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One Year

Celebrating a company anniversary is a bit of a difficult thing. (In addition to being self-indulgent, typically uninteresting, and so on.)

For your customers, they don’t care. This much is obvious. For your team, they certainly care, but would likely grade an anniversary date more on a private milestone — a start date or an incorporation date — than a public launch. (This is made worse by the fact that many founders, it would seem, are engaged in near-daily revisionism of their core company dates and timeline.)

But, here I am, tasked with writing to you about the first anniversary of Neighborhood Goods’ opening at Legacy West in Plano, Texas, which took place a year ago today (i.e., November 17), and making it compelling! (Apologies in advance. It's not.)

Naturally, in a post devoted to our first twelve months, I'm going to go all the way back to the beginning and give you almost nothing about our first year. (You already know the main points, for the most part: the store opens. As it turns out, the store is Good. Etc., Etc.)

Truly, to provide a sense of context, I do think it’s important to look back a bit further before we revisit the opening, particularly as a lot of it has been left untold for quite some time. The Neighborhood Goods story had begun in the first half of 2017. Mark Masinter, now my co-founder, reached out to me — cold — wanting to have lunch and chat about an opportunity in the retail space he’d sensed. After our scheduled hour became several, I think we both sensed a real opportunity to begin developing something together.

A week later, Mark drove me to Legacy West. He’d helped with creating and, later, curating the development and, after pushing to install a remarkable, world-class food hall at one end of Legacy West, was contemplating what a similar concept might look like for retail to anchor the opposite end. I, as it happened, had been contemplating a similar model by way of the retail experiment I co-founded, Unbranded.

We walked through the development, before arriving at the vacant space that now contains the first Neighborhood Goods and, on the drive back to Dallas, Mark suggested I should write-up my perspective as to what this idea would look like. Digging through my phone, I found a Google Photos-generated panorama of the vacant space, for context:

An empty, undeveloped Neighborhood Goods

Looking back through my messages, a few days later, I received a text from Mark asking, simply, “How’s your manifesto coming?” I sent over a 2,390 word document in response, a surprising amount of which remains relevant today.

In reflecting on the anniversary of our first year, I've found myself returning to the “manifesto” quite a bit. I've never shared much of it publicly before — and I won't be sharing all of it today — but, in revisiting it, I was struck by a few formative passages. (I promise this is going somewhere.)

From the opening statement of the premise:

Our concept seeks to resolve this discrepancy by developing an idea in three parts: a contemporary alternative to the department store, an innovative and ever-changing way to engage and shop with the finest local and national brands around, and a compelling means to bring people out of their homes and the malls to socialize and rediscover positivity in retail.

From an overview of the concept:

In a dynamic space, brands will be offered the chance to host events, engage directly with their existing and future customers, experiment with new product concepts, and, broadly, learn a great deal about their business. (And, naturally, sell a good deal of their products.)
Bolstering that, we’ll seek to share their stories, driving meaningful media and social exposure. From our in-house media outlet, we’ll explore the trials of developing your own business, whilst also delving into the genesis of our ever-changing selection of brands and vendors.
At this juncture, you might think it’s just a simple pop-up shop. Our concept, however, extends much further, representing the creation of a platform upon which brands can truly thrive and customers will be drawn to return to in their day-to-day lives.

When articulating the aesthetics and formatting of the space:

First and foremost, there’ll be shopping space. I expect this will be delineated by vendor/brand, but we could also explore mixing brands together in a more editorial layout around themes, colors, product types, and so forth.
In this space, I also expect there to be tiered setups. We’ll have some tentpole participants that’ll have more robust build-outs/presences, which’ll rotate less frequently. We’ll have some intermediary brands/vendors, which will have more straightforward build-outs/presences. And we’ll have young up-start local brands (and the like), which’ll have more simple setups.
Second, we’ll have social areas for people to relax, work, meet, and host events. Whether having a morning coffee in a dynamic space — particularly for the surrounding corporate offices — or hosting an event for the local startup community, we’ll have space sufficient for people to enjoy a unique experience throughout the day.
Third, we’ll have a consolidated repository of inventory in the back. This will avoid the pitfalls of brands keeping excess product under table linens, whilst also presenting a unique opportunity for us in terms of experimenting with e-commerce. Rather than just allowing brands to manage these products, we can effectively drop-ship from brands within the space itself, allowing for direct fulfillment without any slowdown.
In terms of aesthetics, it’ll be important to develop a full brand identity and visual language, which can be expressed in a myriad of individual and creative ways by our vendors. It’ll provide consistency, but also showcase the character of each brand.
Broadly, though, I expect clean lines and simple geometric shapes, in addition to tall ceilings, white walls, and otherwise raw floors.

And as a concluding sentiment:

And, for us, we’d be developing a business, predicated upon ethics and dignity in retail. It’d be seen as an important bastion of community and dignified commerce. And it’d be seen as an editor of new ideas, new brands, and so forth.

The manifesto document is not without its flaws, obviously. But written over a year and a half before opening, it's quite remarkable to see what followed-through into our design language, our company values, and so on.

Following the timeline, after writing the "manifesto," we visited with Kirsten Green to seek her thoughts on the concept. Just prior to the meeting, I landed on the name for Neighborhood Goods and threw it into a deck.

As the final slide, you can see my slapdash temporary logo, alongside some statements regarding our trajectory as a company. These lofty and self-serious messages remain in decks we distribute today.

The company was incorporated in August 2017 and, with pre-seed capital in the bank, we started to develop our branding with Tractorbeam, our store design with Droese Raney Architecture, our technology with Mobelux, and so on.

