NY NOW Podcast

The Paper Plane Cocktail Hour: Blue Ribbon Retail

April 08, 2021 NY NOW Season 1 Episode 35
NY NOW Podcast
The Paper Plane Cocktail Hour: Blue Ribbon Retail
Show Notes Transcript

Ann Cantrell always dreamed of opening a version of a modern-day general store and brought the concept to life in a sunny corner of Brooklyn. Her focus on blue-ribbon winning merchandise, a robust online presence and gaining the strength from her vibrant neighborhood has enabled Annie & Team to continuously pull together the “best that life has to offer, all under one roof” to win the blue ribbon for fun and function.   

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WEBSITE / INSTAGRAM: www.blueribbongeneralstore.com / anniesblueribbongeneralstore

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Amy Loewenberg:

Hi, everyone and welcome to the paper plane cocktail hour. I'm one of your hosts Amy lowenberg relations and partnership development manager at New York now, throughout 2021. We'll be raising our glasses alongside our pencils as we share stories, compare notes, and celebrate three of our all time favorite topics, stationery, connection, and cocktails. I treasure the relationships I've established and I relish the new ones I make every day, sharing information and introducing our amazing community of retailers, buyers, vendors, artists and makers through my spotlight podcast in New York now, and my store tours on Instagram.

Sarah Schwartz:

And I am your host Sarah, you may know me as the founding editor and editor in chief of stationary trends magazine, my site, the paper nerd or possibly my other podcast, the paper fold. I've been covering the stationery and gift industry since 1998. But never did I imagined that I'd one day be covering the market here in the virtual space. Gosh, so April's a fun one. Amy and I are talking with an Cantrell, owner of Annie's Blue Ribbon general store in Brooklyn. But before we bring an on, let's talk about what's earning a design Blue Ribbon these days with you, Amy, have any new makers come across your path that you can't get enough of?

Amy Loewenberg:

Yeah, actually, most recently, have you heard of JC art works.

Sarah Schwartz:

I am not familiar with them.

Amy Loewenberg:

You know, they're actually they're not a new brand. They were a part of our summer 19 incubator program. And they've been around for a few years. But I first learned of them it in the summer. And the artist, Julio carrion res has included some new styles in our most recent digital market get together that we just had. And I just found that I just kept going back to look at them. They are 3d wooden puzzles, to assemble, however, they're just really amped up. And they can be extremely architectural. They're colorful, they're realistically painted. And he features a range of birds and sea creatures, which are that are just really so well received that he added in bugs and dinos. But you should check them out. They're they're beautiful. They're creepy, and they're beautiful. And I just I love the hummingbird and the mantis and the giant squid. I just I don't know why I just keep looking at those guys. They're just really wild. How about you?

Sarah Schwartz:

Well, that sounds phenomenal. I think it's interesting set to take puzzles which have become this important item into three dimensions. You know, it's like puzzles to point out. And for me, I'm totally going in the other direction and leaving my house. It just seems like what the promise of spring the planet trend is moving outdoors. And after that long, seemingly endless winner. I for one could not be happier. So in my family's division of labor, the indoors is my domain as my green thumb is a little black. But fortunately, my husband Rick has a really, really easy touch with plants that I completely envy. So he Yeah, I know he just has like a really easy some people just have that. Yeah. Have it has it? I do not. And if I asked him nicely, he'll help me with my little projects. And some time back modern sprout sent me some herb kits so nice. And they're really they say there's just nicely designed nicely styled and they seem pretty idiot proof. With the little help from him. I'm really excited to try them out. It's all inclusive, beautifully presented. And so that's what I'm looking forward to these days.

Amy Loewenberg:

Well, you'll have to let me know if your kit bears fruit so to speak.

Sarah Schwartz:

As long as I stay away from the process it probably. So, Amy, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit more about Annie and her blue ribbon general store?

Amy Loewenberg:

Yeah, absolutely. So Anna always dreamed of opening a version of the modern general store and brought the concept to life in a sunny corner of Brooklyn in 2007. And almost 14 years later, her shop has become a staple in her community. Her approach concentrates on winning merchandise a robust online presence and gaining strength from her vibrant neighborhood, and an NHS Blue Ribbon general store, they work hard, so you don't have to, at least when it comes to gifting, they'll help you look like a rock star that you are by finding just the right something special for anyone and everyone.

