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Hidden Gems: A Business Owner and a Reviewer’s Guide

Season 1: Episode 7


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Curating an inventory of hidden gems and quality antique pieces takes time, thought, and a keen eye. On this week’s episode, we talk with Krisi Hora, owner of Baltimore boutique Peg Leg Vintage, and Yelp reviewer Hannah H. about hidden gems. Krisi works to uncover unique, high-quality items for her store and arrange them in an intentional way, and Hannah scours Yelp for “undiscovered” places, hoping to find something special.

On the Yelp Blog: Hear from Krisi and Hannah on what makes a local business feel special to customers.

HANNAH: When we walked into Peg Leg, one thing that really stood out was how the store was set up. The selection of the pieces were just amazing. I still remember that each of the items had little to no wear, and they are vintage items. So you can tell Krisi, the owner of Peg Leg, puts that effort into finding such good quality and unique items for her store. And you can tell that she actually cares about each and every single item that’s there.

EMILY: That’s Hannah, a reviewer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. She’s telling me about a vintage spot she went to with her husband a few years ago. She had heard about Peg Leg Vintage from a friend, and it was a bit of a drive, but Hannah likes to check out cool spots outside of her immediate neighborhood. They were in the area trying out a restaurant famous for its soy garlic wings and realized how close they were to the store they had heard so much about. They stopped by and spent time getting to know the owner and exploring the layers of goodies.

HANNAH: My husband and I like to go antiquing, and we like to peruse and see what catches our eye to add to our current style and collection.

EMILY: Being a bit of a vintage and antique collector, Hannah has seen lots of shops and interacted with different vendors, but her experience with Peg Leg was a step above for a number of reasons. Let’s start with her review.

HANNAH: Ooh. I love Peg Leg Vintage. The store has been around since 2013 and offers a variety of high quality and highly coveted vintage treasures. The space is jam packed with goodies upon goodies upon goodies. The hubs and I stopped by to check this place out and we thought we’d just take a little look-see. I loved checking out their vintage glass tumblers, the tea party trays, as well as their lovely selection of chairs and sofas. While we were on our way out, a stack of vintage ceramic dishes from the 1970s designed by Marimekko caught my eye. I had to have these! I love that Ms. Krisi—who was super friendly, super welcoming, and super nice—was so knowledgeable on all of the pieces that are being sold in her store.

This may be a vintage store, but boy, do these pieces have little to hardly no wear on them. And the prices—you will be ecstatic, the items are priced competitively and fair. The store site is updated constantly on new items on a weekly basis. So if you find something that your heart is set on, don’t be shy about sending an email or giving a ring to Ms. Krisi. She will set the item aside for you or have it delivered to you. Whether you want to just window shop or are in the market to spruce up your place or add to your collection, checkout Peg Leg Vintage. The vibe is comfortable, warm, and pleasant, and I absolutely loved my experience there. I’m sure you will love it too.

EMILY: Hannah shared so many noteworthy things in her review. The expertise and demeanour of the owner Krisi. The quality of the pieces and the competitive prices. The way it felt to be shopping in the store and the ability to stay connected and purchase items digitally from afar. We’ll break all this down with both Hannah and Krisi, starting with Krisi’s approach and expertise. So much of Hannah’s review shared how Krisi made them feel. Even though it was years ago, Krisi remembers the interaction too.

KRISI: They were a lot of fun, great positive energy. I remember we had a long conversation about how much she loved Marimekko products. And if I hadn’t taken the time to talk to her, I wouldn’t have known that. And so those little dishes she got, which used to be given to children on airplane rides in the 1960s, were actually Marimekko prints. And I happened to have those stashed practically behind the counter on the bottom shelf of something. And so when we were talking about that, it gave me an opportunity to find something that she really loved. And I can tell if two years later she still remembers that experience, then that’s my goal right there, that interaction, you know?

