Natalie Vane…Turning Vacant Spaces Into Vibrant Shops

By Michael Hinkelman
Philadelphia Daily News.

NATALIE VANE, 31, of Center City, founded Coshare, which specializes in turning vacant spaces into vibrant shops until landlords find permanent tenants. Vane, a 2015 Wharton MBA grad, started the company in January and opened her first Coshare shop in July at 1921 Walnut St. The landlord recently found a permanent tenant and Vane is talking with landlords about another Coshare space, which she expects to open by mid-September.

Q: How’d you come up with the idea?

A: I’d walk along Walnut and Chestnut streets and see vacant storefronts. I knew designers, like the Philly Shops and Venable, who wanted to be in the spaces. The question was how to provide some rent to landlords, pay utilities so they feel comfortable with you being in a space while they wait for a long-term lease.

Q: The startup money?

A: Penn’s I-Corps Program and the Wharton Venture Initiation Program provided offices and mentors to help develop the concept. The money, about $30,000, came from personal resources.

Q: What’s the biz do?

A: We provide a launch pad for emerging artists and designers to showcase their products. We are a place shoppers can come and see something new, fun and exciting. At 1921 Walnut, we had art, women’s apparel, shoes, jewelry and accessories, a small men’s section and consignment section. We provide hangers and racks and a space, and designers come in and sell their products.

Q: The biz model?

A: Artists and designers work their margins for prices so every deal is profitable. I take a percentage of sales based on the brand, generally between 25 to 50 percent and pass through about 10 percent to the landlord.

Q: The value prop?

A: Vacant buildings are targets for graffiti, trash and decay. Our goal is to facilitate a sharing economy for vacant storefronts on Walnut and Chestnut streets in Center City. Landlords are excited to have us and are assured that we won’t interfere with leases if a permanent tenant comes along. When a tenant is found, we pack up and move out.

Q: Your customers?

A: Our first Coshare was 90 percent women, but we also had single males. Most live in the Rittenhouse area, 25-to-30-year-old Penn grad students or young professionals, and a more mature, middle-age clientele.

Q: Biggest challenge?

A: Getting merchandise. I’m contacting artists and brands to bring me merchandise. I started with four racks [of clothing] and we had 10 by the time the landlord found a new permanent tenant at 1921 Walnut. I’m taking a lot of risk, especially if I sign a fixed-rent lease. This space was $6,000 a month, but the previous tenant was on the hook for the sublease, so it worked well for us. We had about $20,000 in sales.

Q: What’s next?

A: I’m talking to landlords with vacant storefronts along Walnut and Chestnut, between 15th and 19th streets. I’d like to take this model to other cities within a year.
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