An equestrian opens a German Village boutique
After a 20-year career in public relations, Barbie Coleman launched Urban Sundry Ltd. in December of 2017 with two brands: Urban Sundry and Equestrian Sundry.
She also set up shop at local outdoor markets such as the German Village Makers Market and equestrian events throughout the Midwest For the last two years she’s run a seasonal storefront, September through April, at the World Equestrian Center in Wilmington.
People always asked when she was going to open a full-time brick-and-mortar location. Coleman lives in German Village and, one day, she spotted a “For Rent” sign as she driving in the area. That was in February of this year and, knowing this was the right space, she steered toward a move-in date of May 1.
Then the world shut down. “Believe it or not, there wasn’t a question of whether or not to keep going,” says Coleman. “I know only one direction and that’s forward.”
“I also have an incredibly supportive husband who said, ‘Do what you always do and make it happen,’” she recalls. “I’m the first one to say ‘challenge accepted!’ when things look tough.”
Your theme is interesting. How did you decide the store’s name and your theme?
I knew my product assortment, curated for gift, home and apparel, would be quite diverse so I needed a word that captured that. I landed on Sundry which means various items not important enough to be mentioned individually. I wanted to give myself the category flexibility so I could adjust and evolve as I got to know my customer. I describe my store as “a little of a lot, with something for everyone.”
You are happiest on horseback, according to your LinkedIn profile. Has owning a store changed any of that?
I’ve ridden and showed horses for most of my life. For the better part of my professional career, I took a hiatus from showing, but I always had a horse and rode whenever time permitted. It is a happy place for me and I’m grateful that I’m still able to have a horse in my life. Horses challenge you, humble you and they most definitely give us more than we deserve at times. I’ve always said to people “what grounds you, will save you” and horses are definitely that for me. Once I opened my business, I stopped showing and now that I have the store, my riding schedule has certainly changed. I’m out the door at 6:30 a.m. most mornings to go ride before I open the store.
Is it challenging to curate the items you want to offer in the store?
I look at curating products as a form of storytelling. I figure out what stories I want to tell and what story a customer might want to tell in a gift they’re buying for someone. First and foremost, I buy what I like. I buy what I would put in my home or the types of things that I’d like to receive as a gift. I go on buying trips; watch trends; thumb through magazines; and scan Pinterest, Instagram and home design blogs. First and foremost, I listen to people.
What did you do before you became a shop maven in German Village?
I worked in public relations for 20-plus years up and down the east coast before moving to Columbus in 2010. I’ve done just about everything in public relations from working with small brands, global brands and even a few years doing society [philanthropic] public relations in Palm Beach. My specialty was crisis management so I always laugh that some of my best work is work I can’t talk about. I worked just as hard getting in The New York Times as making sure my client or company wasn’t in The New York Times. It can be a pretty thankless profession but I really loved the challenges and problem-solving it presented and the extraordinary experiences I had, the people I met, and the places I traveled.
How does your past experience play into your current position as boutique founder?
I never could have created my company and opened my store without those professional experiences and the people I worked with. As I was honing my craft as a PR person, I was also figuring out who I was. My whole world was my job and my identity was wrapped up in the failures and successes of whatever client or company I was working for. As I got to know myself and understand the person I really am—not the one everyone told me to be—I was able to start to see what was next for me.
Sometimes I feel like a walking cliché ... it is a story I’m sure many have told of a big corporate career, get to your mid-forties and decide you don’t want to do it anymore, then finally do what you’ve always wanted to do. But I kind of love that I’m just a regular girl. . .just like everyone else. Owning your own business is a dream, most days. But it is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy. You definitely have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Just ask any founder—whether they’ve been in business four years or 40, they’ll tell you the same thing. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Everyone is wondering this: What’s the future for in-person shopping when we’re currently avoiding crowds?
People like to buy from people. People they know and people they see. I’m in my store almost every day so when you shop Urban Sundry, you shop with me. There is something that feels “normal” about going into a local store and selecting something for yourself or maybe a gift for someone. And I know, we’re all trying to do things that make us feel normal in these unusual times.
I think everyone has to choose what they’re comfortable with as far as in-person shopping. My store is small so there can only be a few people in at the same time. Everyone wears a mask, we have hand sanitizer and offer contactless payments. People can order online and I can ship or they can order online and pick up curbside. If people want to shop alone, I offer private shopping too. I think most small business retailers can accommodate whatever needs a customer may have. We all just want you to continue to shop with us. We can all get through this together. Shop the stores you love and order take-out or dine the restaurants that make Columbus such a great place to live and work. We all need to do this together so we get to the other side intact.
With the holidays coming up, do you ever offer private shopping hours for good customers?
Yes, I offer private shopping appointments.