At The Trove, Collaboration Is Key

By Cathy Shouse
The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.).

The Trove store in Roanoke is proof that great minds really do think alike — five great minds, in this case.

Co-owned by Kate Tomkinson, Melani Wilson, Leslie Ferguson, Mark Losher and Kim Fenoglio, the Trove’s tagline is “a store of delightful things.”

With the many well-known feuds among entrepreneurs (think Steve Jobs getting ousted from Apple), the Trove’s relaxed, collaborative style is getting noticed since it opened in November 2013. And the co-owners’ enthusiasm is evident when they talk about their endeavor.

“I believe we do have a fun and unique story,” Wilson said. “In fact, I recently attended NY Now, a trade show, and when I explained our concept to one of our vendors she said, ‘You should lecture about how to put that together.’ I was flattered, but I do think our structure is unique and has many benefits that typical retail establishments do not. Also, we have a ton of fun!”

Having so many hands stirring the retail pot adds depth to the customer experience on multiple levels. Items in the store are hand picked, chosen from the viewpoint of several perspectives. Plus, just entering the store on can be an adventure, since there’s no set schedule for which owner will be there. They split up the duties and work different shifts, covering for one another when someone is on a buying jaunt or has other commitments.

How do they keep their schedules straight? Wilson said, “Lots of texting and emails, and we’d be lost without the Google calendar!”

She attempted to sum up the mix of personalities and backgrounds that form their differences — and their similarities.

“We are all coming from another career field — from landscape design/management to real estate,” Wilson said. “We are around the same age — mid-40s to mid-50s. Both sides of my family are from Roanoke, and I spent many days of my childhood bellied up to the soda fountain at my grandpa’s drugstore, which is now the North End.”

The physical store, which Wilson owns, is comprised of two buildings: an actual store and a barn, which was recently fitted with HVAC for comfort.

“The store has our smaller and more ‘fine’ items — jewelry, clothing, fine home decor pieces,” Wilson said. “The barn has vintage items and larger furniture pieces that are new.”

“I had been dabbling with the idea of opening a store and had my eye on this property in Roanoke for a few months,” she continued. “I also considered other properties in Fort Wayne and Roanoke, but I loved that darn barn! The property used to be the Bippus Bank building, so had a drive-thru and other bank and office styling. I really wanted to pull the property together and link the barn with the store. Adding the lawn and the brick walkway helped do that. I feel like we are just starting to realize the potential of the property. So many things we can do there.”

Yet a successful business takes more than a love for a building and a dream. Wilson brought the all-important retail experience to the venture and knew what pitfalls to watch out for.

“I knew each ‘Trovester’ on a personal basis and had had conversations with each about having a store — then I created the ‘line up.’ I had had a store in Roanoke in the ’90s and learned a lot — enjoyed retail and the creativity, but hated the hours and also hated the pressure of having all of the financial decisions/investment. This cooperative way helps spread out the lows of retail but increases the fun as we get to have someone else to bounce ideas off of. We have ‘store meetings’ about once every six to eight weeks at the store — so we can review new inventory and discuss upcoming events and work through any issues that may have popped up. We always think it will take an hour, but we could go on for three.”

To the owners, the Trove is a business, in addition to a chance to revel in their friendships and make memories with one another, their families and their customers.

“One of my favorite moments was being open for a couple of hours last Christmas Eve,” Wilson said. “My two daughters were in town, and the three of us manned the store until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Customers were so grateful that we were open, and it was really fun to help someone pick out something special for a gift. We felt like elves!”

One challenge came with the flood in July, which spared the store but covered the barn floor with a foot of water. Cleaning up became a community effort.

“The barn flood signified for me the true character and heart of my partners, our fellow Roanoke merchants and the townspeople,” Ferguson said. “Everyone was so kind, generous of time and brawn, and worked tirelessly to help. It was an amazing to experience.”

The only guy in the mix echoed the thought.

“It’s been a great experience to bring unique and interesting things that I love to the public and to do it with such an amazing group of people,” Losher said.

‘Trovester’ Business Tips

Some of the partners give this advice:

Work with people you genuinely like, trust and respect. Seek functional experts as partners so you complement one another. Follow your gut. Have tons of fun. Take risks (calculated, of course). Don’t do it all alone; find cohorts who are flexible, work really hard, laugh a lot, and are willing to grow, change and evolve. Embrace technology and social media, but spend time with your customers; get to know them because people like buying from people they like. — Leslie Ferguson

I believe that in anything you do in life that you should ask yourself, “Am I having fun?” The answer for me with the Trove is a big yes, and the most fun is when we all are able to get together to talk about what is happening next at the Trove. — Mark Losher

We constantly rearrange the barn and the store. It’s part of what is so much fun for us! January and February are certainly “dark” months for more ways than one! This year, I think I will be more mentally and emotionally prepared for that! We are planning on more events and workshops to fill those cold, gloomy months of the year, and hopefully that will help draw customers. — Melani Wilson

Protect your time! Carve out personal time. Put your computer away at night. Keep exercising and meditating. Don’t let the store consume you! — Melani Wilson

More Information
The Trove
WHERE: 270 N. Main St., Roanoke
HOURS: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday
PHONE: 672-0878

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