When entrepreneurship runs in your DNA, it’s even harder to ignore a calling to open your own business. After brainstorming business ideas for months, a fateful “For rent” sign pushed Nicole Panettieri to leave her corporate job to open The Brass Owl, a lively and eclectic boutique and gift shop.
Six years later, The Brass Owl has grown to become a community mainstay in Astoria, Queens. Panettieri regularly partners with local artisans to showcase their work and now runs a thriving eCommerce store in addition to her brick-and-mortar location.
We caught up with Panettieri to learn more about The Brass Owl’s origin and its rise to local fame.
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Your family has a history of opening businesses and stores. Did that have a big influence on you?
Oh, absolutely. My great-grandfather started a shoe store. Actually, it was just a shoe repair when it started in 1928 in New Jersey. My grandfather eventually came on and said to my great-grandfather: ‘People are dropping their shoes off to get repaired and they have to come pick them up. We have their attention twice. We should just try and sell them something.’ So they added a shoe store onto the shoe repair, and then my father and my uncle eventually took over the business.
So, there have been lots of small business owners in my past. I had worked for corporate retail for almost 14 years and it always was just in the back of my head to do it.
How did you know when it was time to leave the corporate world and venture out to start TBO?
I actually don’t know! It’s so funny because I feel like I had an out-of-body experience when that happened. I was working a corporate job and I always thought about opening my own business. I was kind of thinking about new opportunities, like I was looking at like other corporate jobs. And then, one day, I walked past what is now my store and there was a ‘For rent’ sign up and I was like, I’m just going to try. I’m just going to call them, see what happens. And then from there, I just got the ball rolling.
What ultimately led to you choosing Lightspeed to help run your business?
One of the things that really sold me on Lightspeed was that the eCommerce and the POS system were linked together, so the inventories were linked together. I’ve had an active eCommerce website since I opened, but originally, I wasn’t really managing it well. Not everything was on there.
I was very fortunate that my 2020 goal was to grow my web business, so I had promoted one of my employees to eCommerce manager in January of 2020. So, before the pandemic happened, we had already had a website focus. Having the website in place and having the dedicated person in place really helped me. Like, a week before we knew we were going to close due to the shutdowns, we were like, ‘Make sure everything is on the website.’ Every product in the store has to be on the website. So we did all of that thanks to Lightspeed.
During the pandemic, we started doing care packages, which has grown to become a really, really big part of our business and really got us through the closure months. We were able to use Lightspeed to publish a care package item on our site.
You have such a huge focus on selling works from local artists. Was that always part of the plan from the get-go?
In my business plan, supporting local artists was always part of the framework of the store. I always wanted to do pop-up shops at the store. A lot of the pop-up shops I’ve done have since turned into relationships where I’ve purchased wholesale from a lot of the artists.
A lot of my artists are in Queens, New York City, but we also try and support artists from across the country. It’s all handmade in the United States, so it’s all very high quality. There’s a story behind every item.
I also run the Shop Small Astoria retail collective, so supporting my community is really important to me. My grandfather used to always say, ‘You own this business and you’re a part of the community. So you have to really give back and contribute.’
Love that advice! Speaking of tips, what would be your best piece of advice for somebody who’s just starting their business?
To write a business plan, by far. Not every business owner does it. I’ve met so many people along the years who have not done it, but I think it’s such a great way to get started. My husband’s not in retail, but when I was just starting out, he was like, ‘Just write it all down.’ And I started doing that, and that’s when I started building my business plan.
A business plan serves two things: It puts all your ideas on paper, so it really builds the framework of who you are as a business, like it’s really the foundation. But then, you also do the financial calculations to make sure your idea is a viable business. Ask yourself, can I make money from doing this? Because that’s, I think, a really important part that not everybody who opens a business realizes that they have to do because managing the money is a hard part.
Manage your retail and eCom operations with one platform
With Lightspeed’s one-stop commerce platform, Panettieri and her team can keep track of retail and eCom sales and inventory together, rather than separately. Stronger inventory management benefits both The Brass Owl’s customers and retail staff.
Looking to streamline your day-to-day operations? Talk to one of our retail experts to see what Lightspeed can do for your business.
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