive product. They know their customer; they can't compete on the same product as the big box store or specialty chain. On the other side of the equation, the independent maker needs to find healthy sales channels. Our insight is the best way for a maker to grow his business in the early days and enter the market. While a maker is still scaling, an independent, small-scale retailer is easier to match. We're creating a connecting bridge between the little guys: the retailer and the maker.

Retailers apply to buy through the platform. On what basis are you selecting participating retailers?
Our first requirement is that they have a retailer license, that they're actually a store. We don't want Amazon or eBay resellers. That online activity can be very disruptive to the maker and certainly for independent retailers, so we're prohibiting it. Our other requirement is that you have to actually have a storefront. I think one of the richest parts of this is a curated collection of really great retailers and makers. We've been rejecting about 25% of the applications; often we can't verify that they are "Main Street" retailers. I don't think we do a good job for our makers if we don't bring in a quality retail community.

The product launch system is broken, so we created The Grommet not just as a product discovery site, although that's what you'll find as a consumer. The Grommet's mission is to become a product launch platform, where someone with a unique product can tell their story on a healthy and quality platform and reach both consumers and retailers. When we think about our business, we consider the maker our customer. The consumers are supporters of the makers. That little shift in mindset—you can feel it. For us it starts with the maker.

You have thousands of grommets on the site. How do you select which ones go on the wholesale platform?
We've hand selected and invited our top 100. In the next month there will be another 100. The products are validated by our consumer community, so again, our best performing products are creating this rich ecosystem that we think will draw in retailers.

And you've also created content around each product.
That's what we've been doing since 2008, creating a media platform to tell the story of the product and invite the community in to write a review. We host a conversation board during the launch where we have the creator answer questions. All of that content is memorialized and visible for the retailer to view as they are making their decisions.

You've expressed at some point down the line possibly wanting to collaborate on pop-up type arrangements with big box retailers. How does that fit into The Grommet's mission and how does it contrast with the local independent retailers?
Those conversations are very, very early. We know that at some point in time, our maker needs to engage a strong consumer community. Now they can access small "Main Street" retailers for which our wholesale platform has been built. The next stopping point for a maker who is scaling their business is a larger retailer. It's our mission to build programs that will elevate those connections, but those are very early conversations. We're trying to fix the business of product launch, making it fair and viable for the little guy.
· The Grommet CEO Discusses Makers and Somerville [Racked Boston]
· The Grommet to Advise Big Retail Through Crowd Companies [Racked Boston]
· The Grommet Wholesale Platform [Official Site]