Need a present for the upcoming holiday? Want to support small stores with beautiful products? Then stroll by, Strolby, an online shopping site focused on items sold in Brooklyn (New York) but sold on one platform to people across the country! The site, which is aesthetically appealing and unique, helps local small shops with truly beautiful and original items reach big audiences (so the neighborhood can still feel small).
And once again, another innovative, imaginative, and smart company created by a strong woman! Lara is a college friend of Ken’s with an impressive background including working at Tremor Video, Pronto/IAC, Digitas, as well as being a mother of two.
I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with Lara about Strolby, so here is an interview with her. Enjoy!
What *IS* Strolby?
Strolby is a curated shopping site featuring products from local stores in Brooklyn. By bringing different stores together on one site, we are making it as easy as possible for people to discover small shops and shop from them online.
How did you come up with the name?
Strolby is a play on “Stroll By”. I love strolling through neighborhoods, window shopping and popping into boutiques. It’s one of my favorite things about living in New York City for the past 15 years (10 in Brooklyn!). You don’t have to plan anything; you can just walk outside and see so much. The neighborhoods in Brooklyn are particularly great weekend strolls- there are so many great shops and the brownstones and parks are beautiful too. Plus there are incredible bakeries and restaurants to stop in when you need a snack.
How did you come up with the idea of the business?
I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn and loved the stores in my neighborhood but I was working in Manhattan and busy with two small children. I was shopping for almost everything online. Every time I visited a local store, I realized I was missing out on these amazing products. I wanted to make it easier for people to shop locally and support small stores. The storeowners have so much knowledge and are really thoughtful about the products they’ve chosen for their store- it’s crazy not to take advantage of it, especially given how overwhelming it can be to shop online.
How do you find the stores?
I visit each store personally and look for stores that offer something really unique. Each of our stores is doing something a little different than anyone else. We have a toy store that sources hard-to-find European toys and another children’s store that focuses on emerging designers in Brooklyn. A number of our stores produce their own product lines too. A British designer designs gorgeous leather handbags in her store in Red Hook and her next-door neighbor (also a Brit!) screenprints textiles.
What are your current favorite items on the site?
I love the Earth Elements earrings sold by Species By The Thousands. They’re mix and match studs which are perfect for me since I’m always losing earrings. The T2 sunglasses are incredibly comfortable to wear and somehow look good on everyone (men and women) so I’m getting those for a couple of people for Christmas. For kids, I love the Tegu Magnetic Blocks and the Circus Shadow Puppets because they’re fun for all ages and will age well.
What is your dream of the company for the next 5 years?
I want Strolby to become the alternative to Amazon and big-box shopping. I want to add great small stores from all over the country (and the world) and make it as easy as possible for people to find unique, high-quality products. These shops contribute so much to their communities and I want to ensure they thrive even as people increasingly shop online.
Can you see Strolby expanding beyond local Brooklyn items, or will it always be focused on Brooklyn?
We will definitely be expanding to other markets starting next year but are also growing our presence in Brooklyn.
How are you getting word out about Strolby?
Social media and word-of-mouth have been really great for us. I wasn’t such an active social media consumer before I started the company and now I spend a ridiculous amount of time on Facebook and Twitter. They are great tools for small businesses. For the holidays, we also partnered with some blogs to create gift guides and were lucky to be featured in Daily Candy Kids and Time Out New York.
What kind of response have you received?
We’ve had a really amazing response from storeowners in Brooklyn. We spent a lot of time thinking about our design and it was really gratifying to see how much they like it. The storeowners are so careful with their brand aesthetics that we knew it was critical for our site to reflect that. We’re creating a lot of content too about shopping and the neighborhoods and I think it’s filling a gap that hasn’t been met before. Our traffic has grown tremendously since we launched so we’re hopeful that we’re connecting with people.
Has the process of owning your own business been what you imagined?
I’m not sure what I imagined any more! I love how much I’ve learned in such a short period of time. I love how varied the work is and it’s been satisfying to try new things and see myself improve at them. Like anyone, I am better at some things than others. I think of myself as a terrible sales person and was terrified to visit stores and ask them to be part of the site but after doing it over and over, I found my own rhythm and a comfort level I never thought I’d have. I don’t think I realized that I would practically never turn “off” again- I’m constantly thinking about the business, working through problems, brainstorming. Luckily, my family and friends are very patient with me and children offer wonderful distraction!
What are some challenges you have encountered with starting your own business?
I really enjoy building products so pre-launch was so much fun for me- all vision and planning and manageable to-do lists. Once you have a live site, there is so much to do and you’re racing to accomplish as much as possible each day. I have to relentlessly plan and prioritize my activities or I end up flailing. I was also working part-time before starting Strolby so moving back to a full-time job has definitely been challenging at times for my family and me. I am lucky to have a wonderful babysitter and a supportive husband.
What have you enjoyed about owning your own business?
I love the work and kind of work all the time but it doesn’t feel like “work” to me in the way it used to. Being willing to work at all hours gives me flexibility to get home early and eat dinner with my children and put them to bed. I also got to pick our office location—which is very convenient for me and near my daughter’s school! Since I first started thinking about the idea, I have reached out to dozens of old friends and former colleagues asking for advice and favors and reconnected with so many people in the process which has been a great gift.
I love to read. It really helps clear my mind and recalibrate my perspective so I still try to read for at least 30 minutes a day. I loved The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer and The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner this year. I just started The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano and it’s 600 pages(!) long so I think that will see me into 2014.