Small Business Profile: April Gabriel, Owner of Boston General Store
Hi April! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is April and I was born and raised in Houston, TX. I’m one of those crazy Texans that will tell everyone how proud I am to be a Texan and they should visit ASAP. My husband and I live in an almost 300-year-old home in Dedham with our doodle Olive.
What was your first job?
My first job as a kid was at a cookie shop called Great American Cookie Co, lol. I made cookies all day long (and ate quite a bit too). If you are asking about a professional job, then that would be for an Architectural firm in Houston renovating historical buildings. I was trained as an Architect and did that up until I opened Boston General Store.
What led you to begin Boston General Store?
I was working at The New England Aquarium as their on-site architect doing exhibit design. We were in between projects and I needed a creative outlet so I decided to design a website (something I’ve always wanted to try). I selected around ten of my favorite products and did a mock website just to play around with design. I found that I loved the variety of creating a website. Whether it was product research, photography, writing or selling wares to customers. I loved everything about it. My Nanna gave me 10k to actually buy the 10 +/- products that I used as placeholders and BGS was born.
Although your brick and mortar shop has been open for a while now, how was the transition from moving from online to a physical storefront for you and your business?
It was the largest step I’ve taken so far but I was so wrapped up in getting it open that it wasn’t the most stressful (that was the second location). Keeping the online shop as is would have been easier for sure but I craved the human interaction and seeing how people responded to our products. Opening the first location was the natural next step and the best decision I made for the business.
We applied for a SBA loan and after about 10 months we finally received it and used that amount to renovate and open the brick and mortar location. Starting online was a really great way to get my feet wet in business and be able to make mistakes without a huge impact. For the first year I was able to slowly work on branding and build my inventory for the brick and mortar shop but moving to the brick and mortar location in Brookline got me even more excited for what I was doing.
How do you find your products? Does you travel to source your products, find through friends and other makers, etc?
I used to do it through blogs, pinterest, Instagram etc when I first started. Mainly because I couldn’t afford to travel. I looked to see what people were talking about online. Once we started to take off a bit I was able to go to trade shows. My favorite way though is to travel to other cities and see what’s popular there. My goal is to find small makers that nobody around here knows about yet. Sometimes that requires me to travel pretty far to find.
The goods you sell are high-quality and functional, meant to last a long time. Do you have specific qualities you look for in makers and businesses you buy from?
What gets my attention first is how excited the person is about their product. A genuine authenticity in their excitement. Then I look for quality and how it is made. How is it made? What are the working conditions? Are they constantly working to improve their products? My goal is to have a shop that only carries these types of products one. As you can imagine they aren’t easy to find.
What are some brands/makers/businesses that you are excited about that we should know of?
I’m really excited about a brand that’s about to hit the shop this fall. A third generation paper maker that makes loose leaf sheets, journals, etc. Family businesses are my favorite because of the knowledge passed down and I always dream to make BGS that type of business.
What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
My office is in our Dedham shop and my favorite thing to do is get their early and throw open my large window by my desk. We have a small garden in back so I can smell all the flowers from my desk. The quiet before the storm is my favorite, and of course with a cup of coffee by my side.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
When I talk to a customer that’s really excited about my shop, that always gets me excited too. When people understand what I’m trying to do and they just believe in it. Makes me want to keep going and keep trying to find the really wonderful makers.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting your shop?
Money is always an issue. It’s hard to compete with the large box stores that buy cheap products and sell them at a high mark up. We don’t make a large profit because the makers are making a living wage and we want to keep the cost as low as possible for the customer. I wouldn’t ever change this but it definitely keeps us on our toes to make things work.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in the development of Boston General Store?
My family is one of my best resources. My Nanna and my Mom were/are both small business owners. They understand what it takes to keep a small business alive. Mostly it's straight up hard work but they also have a lot of tricks to keep things going.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
There is no doubt that women are at a disadvantage when it comes to business. I’ve experienced this first hand. I find that I have to work harder at certain things because of my gender. So yes it’s important for women to support each other because we experience a lot of the same discrimination on a daily basis. This might be controversial to your question but the way that I work against this is to support both women and men small business owners equally. Male or female we are both in this together and have our work cut out for us going up against big business. This may be naive of me to think it will help the gap between our genders but it’s how I make it work. I always get a sense of kicking ass when I can look at it this way.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
There are so many…do you have a few hours? A few of my favorites are: Block Shop Textiles, Curio Spice Co., Linda R. Campos, Local Milk, Betty Liu…so many. Women out there just trying to make it work and do their best. I love it.
What have you learned from owning your company that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
That you are probably going to mess up 100 times and then get it right on 101. But after a month you realize that the 101th time isn’t right either and you keep going. The point is there is always room for improvement and growth. That the growing in between is the most important part. I wouldn’t trade all my mess ups for anything.
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
My goal has always been to create something. In the coming months we are launching our own product line. We’ve been working with the Brothers Artisan Oil (they make all their products in our Dedham location) to create our own line that we can sell to other stores. I’m really excited about this project.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
Right now I don’t really. I’m lucky that my work doesn’t feel like work. I’ve started to take weekends off but always find there is something that needs to be done. My husband and I usually work side by side at home so we can blend the two. I feel at some point you just have to commit to taking days off and do it. Disconnect from work and be in the moment. I’ve been doing that more and more lately.
What are some of your favorite places in Boston?
I’m very much a home body and love visiting local spots over and over. Locally in Dedham I go to a coffee spot called the Big Bear frequently. My friend down the road has a farm so I love to visit there too. Mainly places I can roam with my pup Olive.