Creating a Community: How The Brass Owl Made Relationships Part of Its Roadmap

When entrepreneurship runs in your DNA, it’s even harder to ignore a calling to open your own business. After brainstorming business ideas for months, a fateful “For rent” sign pushed Nicole Panettieri to leave her corporate job to open Brass OwlThe – a vibrant and eclectic boutique/gift shop.

The Brass Owl, a Queens-based community institution, has been around for six years. She partners regularly with local artisans in order to show their work. In addition to running a successful brick-and mortar location, Panettieri also runs an eCommerce shop. 

We caught up with Panettieri to learn more about The Brass Owl’s origin and its rise to local fame.

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The family is known for opening stores and businesses. That history may have had an impact on your decision-making.

Oh, absolutely. My great-grandfather founded a shoe store. It was actually a shoe repair business that started in New Jersey in 1928. My grandfather eventually came on and said to my great-grandfather: ‘People are dropping their shoes off to get repaired and they have to come pick them up. Their attention has been drawn twice. We should just try and sell them something.’ So they added a shoe store onto the shoe repair, and then my father and my uncle eventually took over the business. 

In my history, I’ve known many entrepreneurs who started small businesses. For almost 14 years, I worked in corporate retail. It had always been something that was on my mind to do.

You wondered how did you figure out when the time was right to step away from corporate life and go into TBO.

I actually don’t know! It’s so funny because I feel like I had an out-of-body experience when that happened. My job was a corporate one and I dreamed about starting my own business. It was like looking at other corporate jobs when I thought about opening my own business. And then, one day, I walked past what is now my store and there was a ‘For rent’ sign up and I was like, I’m just going to try. I’m just going to call them, see what happens. Then, it was just a matter of getting the ball rolling. 

How did you decide to use Small Biz Sense for your business management? 

Small Biz Sense’s eCommerce and POS systems were connected, which meant that inventories could be linked. This was what really attracted me to Small Biz Sense. I’ve had an active eCommerce website since I opened, but originally, I wasn’t really managing it well. There wasn’t everything. 

It was a great blessing that I set my 2020 goal to expand my website business. In January 2020, I promoted one of my employees as eCommerce manager. We had an already established website before the epidemic. I was able to use the website, and have a dedicated person on my side. Like, a week before we knew we were going to close due to the shutdowns, we were like, ‘Make sure everything is on the website.’ Every product in the store has to be on the website. Thanks to Small Biz, we were able to do all that. 

We started making care packages during the pandemic. This has helped us get through months of closure.  Small Biz Sense allowed us to post a care package on our website. 

It is obvious that you place so much emphasis on the sale of works by local artists. Did that not always happen? 

My business plan included local artist support as a part of my store’s framework. The store was always something that I desired to have pop-ups. A lot of the pop-up shops I’ve done have since turned into relationships where I’ve purchased wholesale from a lot of the artists. 

My artists live mostly in Queens New York City. But we support artists all over the country. It’s all handmade in the United States, so it’s all very high quality. There’s a story behind every item. 

As the Shop Small Astoria collective owner, it is very important that I support my community. My grandfather used to always say, ‘You own this business and you’re a part of the community. So you have to really give back and contribute.’

That is great advice. Speaking of tips, what would be your best piece of advice for somebody who’s just starting their business? 

A business plan is the best way to start a company. This is not something every business owner will do. I’ve met so many people along the years who have not done it, but I think it’s such a great way to get started. My husband’s not in retail, but when I was just starting out, he was like, ‘Just write it all down.’ And I started doing that, and that’s when I started building my business plan. 

A business plan serves two things: It puts all your ideas on paper, so it really builds the framework of who you are as a business, like it’s really the foundation. Then, it’s time to do financial calculations so that you can be sure that the idea will work. You need to ask yourself the following question: Can I make money doing this? Because that’s, I think, a really important part that not everybody who opens a business realizes that they have to do because managing the money is a hard part.

One platform to manage your retail and eCom business operations

With Small Biz Sense’s one-stop commerce platform, Panettieri and her team can keep track of retail and eCom sales and inventory together, rather than separately. Stronger inventory management benefits both The Brass Owl’s customers and retail staff. 

Are you looking to simplify your daily operations?  Reach out to our Retail ExpertsTo learn more about Small Biz Sense, visit www.smallbizsense.com 

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