Three is Better Than One
Retail is an ever-changing realm. In the current retail and services climate, businesses face challenges of fulfilling complex needs posed by potential consumers on a daily basis. It is no longer acceptable for a company to simply sell a service or a product, there must be an added outside benefit that comes along with it. Whether it’s points that go towards a future discount or being able to grab a coffee during their stay, consumers are looking for that extra boost to keep them shopping in physical locations. Another way businesses are adapting is through collaboration with forces such as designers, celebrities, influencers, brands and retailers. Attempts like this are found to be successful upon entering new consumer territory. Collaborations can also range from celebrities’ influence to multiple channels within one brick-and-mortar. For example, Urban Outfitters in Herald Square has a hair salon, full beauty bar and even an extension to a poké bar.
The idea of converging services and products may not seem new to people who live in New York City because of all the businesses that have implemented such practices. Chillhouse, the Lower East Side nail and body spa—that doubles as a coffee shop—has gained much popularity for a few different reasons. One being its extensive social media presence, another is its overall concept—not many people have been able to get their manicure done all while drinking the matcha latte that they ordered at the same counter they picked their gel nail color—and lastly its convenience factor. There are other cafes in Manhattan such as the combination cafe and bar DTUT located in the Upper East Side, or Uncommons, the “board game cafe” located in Greenwich Village that follow the protocol of these new emerging business models.
For places that are much less populated, such as the small towns that reside more upstate in the Hudson Valley, dual business models like these are rarely seen. However, with the attention from various media outlets and more tourists coming through, there are a few people who are beginning to push forward concepts and create their own experiences in and around this unique area.
Amanda and Anthony Stromoski, the founders of Rough Draft, are of the first to implement this type of business practice into the smaller areas of the Hudson Valley. Specifically located in the historical yet growing city of Kingston, NY. They took it upon themselves to evolve an unused space into a sanctuary for people of all different interests to congregate as a small, but surely expanding community.
Rough Draft is certainly the first of its kind, especially in its area, as it operates as a cafe, bar and bookstore. Competing bookstores can be found less than a block away, however, they do not offer the same kind of customer-focused service that Rough Draft effortlessly achieves. Their most direct competitor, The Spotty Dog, located about an hour away in Hudson, NY, offers beer on tap and a fair selection of books. The biggest and main difference between the two is their size—The Spotty Dog’s draft beer counter does not amount to the full bar and extensive book collection that has been maintained at Rough Draft. The reason Rough Draft stands out among the rest is that they have mastered exceptional customer service, the ability to cater to at least three different demographics, and effective marketing and merchandising of a trifecta of goods. They have achieved this all while offering dedicated service to the three different branches of their business.
Because of the large volume of people coming in and out of the shop, my interview with Amanda was almost postponed. Not only do her and Anthony take care of the daily tasks that come with owning their own from-scratch business, but they also work as the face of the store, doing counter work, especially on busy days like this one. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and Amanda shared a similar reaction of surprise to the amount of foot traffic shuffling through at that point in the day. In the store were people of all ages—coffee drinkers, book lovers and beer guzzlers alike. Anthony was running in and out of the kitchen, grabbing drinks and food for customers at the bar and sitting in the chairs scattered all around the store. Amanda seemed to be running in and out as well, while maintaining a close watch over the entire storefront.
The beginning of Rough Draft’s story all started because Amanda and Anthony met and eventually dated throughout their years in high school. Originally from South Jersey, the two ended up moving themselves to a comfortable little neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY after college. This is where they ended up staying for ten years. Eager to be closer to nature, they traveled from Brooklyn on the weekends, which ultimately led them straight into the beautiful Hudson Valley. Explicitly, they found themselves in Kingston, NY, a city located about 2 hours north of New York City.
Back in North Carolina where Anthony attended college, there was a place where he would go to hangout that was much like the concept of Rough Draft. “Anthony always had this idea,” Amanda boasted.
In Brooklyn, Anthony had a job as an assistant principal and Amanda worked primarily in journalism, mostly writing about health news. During their numerous travels upstate, the couple realized their desire to move where they could be surrounded by nature. They both decided moving into a house—although much different from their Brooklyn apartment—was the best choice for them. It was about five years of conceptualizing before they actually ended up making the move and ultimately opening their business. During this time, Anthony took up bartending which encouraged him to learn the skills it took to manage a bar. The two also ended up working on what would be the beginning of their business plan. Throughout this process they also continued making trips upstate to scout the location of what would be their new business.
