Q&A: Stacey Grant of West Dearborn's Made Metro Collective on staying nimble

Stacey Grant expected Made Metro Collective, the local artisan marketplace she and partner Amanda Lawson opened up in West Downtown Dearborn last December, to be closed by the end of January. But strong sales and a connection with the community have kept their doors open. The shop will now stay open in its current spot until the end of March. After that, Grant is hoping to continue operation as a nimble, responsive business that reflects the evolving model for retail businesses.

Grant first established the Made Metro Collective with her friend and former business partner, Amanda Lawson, initially dedicating two months to the experiment. Then, the landlord offered them a month to month lease until he could find a long-term tenant.

Lawson stepped down, but Grant decided to keep the shop running on a month-to-month lease.

“We had an intention when we first opened, and then the store took on a life of its own,” Grant said. “When you fill a store with a hundred people’s products, there’s enough energy and momentum, that maybe there’s something more here than a popup for two months.”

The shop located on Michigan Ave. next to Bar Louie sells a variety of locally made products, like clothing, handbags, jewelry, art, prints, photography, vinyl records, coffee, foodstuff, as well as merchandise from Ford Motor Company and all three of Dearborn’s museums, Henry Ford, the Dearborn Historical Museum and the Arab American National Museum. It’s not a vendor fair, but rather a store with an event area.

“We’ve hosted over 15 events in the last two and a half months,” Grant says. “Our mission is to build community and create an authentic conversation between people… We’re trying to create opportunities for [them] to showcase their talent and to draw in the community.”

Grant made some time in her busy schedule to speak to Metromode in detail about Made Metro Collective’s current location in West Dearborn, its future, her new findings as the city develops, and more.

Stacey Grant. Photo by Zahraa Farhat Why did you choose to open your business in West Dearborn?

Amanda and I are both moms of three kids. We both live here, and our kids go to school here, so we wanted to invest in the community. We also saw that there was a gap in local retail in downtown Dearborn. We said we could either let another holiday season pass where everybody is shopping elsewhere, or we could open up a store and see what happens.

What have you learned about the Dearborn community?

Right off the bat when we opened up the store, we realized there is an awesome, dynamic, creative, diverse community in Dearborn. We know that there’s diversity, but regarding a networked, interconnected creative community, that wasn’t something I was plugged into.

I realized that it is here, but also recognized a need for a marketplace for these artists and makers to be able to connect with customers. Plus, the feedback we’ve gotten from the community is that customers want to connect with these makers and artists as well. They want to support local.

Which demographic do you think your shop has attracted the most?

What’s interesting is when we opened up the store, one question we got quite frequently was who we were going to be marketing to. The whole ideation until opening was about six weeks, which is crazy. So, we didn’t really have time to develop this deeply researched marketing plan about our target demographic. We have something for everybody. From every business book that you read, that’s a terrible way to open up a store. You really need to target a market.

But, we’ve had people from all demographics and backgrounds come into the store. The one that surprises us the most is the older generation of Dearbornites, who come in and are really excited that we are here. It surprised me the most because we have this dynamic urban vibe going on, and so you’re not really sure what the response is going to be. To have that generation of residents come in and be really happy that we’re here, remembering the days when downtown Dearborn was really thriving, is exciting.

As the city continues to transform, what are some of the most significant trends you’ve noticed?

I think that there is a positive attitude shift around Dearborn. There's this sort of tacit understanding or feeling of excitement and energy that good things are happening. People are naturally curious to want to navigate that and figure out how to contribute and be a part of it. I think that residents are self-organizing to figure out how to support local businesses, how to open them; there’s a sort of a new entrepreneurial spirit.

When you first opened Made Metro Collective back in December, you weren’t sure if it could stay open. Now that it will, how do you plan to keep it open throughout the year?

We plan to be polymorphic, which is that we’re going to be responsive and nimble to the market. I think that’s the future of local retail. The store will be open the rest of February and March, but there’s a really good chance that we’re going to be shutting down our doors at the location that we’re at. But, that doesn’t mean that as a business and as a collective of a 100 makers, that we’re not going to be able to continue in other forms and fashions in other spaces.

It’s the responsive food truck model for retail, which is that it’s a lot of money just to operate a brick and mortar store and to sign on a two or five-year lease. If you can be responsive to the needs of the customers and makers, that means we’re popping up at events, and we’re going to be hopefully partnering with other businesses that would be interested in hosting us. Hopefully, Made Metro Collective will be that kind of secure independent landing place for anybody who is interested in local retail in Dearborn.

In what ways, do you feel your business has enhanced the local economy so far? How has the local community developed?

One of the benchmarks for contribution for a retail store would be the economic contribution. We feel like we’ve been able to write checks to a hundred vendors month after month, selling products that hopefully have benefited them and that the investment in local is really that those local makers turn around and invest it right back into the city.

On the community development side, we’ve hosted storytelling nights, organized the Winter Music Mash in partnership with seven other businesses and invited 17 local musicians. We’re trying to demonstrate to the community what is possible, so we’re not doing everything perfectly, and there are lots of different ways that we could be doing things better.

But, we are just piloting lots of ideas around community development. Even though our doors might be closing at the end of March, we’re going to be racing to the finish line. We’re not just kind of like petering out, opening our doors and then shutting them and saying that’s it. We’re trying to capture all the synergy that we can.

For example, our entrepreneurship networking event next month will hopefully help our vendors connect with designers, filmmakers, and photographers who are themselves trying to build their businesses. We’re going to be inviting Amazon to come in to talk to vendors about how to sell their products on Amazon, and businesses that best fit that model.

Many businesses in the area use social media as a marketing platform. However, your shop advertises for local businesses on the ground. What makes your strategy more effective?

Good relationships. It’s a different thing to put something out on Facebook or Instagram and just hope that people will be responsive, and then it’s another thing to be able to have conversations with people. I can walk customers around the store and tell you a little bit about the maker, their product, where they’re from, what motivated them to start and be like an ambassador for them. In turn, we have vendors who are helping operate the store for the last month. That’s purely based on relationship building. It takes time, and it takes on the ground connection.

What is the application process like for those interested in becoming vendors?

It’s straightforward. Anybody who is interested can either walk through our door with their product just to show us or go on the contact form on our website, www.mademetro.com. As long as there is a unique difference between their product and another vendor’s, then they are welcome to show up, and we can display their products. It’s very simple.

Relationships are the shortest distance between two people, where if you have this conversation and connection, it is not bureaucratic. We’ve only had to turn away I think four vendors out of fairness to vendors who had similar products, but I encouraged them to go to Dearborn Novelty Art, a great local store in Dearborn.

What kind of relationship does Made Metro Collective hope to build with local businesses and the Dearborn community at large as the city develops?

From our business standpoint, we’d love to continue partnering with businesses that would be interested in partnering with us. It’s not completely defined right now. For example, if there was a business that said they have space and would love for us to come in to do a pop-up shop in their space, and we can show up and showcase products, that would be fantastic. If there’s a long-term partnership with other businesses, that would be great. It might be that there are other smaller businesses that cannot afford storefront on their own, where we could all partner together, almost like a business or an innovation lab, where we can have a co-working space, kitchen area, retail space, conference space, etc.… The possibilities are endless. It’s a matter of finding businesses, organizations, and other individuals interested in laying out a pathway to developing a space like that. We’re hoping we can be a part of that if that happens in the city.

What do you hope for the future of Made Metro Collective?

I hope that doors stay open. Even if we’re closing our doors at the end of March, that as a collective, we’re still able to stay connected and that hopefully, we’re planting seeds of ideas of what’s possible.

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