Talking Shop is an occasional column covering retail happenings in and around Boston.
For nearly a decade, Somerville-based e-commerce site The Grommet has been an online platform for entrepreneurs to sell their products. FitBit, IdeaPaint, OtterBox, SimpliSafe, and SodaStream all got a boost from the site. Now the company has taken two big steps toward getting innovative products to a wider audience. Earlier this month, The Grommet said that Ace Hardware had acquired a majority stake in the company, a move that will provide the site’s “makers” with a new way to grow their businesses. And last week, The Grommet also took out a six-month lease for its first physical store, in the Natick Mall, a move timed with the holiday season in mind.
Long before sites like Kickstarter were on the scene, the company had positioned itself as a marketplace for new ideas, said Jules Pieri, The Grommet’s chief executive. “We can make a market for a product — within an hour of launch we know what America thinks,” she said. Pieri’s goal is to continue to provide entrepreneurs with an edge to compete with the likes of Amazon. “We need to band together so we don’t have a dystopian future where we have one company that controls distribution,” she said.
The Grommet already had established a healthy wholesale business when it brokered a relationship with Ace Hardware a year and a half ago. Pieri said Ace noticed results soon after she placed The Grommet kiosks in 250 Ace stores. By year’s end, it should be in 400 locations.
John Venhuizen, chief executive of Ace Hardware Corp., said that in seeking “local, relevant, high-quality products,” the ideals of the two companies were closely aligned. “It gives these makers a really meaningful platform for growth without have to bow down to the altar of Amazon,” he said.
New arrivals at Newbury Street’s Of Mercer
The Newbury Street pop-up store Of Mercer is expecting a special delivery Tuesday: The women’s workwear brand plans to unveil a maternity line. Cofounder Dorie Smith was in Boston earlier this month for the store’s launch. When she was seven months pregnant, Smith said, she illustrated the need for work clothes that accommodate new moms.
"We’re making is as easy as possible for women to make that transition back to the office,” she said. “Our mission is to get every woman into the c-suite.”
Dresses in the line include features like snap straps for easy nursing and pumping access, ruching to account for belly growth and post-partum body changes, and machine-washable fabrics. All of the clothing is made in New York.
The company was launched in 2013 by Smith and fellow Wharton grad Emelyn Northway. The online shop has found success with its “Starter Kits” for workers just starting their careers. Smith may also be just getting started in Boston: Her short-term lease at 127 Newbury has an option to extend into a permanent location.
Rent the Runway ascends to the cloud
Closets are just so passé. Or so says Jenn Hyman, cofounder and chief executive of Rent the Runway, the New York company that pioneered the concept of a wardrobe on rotation. “In the future, a closet will feel as much a relic of the past as a land-line, DVD, or CD,” she said. “Your closet is going to exist in the cloud, and you’ll be able to access millions of things to wear, whenever you want it.”
Hyman launched the company in 2009, the same year she graduated from Harvard Business School, offering formal attire for hire.
Today, it has 8 million members. In 2014, the company introduced RTR Unlimited, a Netflix-like subscription model that lets users pick three items to borrow each month for a $139 fee, with an option to swap out pieces of clothing as many times as they like. The company also has five retail locations — none of which are around here — which many subscribers treat as their personal closets, Hyman said.
“Hundreds of people are coming in the morning to get dressed for work,” she said.
This past week, Rent the Runway launched a new subscription service, RTR Update, for $89 a month, a price-point, Hyman says will help it compete for shoppers who tend to buy from Target, H&M, Amazon, and Walmart.
Hyman was in town earlier this month to talk to Harvard students. We wondered: Was she also scouting sites for a retail store?
“We will be coming to Boston soon; it’s an important market for us,” Hyman said.