Sarah Schwartz:

But we should really point out that the seeds of this shop were born during Annie's childhood. Yes, growing up in rural New Jersey, she visited general stores up and down the East Coast throughout her childhood, during which she was also a part of her local four H program, where she would always strive to when you got you guessed it blue, for first place. So wanting to create a general store focused around Blue Ribbon winning merchandise, the shop idea was born, Annie and team continuously pulled together the best that life has to offer all under one roof to win the blue ribbon for fun and function. But wait, there's more. There's more.mThere's not just all there is. There's more. And is also an associate professor at the baker School of Business at the Fashion Institute of Technology and an international business consultant. And she's optimistic about the future even during these trying times,

Amy Loewenberg:

you know, in coming from an associate professor, I love that she's optimistic because I am too, like, are you?

Sarah Schwartz:

Most of the time. Okay, let's get those drinks flowing. And this show started. Hi, and welcome to the paper playing cocktail hour. Cheers.

Ann Cantrell:

Thanks for having me cheers, here's.

Sarah Schwartz:

So I love the idea that everything under your roof is deserving of a blue ribbon in some way, shape, or form. And while visitors to your site can shop your categories, just as you can with most shops, I'd love that you also have a separate menu to shop your curations from pet parade to celebrate women to pop culture. These are so much fun and just take visitors on little adventures. I. So I want to find out about your process for these. How do you come up with themes? And how often do you introduce new ones?

Ann Cantrell:

Well, first of all, thank you so much for noticing that was actually a tweak to our website. We always worked in curations and themes. But it was actually worked with a mentor from curate retail group to help me look at it from the category perspective to look at it from like what the customer wants to see on the site that she was like, I just want to find a mug, like, but it's part of a story. She's like, just help me find the mug. So anyway, that that is a recent tweak to our site. But my background is in the fashion industry, I worked in corporate fashion for a long time and product development. And we everything we did revolved around a theme, a concept for that season. And so I just took that same idea when I open up my shop and translate it that way. We've never been one of those stores where you walk in and we have everything from a certain line we just like you know, we see in your magazine to we curate what is right for our certain payment concept. So like I love I was just thinking about Knock Knock is the brand I love them. But I'll just pull out certain things that are going to make sense for what we're working on then. And the way that our themes usually come together as a trade shows, actually, I'll be walking around New York now or Atlanta by the third row. I'm like, Okay, I got it, right. Like we know, the first time you see something? Oh, that's interesting. The second time you're like, Huh, I wonder if there's something more by the third time, like that's the trend right. And so I think when you're pulling things together and kind of curating and what's right for you're taking those ideas, but then what's right for your target customer. And so we change it out about every two months, we start with something and then just kind of because not all deliveries are coming up at the same time, especially our Daisy right. So we call it layering in, will be like okay, we'll start it and then we'll just layer in what comes in next thing, that's another thing that has come up. In the last definitely in the last year with a pandemic is I used to want everything, we would hold everything and put it out all at once. Now sometimes I'm like, Alright, well not everything is coming at one time, or I'm like, Oh, this is so great. We'll just like see how it works and get reorders if it's going so, but more or less we try to change it out every I would say six, six weeks to two months, and layering things as they as they come up. So that's just how we work as a concept. concept to them.

Sarah Schwartz:

Yeah, I think that's so cool. And I love that sensation. You have a trade shows where you know, you find something and you're like, Ooh, that's interesting. And then you see it again. And then you see it again. And then you just get to the point where everywhere you seem to see it and it's just so fun to find. And then sort of articulated and choose how you articulate it. Do you have any? Do you have a favorite curation that you've either recently introduced or are just as like in your curation holophane

Ann Cantrell:

was kind of interesting around holiday I we always do some sort of woodland theme and so I'm like, Oh, this is so woodland. Actually, I I spent the first six months of the year January until like the next like season in July being like, Oh, I wish we had that for holiday wish we had that for holiday that would have been great for woodland and then by by August, I'm like, okay, we'll have it for next holiday. So I'm, I'm a kind of always like thinking about what what those themes might be. So woodland is always a big one. I love when things like right now, we're all into spring. So anything that is like grow kits or greenery or jelly cat has like the cutest slide, right? Like, oh, let's put more jelly cat in there. Um, so I'm very, I get really excited and passionate about what I do. So it's really what we're doing right then that I'm most most excited about.

