A recent chance encounter at Amy’s Kitchen in Petaluma proved fateful for Susan Griffin Black and her company .
The co-founder of the Corte Madera-based organic personal care products maker had been exploring the possibility of opening the company's first-ever retail shop but hadn’t yet found the right location. Griffin Black found herself sitting next to co-owner Catherine Vignale at a recent event at Amy’s, where Vignale serves as marketing director.
Vignale mentioned that she and her husband John were closing their arts and crafts store because they were being stretched too thin professionally after the birth of their son Avery 7 months ago. The 400-square-foot space in the heart of downtown at 84 Throckmorton Ave. sounded perfect, Griffin Black said, and EO inked a lease with the Kent Family Estate, which owns the building that includes the space. EO is set to open its first retail shop there in mid-March.
“Mill Valley is home,” said longtime Mill Valley resident Griffin Black, who is building a home on Lovell Ave. on the property once occupied by the old Smith & Hawken shop, along with her husband and EO co-founder Brad and her sister, TamalPie Pizzeria owner Karen Goldberg. “We just want to have more connection with our community and with our customers.”
The idea spawned out of a feeling that there are too many layers between the company and its customers, as a slew of distributors get EO’s blue-bottled aromatic products onto shelves at 3,000 stores around the world, including the UK, Japan, Denmark and Singapore.
“We’ve lost touch with having that direct relationship with our customers other than through our warehouse sales and our online store,” she said. “That connection gives purpose to what we’re doing in the first place. We want to make the store a way of branding, to have people see who we are as people and as a company.”
EO, founded in San Francisco in 1995, plans to use the retail shop as a test kitchen of sorts, developing seasonal products and getting directing feedback from customers, providing refill stations and offering workshops on things like aromatherapy and making your own lotion. The company's popular warehouse sales at its headquarters on Koch Road in Corte Madera, and Griffin Black sees the retail shop as a year-round extension of those events.
Griffin Black said the Mill Valley store will serve as a proving ground for more retail shops.
“It’s an experiment and a presentation of the brand,” she said. “The rest of it will be a business and marketing decision.”
EO Products has 38 employees and Griffin Black said they have weathered the economic downturn fairly well. In fact, as the bottom dropped out for many companies in 2009, the H1N1 virus scare that year sent sales for the company’s hand sanitizer product through the roof. Although that product’s sales have dropped 70 percent since then, the rest of the company remains on a steady growth curve, she said.
“That was a crazy spike that took us to a whole other level,” she said. “Since then, it’s been more incremental and we’re growing at a pace where we can still finance ourselves with a few angel investors.”
As for Roots Collaborative, John Vignale said the store had great success since it launched in April 2010, carrying an array of arts and crafts from 142 local artists during that time. But taking care of Avery and running the store was too much, he said.
“We’ve come to realize that we’re spread really thin and we’re juggling way too much while caring for him with managing the shop,” the couple said in a letter to patrons.
Although it still had three years left on its five-year lease, Roots Collaborative was let out it without a penalty by the Kent Family Estate, according to Keegan & Coppin property manager Juston Barton.
The couple had been talking to potential buyers in recent months but ultimately decided to keep the business and close the store. They plan to bolster their Roots Collaborative blog and potential launch an online store.
John Vignale also said some of the artists the store supported are interested in opening a Roots Collaborative pop-up shop during the holiday season and encouraged customers to check the blog for more info.
The entry of EO into downtown and the closure of Roots Collaborative aren’t the only recent changes in the Keystone building. After shut its doors in November due to a dispute between its owners, relocated from San Rafael in December.
The gallery is owned by artist Agne Corell, a native of Lithuania whose gallery showcases the work of more than two dozen Bay Area artists. Room Art Gallery was previously located on Fourth Street in San Rafael but Corell had been looking to move to Mill Valley and said she was excited to find the space.