In May 2018, we closed our seed round and, in July, I was joined by three other full-time team members, Patti, Fallon, and Vijay. Vijay had interned with me from February 2018 onward and, ultimately, became our first full-time employee. Fallon joined to drive Marketing. Patti, now our SVP of Operations, joined to drive Operations. Soon after, Scott Cooper joined the team to drive Brand Partnerships. (We had a great theoretical line-up of brands, but, truthfully, Scott pushed most of them over the finish-line in those final weeks.)

Around the time those team members were joining the team, we also signed the lease for Legacy West and began planning, in earnest, for the opening. We'd end up affording ourselves about 10-12 weeks to build the space from scratch and, to fill it, Mark and I had spent much of June on the road visiting with brands to discuss the concept, carrying well-worn folders showing our plans for the prospective internal aesthetic:

An example brand space from our rendering packet

We'd typically describe these mock-ups as being "desaturated," emphasizing that we'd have a disproportionate focus on greenery and pops of color. (Worded differently, we were still developing everything and hadn't built it all into the model.) But, throughout, you can see a real emphasis on uniformity in design, carrying over from the manifesto document. We wanted to highlight the foundation and to demonstrate how, on top of that baseline, you could build something quite special. And, indeed, you can see the carry-over into the space as it exists today.

At some point, to help make this point, I started using Apple's App Store, and its associative policies, as a decent analog for our approach. In order to be a first-class citizen within Apple's ecosystem, you must abide by their Human Interface Guidelines. For us, we'd encourage you to take advantage of our framework, staff, data, and otherwise. But you'd have to abide by our baseline guidelines to ensure a cohesive and consistent experience for the consumer.

The brand featured in the above rendering is Desmond & Dempsey, a brand that ultimately launched with us last November. Joel Jeffery, co-founder of Desmond & Dempsey and one of my oldest friends, visited the space in the months preceding the opening. This was a sense of the experience for a visiting brand.

Joel Jeffery (left) with me (center) and my wife, Emily (right)

Mark had always referred to our project as hinging on our collective ability to "create a movement." As you can see, in abundant, dimly-lit clarity in this image — and the documentation above — we were truly just selling an idea and a vision.

In the early days, it was Mark and I flying all over the country, trying to convince people we'd be able to raise money for this unorthodox idea off the back of a series of lofty vision statements and an incomplete deck. Later, it was Mark and I doing the same, but equipped with better branded materials, a highly incomplete sense of our store design, and, for those who came to visit, a dark and cavernous space.

After July 2018, this grew to become several of us pushing to, somehow, open a 14,000 square foot store in time for holiday — one that'd require 10-15 brands to take a bet on us. (And that's not to mention creating a new restaurant and encouraging 20-25 people to join us on the store team in Plano.)

You can see that, even a matter of days away from opening, it was really a function of raw belief and wanton disregard for our physical wellbeing

 ~1,000 square feet of storage dense with inventory

 Less than 48 hours before opening

 Less than 48 hours before opening, featuring Scott Cooper 

At this point, I should acknowledge that, for an anniversary post, I've made a few clear and obvious errors. As a primary flaw, as I forewarned, in discussing our first year, I've ended up discussing the 1.5 years preceding it.

For me, though, I think the context tells much of the story.

Today, a year after opening, we have approaching 30 people on our HQ team in Dallas and roughly 25 at the store in Plano. We've grown our line-up of brands from 24 to almost 60 in Plano and we're about to open in New York with 40. We've continued to drastically iterate on the store, our technology, and more.

Reflecting on the manifesto — and on Mark's notion of a "movement" — I think this push to carry a wildly unorthodox idea to reality tells much of the story of our opening. We brought something unexpected to the table and, with a lot of effort, managed to get others to buy into it.

Pictured: Mark and I exuding credibility

In many respects, it was a point of conclusion for us. I've shared that, for all of us on the team, we were all quiet in the evening after the opening. We gathered around the bar and, quietly, all began to process that we'd managed to sell people on the vision — we'd created the initial movement — but now it was time to build something much different.Contrasting our position today — mere days and weeks away from opening in New York — we are still pushing in the same way, in acknowledgement of our lineage. There are many more of us on the team, though. And, through sheer force of will, the narrative is no longer predicated upon "desaturated" renderings, cold visits to an empty space, or belligerently repeating our opening date and time to each other (and our partners) to hold ourselves accountable to our timeline. Rather, it's now predicated upon a collection of passionate, like-minded people who've bought into this idea, as well as the expanding network of brands, investors, and partners who've done (or are doing) the same.

Today, off the back of a successful first year, a great deal of investor support, a growing and thriving team, and a special list of brands, the manifesto and the creation of that initial movement have little-to-nothing to do with the current task at-hand. It's no longer Mark and I flying around with worn folders. It's no longer us trying to convince people that this unorthodox idea might work. And, in many respects, our thesis as a company is now one reflective of (and belonging to) our team. But, as the first store turns one, it's nice to reflect and draw a line under that crucial era.

Looking back at November 17, 2018, I'm incredibly proud. We opened on schedule and roughly to plan, although it clearly wasn't without its flaws, long days, and difficult conversations. That effort, though — that movement — has become some core to us and our culture today. And that, truly, is what gives me so much excitement for the year to come.

The task at-hand is now more sophisticated. It requires a new plan and model — an entirely new movement to pursue. It's no longer about one or two people, but about dozens. And, really, it's their words that matter, not mine.

That's an exciting thing to reflect on after a year.

Mark (right) and I at the ribbon-cutting on November 17