Amy Loewenberg:

It really shows your eye is is your your merchant eye is just fantastic. And when you walk into your store, it is just like a cornucopia of these incredible curations that just like come out and you're like, Oh, I want to go here. Oh, I want to go there. Oh, I want to see that.

Ann Cantrell:

Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, I definitely. I'm not a minimalist, I definitely know too much. But you know, it all kind of works out. It's been 13 and a half years. So so far, so good.

Amy Loewenberg:

That's amazing. I'll just point it, I love your sustainable solutions, one on your curation. And that might be an interesting segue here. Because I know that you you take additional energies towards the sustainable life. I love the story of you visiting general stores up and down east coast and the four H program and and then of course, as Sarah mentioned, your blue ribbons. But I'm also really impressed with what your current story is. And that's that you're a retail store owner. You're an entrepreneurial influencer fit professor and sustainability steward and business consultant that's as per LinkedIn. And so as I'm always so as I'm always engaged with, in conversation with both our New York now vendors and retailers of small businesses on best practices, I think that we would like to hear more about some of the important conversations that you're teaching and consulting on, especially as they deal with strengthening our business and assuring in a sustainable way of doing that business.

Ann Cantrell:

Yeah, well, thank you so much. I think that I, I definitely believe in equal parts. And I do teach it fit. I teach in fashion, business management in the school, the baker School of Business and Technology. So I'm very driven from a an environmentally sustainable perspective. Absolutely, we can talk about that. But I'm also like, economically sustainable as well, right? Like we can donate to causes or give back to our community unless we're also very, you know, we'll make it we have to make money and be profitable in this what we're doing. But my real passion is sustainability. So thank you for bringing that up about sustainable solutions. And that's actually one of our curations that always stays, and I'm very into zero waste and trying to cut down our our footprint. But and I do see this as the future of our of all of our businesses, circular design and having things you know, using things in multiple ways, and getting rid of single use plastics, and everything along those lines is really important right now, I actually also got my MBA with a concentration in sustainability as as this is, I think, just really like how businesses should be run. So as a consultant, I definitely I do a lot of business plans. And I really talked to people about what they want to do like what why they want to get started, it has to be more than just like I said, making money, right, using business and I'm into businesses that are trying to use business as a force for good. And I see that in our own community, especially during COVID I feel like the community like needed our spirit and even if we just put some rainbows in the like, I put rainbow duck tape up for a while just to like, you know, get people happy and excited and inspire during such dark times. There was a one vendor, she is a balloon, a balloon artist, and she put she put balloons, Rainbow balloons with like clouds on them on our gate like we weren't even open right? And it just brought so much light to the neighborhood. And so I take that sustainability umbrella in a much larger sense. There's the the United Nation came up with these 17 development goals. And it's not just about recycling or using environmentally Friendly products, although, or materials, and that's certainly important. But it's also about inclusivity. Social Justice, it's about our footprint in so many different ways. And so I take all of that into consideration whether it's supporting small makers, black owned businesses, now it's International Women's month. And so all of these things kind of combined together. And fusing a lot of community support are truly what I think are definitely important to me. But I also think our wins for the future. And just like, you know, I teach another class, and there's so many classes about leadership, and so much of it just comes down to like doing the right thing, right. And so, I think all of these things combined, who really helped for success for the long word wrong, the long run the long run?

Amy Loewenberg:

Well, I mean, I have to say, Wow, that is a lot that you are supporting, and you're mentoring role, and then obviously, running your business on, you know, taking your own directions that you're helping other people to embrace. It's, it's impressive, how are you managing all of this?