EMILY: Krisi creates connections with her customers when they’re in her store, often because they share an interest in the items she curates and displays. As Hannah put it, she is so knowledgeable about the pieces she carries, but Krisi said that isn’t always the case.

KRISI: You learn new things every day. No one could learn everything about this, and I am by no means the self-proclaimed expert, but I have always kind of had an affinity for this style, even before I knew I was going to have a store. And so I think my personal love of what I do came from just being a hobbyist, if you will. Then I learned it every day, and you’d be amazed how much you learn from people that come in and they love mid-century too. They share their finds that they just scored on eBay or whatever, and it is amazing. Sometimes I buy things that I just like, and I know nothing about, and somebody will come in and give me the whole story about how their mom bought that back in 1958 when they got married and that’s the dresser that they grew up with and they never knew it was going to be fancy like it is now. So I think you are always learning and, if you don’t know part of the fun of what this is, is researching it—I can buy something unusual and bring it home, and I don’t know anything about it. I just thought, you know, now that looks like something that would work great or that’s a perfect scale for a tiny DC studio. Then, I just do a little research. I look online, I have friends that like the stuff, so you’re always learning. That’s part of the fun of it, you know.

EMILY: What makes Krisi’s shop special is not so much about the quality products she sources and refurbishes. It’s about HER. Krisi certainly has an eye and a skill for salvaging great pieces, but a lot of the connection that people feel with the business is a connection to Krisi. She has become an expert in mid-century, antiquing, refinishing, and design, sure—but it’s her personality and approachability that makes people ask questions, take the time to learn about the pieces, and be interested in the story behind what they’re buying. She’s knowledgeable, always learning about old pieces, doesn’t pretend to know everything, and has a real passion for connecting with people.

Something else that Hannah mentioned is that she didn’t feel pressured to purchase something. The knowledge of the item’s backstory wasn’t an opportunity for Krisi to push a product on someone checking out the store.

HANNAH: Krisi encouraged us to look around at our leisure and to ask any questions that we had. I personally love it when there’s no pressure and no one trying to solicit or guilt us into purchasing something because this also showed me that Krisi respected all of the customers that walked in, and she provided this safe space where one can take that time to discover all the beautiful, awesome items that she has, also allowing the customers to make their own decisions. So I just loved that feeling, you know, go and explore, and hopefully you’ll find something that catches your eye.

EMILY: There’s a noticeable difference between a shop owner or associate chatting with you in a salesy way versus a genuine way. Like all entrepreneurs, Krisi is in business to make money, but she’s mastered the trick of chatting and conversing with customers without being pushy.

KRISI:  I try not to make people feel like they’re coming here and I’m selling them something, you know, because I think once you buy a home or you rent a home or you’re designing a home—even though DC is a little bit transient compared to other places—I think that people really feel comfortable when they can kind of build a rapport to a store. Everybody likes to have that go-to store. So when their kid gets a grownup room or they need to make a home office because a global pandemic hits with no experience working from home. I think people like to come and feel comfortable that they’re getting good advice. So I try to really delve into what their needs are. What are we actually trying to find?

If you carry a nice product and you have a fair price, I don’t really feel like I ever need to sell someone something. I want someone to love something.

EMILY: Krisi is building relationships. She’s counting on customers wanting to come back after they get to know her and her high-quality product. And ultimately, she can focus on the human side of her business when people are in her business because she and her husband have already done the hard part: pricing.

KRISI: When we select pieces, we kind of have to keep all of those things in mind as far as: How much work is going to need to be done? How can we restore things? And also, how can we keep things affordable? Because ultimately prices are what really affect the customer more than anything.

EMILY: This is the laborious part of the vintage, mid-century modern, antiquing business. When sourcing items and refinishing them, Krisi and her husband need to make strategic decisions. In order to get their money’s worth, an item can’t require too much work. They also need to source from a wide variety of places in order to have a range of items, from furniture and dresser sets to bookshelf knick knacks.