Rough Draft is definitely a community based business, it operates with the intention of keeping its abode as neighborly as possible. When Amanda and Anthony made their move upstate, they wanted to live somewhere that they didn’t have to drive much, somewhere they could walk to the grocery store or to any immediate amenities that they needed. By opening Rough Draft, the couple created a spot where local people and travelers alike felt incredibly welcomed, as if it's right where they belong.
When it came to any obstacles that arose during the process of opening the store, Amanda found that there were a few, but not any too overwhelming to overcome.“Our transition into this business was pretty easy, we got lucky with timing,” Amanda said.
They saw a couple of places, but what they found that would work the best was the storefront they are in now, which had been empty for about 10 years. It was as if the stars were aligned and it were meant to be. There was of course logistical planning such as figuring out a financial plan and meeting with a business advisor to help determine the most efficient system for them as a small business. Because of the influential nature of Kingston’s history, the city’s historical society also must regulate many aspects of the business, between maintaining the building’s appearance to approving how big the store sign can be.
“We had to get everything approved but it seemed that everyone was really on board,” Amanda said, relieved. “Everyone was supportive and happy to see something finally go into the space and to have a new business come into the area.”
Rough Draft has gained a lot of foot traffic over the last year and change since their initial opening in November of 2017. They’ve started holding events such as author readings, live music performances, informational seminars and even live debates. At each of these events you can find people filling every last table bench, window seat, couch cushion and bar stool.
“When we were looking for our storefront we always pictured something much smaller, but now that we are here we almost wish we had even more space,” Amanda laughed.
By providing services as a bar, a cafe and a bookstore, it allows more flexibility. What this means for them is that because of the bar atmosphere, they can stay open later and keep selling their products. Their customer base is a good combination of people who enjoy at least one or two out of the three different products they have to offer.
“The fact that we have three different components to our business protects us because there is something appealing in it for most people,” Amanda stated. “If we were only a cafe, it may shorten our hours of operation by about three to four hours.”
However, there are also some downsides to this structure. Having three totally different aspects of a business can also make it seem like you are actually running three separate businesses. There are different accounts, books, and stock inventory for each and every one. Although this may create a little more stress than if there were only one aspect to focus on, Amanda agrees that their business has been successful and that the success can most likely be attributed to the diversity of their services.
“I don’t know if any one of these businesses would have survived alone,” Amanda suspected. “We have a lot of different clientele that comes in for only coffee or only beer, but we also do find a lot of overlap which is good.”
Megan Terwilliger, a 22-year-old grad student from Saugerties, NY, makes frequent trips to Rough Draft. Her point of interest is in the coffee shop, which is where she goes to do her schoolwork. The combination of books, coffee and a bar are what really make this space special—for her, the space gives everyone a lot of options depending on what they are visiting for.
“The staff and environment they create is welcoming, it’s one of the only coffee shops where I end up talking to others who are doing totally different work than I am,” Megan says. “I think this says something to the way the shop is setup and the people it attracts in general.”
Just a bit more north of the city of Kingston is an even smaller town called Saugerties, NY. This little village is just as up and coming as Kingston is, and new business is popping up everywhere. One store in particular, Olsen & Company, is making strides when it comes to providing exceptional service to their customers in the area.
Olsen & Company (O&Co.) is a small specialty grocery store and cafe located in the heart of the town of Saugerties. The cafe emphasizes their abundance of local products originating from its hometown location. Some of the local products include cheese, jams, syrups, pastas, herbs, meats and even body care products. Aside from the grocery aspect of the business, O&Co. serves organic coffee and espresso to compliment its ever-changing lunch menu based on what is available provided by local farms and other surrounding areas.
O&Co. is thriving within the current retail landscape because not only is it capitalizing on the consumer’s growing value for local goods, but it is also providing a welcoming and comfortable cafe for both visitors and Saugerties regulars alike. In the current retail landscape, consumers get excited by a place that acts as a one-stop-shop for the majority of their needs, and O&Co. does this deliberately. The homegrown shop in Saugerties also offers an experience to their customers that is unique to their niche demographic, allowing them to prosper within the many aspects they have to offer. Comfortability, an assortment of local goods, and a welcoming cafe can all be found within this Saugerties gem.
Although the world of retail is a developing territory, businesses like O&Co. and Rough Draft are setting an important precedent for new businesses of all kinds. Whether you’re looking to read a book and enjoy a beer at a comfortable cafe or eat poké in an Urban Outfitters, the transcending retail environment will have something just right for your liking. With a growing mindset for efficient business and an eye for collaboration, our society can participate in an incredible evolution within our day-to-day shopping experience.