Ann Cantrell:

Oh, please. Um, you know, I think it's really fun, I thrive off of I thrive off of helping others, I thrive off of other people's energy. And I thrive off of our customers and what they want to see and that's a big part of it, too, we're in we're in Park Slope, Brooklyn, like he get really, people are really engaged. And people read labels and want to know where things are from and ask for products. And that are, you know, very eco conscious. So it started to come from that started to come from what customers wanted. And then once and then teaching this and once you know, some of these things, you can't unknow them. And knowing that any piece of plastic that we've ever had is still out there in existence, like you can't unknow that. So thinking more thoughtfully about the products that you sell, and how you present them and who you support. You know, I love that we support so many other businesses. I say this to people all the time, like someone will buy, like a Mr. Boddington card. I love Rebecca she lives in our neighborhood, she's a good friend of mine, or kids go to school together. I'll be like, Oh, you just supported like to Brooklyn businesses? Yeah, like, you know, so that's part of it as well, and getting people to understand that, like, she lived right down the street, Oh, she sold around the world, but she lives right down the street. So um, you know, try creating that awareness. I think it's really important to

Sarah Schwartz:

wright and what are you seeing, I mean, at market at these past markets, I saw like a lot of the beeswax wraps a lot of that. There was there was some really interesting tools to kind of reduce one's footprint. Because of the nature of things. I'm not getting to see them in action, as I may have in previous years. Are those types of things doing well, what what are the What do you think are on that kind of edge of the ego? consumer movement?

Ann Cantrell:

Yeah, I, we've been selling overall, like a lot of cookbooks and a lot of vegan cookbooks in particular, I think people are really more thoughtful about what they're putting in their body more of obviously, wellness as a big trend, not just self care, but also like eating well. So we've been seeing a lot of that my daughter who's nine, her new year's resolution was to not use ziplock bags. So I was like, Okay, I'm between stash, wrap and you know, this is like a nine year old. So, um, you know, we're all we're all doing it in different ways. And so, and things that I'm also it's about things that you love, right? Like, if it's a jelly cat, stuffed animal, but you're gonna, like love that and, you know, squeeze it, and it's gonna help you sleep at night. Like, that's part of it, too. It's got to be you know, it's not just this state of mind, where we're not just going to buy things for you, we have to be open minded about it as well. And not just really, I'm just going to buy beautiful wooden toys, like you know, hey, like kids, you know, be neat things and right now I think what we can do to make happiness, more happiness in the world, I think is really important. So I do it just in general and that more products that we used to sell a lot of this is kind of tapered off and COVID but you know, bringing your lunch to work and products that can help along those lines. So it has tweaked a bit but I feel like it's more moved into cooking at home and even you know making your own cocktails but it's growing your own herbs that will go in them or something along those lines. So just being more thoughtful about our purchases and what we're putting on our body overall.

Amy Loewenberg:

You're normalizing this you're you're creating that conversation and you're normalizing it so you know generations to come. This is not Something that we have to go out and seek it becomes a part of their life. I mean, I'm looking at your respect the earth conversation cards, I did not have those cards when I was a kid. You know, the conversation is different. And and it's but it's really lovely that you're such a force in, in providing that conversation.

Ann Cantrell:

Yea and like I said, it's really it's what customer, it's definitely what our customer wants and comes to us for. Right.

Sarah Schwartz:

And it's interesting, from my perspective, I mean, you're in Brooklyn, you have a very sort of, for lack of a better term like evolved populace, like they're thinking about things that maybe people in other parts of the country are not thinking about. Still, I think it's a harbinger of where things are going. And it's really interesting. I mean, in a way you sort of have like the world's most evolved focus group, that's your customer customers.

Ann Cantrell:

No, and I know I and I totally know what you mean, like, our customers very well traveled very well educated. But I see it with my students, I have been teaching the sustainability class for about 10 years. But I also teach freshmen just coming in, I teach trend forecasting. And so a lot of different classes, and even in those classes, product development that have nothing to do unless, of course, all my cousins come back to sustainability in some way or another. But all those classes students, those are the number one brands that they are looking at are things that are more, as I said, a business as a force for good. And not just something something to buy, but the you know, the brands that the younger generations are really interested Have a think a lot more depth to it. And I've seen that over the past 10 years, the level of engagement and all and the college world has has really been dramatic about their knowledge and their quest for these businesses that are doing more than just selling something.

Sarah Schwartz:

Wow. So my last stage, we always folk we always close with a focus back on stationery. And so I'm curious, do you think COVID-19 has changed the way that your customers see stationery? And if so, how?