The staging of items in the store also plays a huge role in sales. To be in a position where you feel comfortable letting customers stroll through your brick and mortar and initiate transactions themselves, there has to be some strategy to the set up.

HANNAH: The way that her store was set up, you have the furnishings, the home decor, the furniture, and things like that. When you’re looking at a certain space, it was designed or set up in a way where things just look like they just belong there. And I just love the fact that I can kind of see placing this item in my living room, or I can see placing this by my bed stand. It seems very relatable and something that you don’t have to have a specific style or a specific type of a house or a design. It’s very reachable to anyone. And I think the draw is these are items that anyone can come to appreciate—if you like it, you’ll find a place for it. So that’s just how I felt from the store. And it’s just the variety of the selection that she had. Sounds kind of like a cliche, but when you do walk in, I feel as if there is an item that can really appease a taste for anyone, and you’ll be bound to find something that really will catch your eye, and you’ll get really excited to get your hands on it.

KRISI: So we set up vignettes, if you will. I create spaces that kind of have certain design elements but also put things together sometimes in predictable ways, sometimes in very unpredictable ways. I have found that when you are in a situation where you’re shopping in a store, it’s a lot nicer if there seems like there’s some meaning to where things are.

I mean, yes, we all love the occasional treasure hunt where everything is just piled sky high, and you feel like you should have a hard hat, and you’re afraid to touch things, but I really want people to come into my store and feel like this is what my home could look like. I try to set up dining room spaces and living room spaces and then try to put things together that colors match and things that people can kind of get an idea how they could go into their home. And also there is always that constant battle that every vintage or antique store has—the battle of putting everything you possibly can in the store. So you have the most stuff to choose from but also editing it down enough that people don’t have to turn sideways and squeeze to get through things or stuff comes crumbling down. I want people to come in and be able to sit in a chair for five minutes and see if it really feels like the chair they want to sit and look at their Instagram feed all night on. Or if this dining set that I happen to be sitting at right now, if it’s going to fit in their living space and if it’s going to accommodate their family. So to do that, we try to definitely keep some spaces open, but at the same time, I like to cover the walls with art and I like to have hanging lamps, and I like to have nice little barware sets on the cocktails. So I think when people come into my store, they can kind of experience what they would want to do in their home—at least that’s my goal.

EMILY: She’s achieved it. Hannah’s experience both in the review and recalling her visit to me in our interview mentioned the layout. And other reviews did too! The right layout in any business can increase sales. In grocery stores, brands fight for good shelf space. When you own your own business, you get to control the layout of your store. Think about foot traffic. If you sell an item that brings a lot of people in, consider putting it furthest from the door with some other day-of items on the way. It’s why you have to walk past all the snacks to get to the beverages in the convenience store.

Krisi’s successful ideas go beyond her brick-and-mortar space. She also built an online store and maintains those relationships and connections with customers after an in-person visit—and of course, it generates more sales. Remember Hannah’s review? She talked about how easy it was to call or email Krisi if you see something online you’d like set aside. She even mentioned that delivery is available.

Having a successful online store can be a challenge in any industry, but especially in vintage, mid-century and antiquing. The credibility of an item’s quality can be hard to verify. When you already trust the integrity of a business, you’re more comfortable making a purchase after looking through photos online. I’ve actually experienced this myself with a local shop similar to Peg Leg. While I love discovering items around every corner of the store in person, I frequently purchase both large and small items through Instagram because I trust the quality and integrity of the owner.

At the end of the day, Krisi acknowledges that so much of what she loves about her business is the physical brick and mortar, but if Peg Leg is only generating revenue from the people coming through the door, they’d be missing out on a lot of opportunity.

