This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Alexander, the CEO of one of our favorite stores around, Neighborhood Goods and a thought leader in the global retail arena. Matt shares with us the inside scoop on how Neighborhood Goods has adapted and grown throughout the years, as well as why experiential consumption makes a difference in the way that people purchase products.
Keep reading to learn more about why Neighborhood Goods is growing and the founder and CEO bringing the vision to life.
What is Neighborhood Goods?
Originating from Plano, Texas, Neighborhood Goods is the traditional department store reimagined for today’s consumer with locations in Austin, Texas, as well as New York City. This is the simple version of a description.
What Neighborhood Goods is truly doing is creating an experience that is rooted in storytelling, which allows people to feel understood, connected to the products, and that they are a part of a larger community.
Interview with Matt Alexander
Q: Since the last time we interviewed you, two years ago, how has Neighborhood Goods changed?
A: “When we first spoke, Neighborhood Goods was very theoretical; Gardenuity was actually one of the first new brands to come into the space. That sounds like a very simple thing, but for us, we’d been building towards a changing model and changing brands, and that was the first time we could really test that.
Since then, we’ve grown up – we’ve opened 2 more locations, our team has grown, we’ve started working with many more brands than we did back in the day. When Gardenuity launched, we had about 30 brands in Plano, and that space now has around 60 brands – we have a similar number in our other stores.
The core of it all remains the same: the focus of building a new retail concept that can speak to more modern consumers and what they need. There are plenty of challenges with the pandemic – our Austin store was only open for 24 hours before shutting down for Covid. We came out the other side against the odds with the business doing really well. It’s been a really formative few years, learning a huge amount about ourselves, the concept, the marketplace, and the opportunity in front of us. It’s a living, breathing thing that has been evolving over time. We’ve been very fortunate to be growing, we’ve faced a lot of challenges, but hopefully through that we’ve learned a lot and we head forward on an upward trajectory.”
Q: On your website I saw that one of your goals at Neighborhood Goods is to bring people together. How has Covid changed how you approach this?
A: “I remember right when we opened in Austin for 24 hours, one of the statements on the walls referenced how we want to be a place for the community. I remember having that on the wall and thinking, ‘Wow, that feels like a liability – we can’t be encouraging people to come here.’
We all went home, worked from home, our stores were closed. We were thinking about how we could support each other, support our brands, and keep the team engaged. We were a digital only business for a few months, and luckily it was a really formative time for that channel for us.
What helped drive it is shifting our focus from hosting events to digital, shifting our content from promoting pseudo transactions to sharing more uplifting content and memes. Most notably, we introduced 2 things. One was called The Commons, essentially a not for profit experiment where we gave free space to people, brands and chefs who had been hard hit by the pandemic. We opened up applications and we had amazing people and brands coming through.
We also got creative with restaurants that didn’t have their own physical spaces, or had actually lost them. We launched an initiative to turn our kitchens into ghost kitchens of a sort, where chefs could come in and do restaurant pop ups.
We channeled our energy into these ideas that could support the people around us. For the consumer and our brands, it did feel like a moment of community. We tried to build that communal moment into how we could find safe ways to engage with our communities. We haven’t been able to do the most logical version of community as we had imagined, but we found a way to do different interpretations of this, and to bring people to the table otherwise.”
Q: How does the idea of community change the way people consume products?
A: “Generally, I think there’s a lot at play when it comes to people buying a product. It’s easy to break that down to ‘people need jeans, they’ll go buy a pair of jeans’. It comes down to this sense of human identity. Who do you want to be, how do you want to be seen?
For us, when we think about community – ultimately what it comes down to is how you tell stories. If I can feature an edited assortment that we really believe in, if I can tell you a story as to why that product is interesting, I know it will give the consumer confidence that when they go out into the world, they can share that story.
What we’ve tried to do is find brands and people behind those brands who think about things in that context; trying to build something good, they care about how people experience their product. People who want to focus on telling really good stories. It’s not a new idea – our perspective is how to separate the signal from the noise with storytelling. With that you get community.
Q: Why did you choose to include Gardenuity as a brand that Neighborhood Goods sells?
A: “Gardenuity joined us 4 months after we opened. Even from the start, we always had a real belief around the importance of greenery in our spaces. It’s an impactful aspect of who we are and what we do. Secondarily, we have our own restaurant, and we were working with a local company to get locally produced greens to use in our recipes.
We came across Gardenuity, and the general pitch resonated. Donna really understands the different contexts for the gardens (like a cocktail garden) – you can use it for day to day things that you might not be able to do on your own, or feel comfortable to do so. That really resonated.
People needed bright spots in their homes, they wanted to learn new skills, and that’s where Gardenuity came into play. This year, hopefully coming to a better stage of the pandemic, for people coming into our spaces there are a few different things on their minds: 1. being excited about being out and about again and 2. a desire to hold onto this balanced lifestyle they may have picked up during the pandemic.
We are witnessing this moment of not completely moving away from this adopted home lifestyle, and investing in that as well as your own personal wellbeing so that you’re in a healthy position. I think Gardenuity falls into those dynamics that we see at play. As we head back into a universe where we can hold events, there’s a lot of opportunity and fun things that we see around a brand like Gardenuity.”