Ann Cantrell:

Yes, we have been selling so many cards. I mean, people are connecting they people want to send more love. Like yesterday, I just had someone say I just people need some goodness, I need like packs of cards. And I want to like you know, send them all some things. So we have these like little shamrocks or little ladybugs or piece doves and she's gonna put them in all of the cards that she bought. But I think connecting more is like more important than ever. I also think that timely cards that have a sense of humor have been huge for us like COVID related funny, but also about hugs and you know, that connection, the so many people came out with some early on and some of the newness is really been fun to see. I think timely, good good humoured cards and wanting to connect with people are things that are really important right now.

Sarah Schwartz:

Absolutely. And it's interesting to the way that the corona like summer, like, I call them Corona cards.

Ann Cantrell:

You know, early on, they were like, Well, I mean, there's definitely an evolution and depending on the maker perspective, it can go anywhere. But you know, some are very soft and light and sweet and connecting. And some are like very dark and funny and like, you know, in all just speak to the different moods and you know, just help people connect, when, you know, words don't necessarily come that easily to you. Yeah, and I think the thing about cards is you can act on it really fast, like the Bernie meme, like a Bernie meme. That was what January 20. And then people were like, Oh, do you have these patches? Or do you have these pins and I'm thinking this is not going to happen for like another month. Bernie, me love Bernie. I'm not sure what's gonna happen in four weeks from now. But the cards the cards were immediate, and we had them in the store within a week. And yeah, it was I love it. So it also is, you know, easy to I'm not a card maker. I don't know how easy it is. I shouldn't say that. But it seems like fast and easy to act on. Easier to act on.

Amy Loewenberg:

Talk to Rachel, maybe she can help you.

Ann Cantrell:

Yes.

Amy Loewenberg:

Gosh, I have to say that your energy is amazing. So it comes through in your store curation both in real life and and on the web. And talking with you it's just been such a pleasure. Before we end though I think we really need to ask, what is the best way to get in touch with you and how can we follow you?

Ann Cantrell:

Oh, yes, well check us out on Instagram and Blue Ribbon general store the full thing though those words, and I'm my email is ann at Blue Ribbon General store.com if anyone wants to reach out, but I love DNS and shout outs and all that, so follow along and check in.

Sarah Schwartz:

All right, well, we cannot thank you enough for coming by for cocktails and conversation.

Ann Cantrell:

Amazing. Thank you so much for having me. Cheers. You. Oh, cheers. Cheers.

Amy Loewenberg:

Well, that was really invigorating and has this amazing energy, doesn't she?

Sarah Schwartz:

She does. And I think the cocktails might also be helping Amy, let me guess. Are you enjoying your paper playing cocktail tonight?

Amy Loewenberg:

I am I am. It's not a secret at this point that I'm a paper plane fan. But I also find that I'm sipping the bourbon before I add in the additional ingredients. So my friend Google says that bourbon drinkers are the people's people. They're a group as fiery as they are loyal, and as odd as they are special. So what do you think about that?

Sarah Schwartz:

I think I need some more bourbon in my life.

Amy Loewenberg:

Me too you know you are special and odd my friend?

Sarah Schwartz:

As are you, Amy. Now, to all our fiery and loyal listeners. Don't forget to post Instagram pics of your cocktail with or without bourbon. But definitely sporting your paper playing garnish. Use the hashtags, the paper playing podcast and paper playing cocktail hour. And Amy, where can our listeners find you in the meantime?

Amy Loewenberg:

Oh, you guys know where to find me. Now you can connect with me on [email protected], LinkedIn or email me at work. I always want to meet new people and learn about your business and talk shop. Don't forget to check out my buyer vendor spotlight podcast for New York now and the Instagram store tours. And I'm always available to connect you to new and needed resources and answer any of your New York now market or digital market questions. And how can we connect with you Sarah?

Sarah Schwartz:

Probably the best place to connect with me is at the paper nerds calm. You can see more fabulous stationery coverage check out my podcast the paper fold and access stationery trends, the industry's award winning design driven trade quarterly as well. It's always a pleasure to learn more about makers and spotlight their work, whether it's in a publication, a blog or a podcast. If you want to connect I'd love to hear from you.

Amy Loewenberg:

Yeah, so please don't hesitate to reach out to either of us with comments questions, feedback suggestions for guests are just to say hi and introduce yourself. So thank you so much for listening to the paper playing cocktail hour. Sara and I are having a blast with these and we hope that you are too and with that we say cheers.