KRISI: The DC area is very large and the suburbs are quite sprawling, and because we’re not down on the major thoroughfare in the heart of DC, one of the things is we really try to make it very easy for people to keep up with what’s coming in the store all the time. And so we found social media to be obviously a great outlet for that. Every time we get something new, we post it up on Instagram and Facebook, and things have changed a little bit since COVID. Originally what we would do is drop a weekly post so there would be anywhere between 10 and 20 pieces of furniture every single weekend. And our items generally sell very quickly. So I think that there was a lot of excitement generated. I can’t tell you how many people would come into the store and be like, you know, I wait every Thursday night for that post to come up to see if the dining chairs I’m looking for are [there], or I don’t need a single thing, but it’s so fun to see all the new stuff. So that’s kind of how we started.

Now things have changed a little since COVID because people are less likely to just go out and shop for the hell of it. Now people are trying to be more cautious. They’re trying not to make fruitless trips out. So now, a little differently, instead of doing everything all in one big bomb, we post everything individually, and we post more pictures of everything because I’m finding that, you really want to kind of know, is this piece right, before they drive down here. And a lot of people have been shopping with us for years. So they’re very comfortable with the quality of things. They know when they buy something from me, and I say it has been professionally refinished, like new, I didn’t just wipe it with some restore finish or marker in some scratches, you know? So they feel comfortable with the condition.

EMILY: The transition from a weekly announcement with 10-20 pieces of furniture to constant item updates as they come in (with multiple images per piece) is a minor tweak that happened during COVID to not only meet the needs and demands of their customers but to also increase opportunity to sell items as the traffic in the store was naturally decreased due to stay-at-home orders. I can definitely appreciate Krisi’s sentiment though. She enjoys the in-person interaction and will always prefer her brick and mortar to online, but a combination of both has proven to be successful.

Engaging with digital is an important part of business. Whether it’s social media or online reviews, even the connection and relationship between Hannah and Krisi was cultivated online.

To close out, let’s talk about reviews. While unrelated to Peg Leg Vintage, Hannah shared some thoughts with me on business pages with few to no reviews, which is the situation that many businesses are in when they’re getting started or just beginning to build an online reputation.

HANNAH: When I go look for a business, it’s not the number of reviews that they have. I actually get really excited if they don’t have that many reviews because in my mind, I feel as if it’s telling me that this business is either a hidden gem or it’s a small business that no one has ever or has yet to discover. So I just become really excited to have that opportunity to explore it myself personally and then share that experience.

EMILY: Having tons of reviews isn’t always the key to success or the thing that makes you interesting to a consumer.

KRISI: I think reviews can be a double-edged sword for a lot of small businesses, especially when you run a niche kind of business because a couple of bad reviews can really set you back, but a couple of good reviews can do more for you than you can imagine. A lot of reviews tend to be very honest, sometimes brutally honest, but that’s okay. I don’t think anyone ever read one bad review in a sea of 10 reviews and thought, oh, I’m not going there. So, I think that from a business person’s perspective, if you treat everyone like you would want to be treated in your business, your reviews are not going to be bad.

We had one review the first year we were open I think, or maybe the second year, that was not great. And the first bad review you get is like your first boyfriend breaking up with you. It’s terrible. It’s just like, oh my God, how can they say this about your store? It’s the worst thing in the world. And I’m a little dramatic. So my husband is like, Krisi, don’t worry about it. But in that review, essentially the lady had come in on a day that we were closed, and I let her in anyways, and she thought we were a thrift store. So her main complaint was that she thought prices were way too expensive. So she didn’t really understand the model of our store, where we take pieces and we refinish them. She thought they were all donations, you know? And so I think really that wasn’t necessarily a bad review. It was just a person who was not as informed about it.

If you get a bad review, really listen to it. Don’t just be hurt the first time. Take a day or two and think about what they said—and maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong.

EMILY: Sometimes a negative review doesn’t mean the business did something wrong. It can just mean that it wasn’t the experience that particular customer was looking for, maybe due to a misunderstanding or incorrect expectations. If that ever happens to you, take Krisi’s advice. Give yourself some time to cool down, and then create your plan for responding or reaching out.

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