Small Business Q&A: Touch of Europe
This retailer focused on trend-setting imported home goods and unique vintage items is holding a holiday open house Nov. 2-3.
The fixtures are not fixed at Touch of Europe on Roswell Road in East Cobb. Everything is for sale. An oak dining table, cup and saucer sets from Pip Studio in Amsterdam and an antique chandelier illuminating the display all have price tags.
Store merchandise is an unconventional mix of new and antique home and lifestyle goods including cruelty-free, not tested on animals, French soaps and fragrances. The practice of selling the fixtures keeps the retail space evolving.
Business owner Mimi Kriele welcomes change and lights up when discussing the consumer behavior of “shopping” a brick-and-mortar retailer by using wireless technology to scan barcodes while standing in a store and research prices and availability of merchandise at competing nearby and online retailers.
“Smart phones are not going to go away,” Kriele notes, “If a merchant can’t convert a customer, who is in their store, into a sale, they might be in the wrong business.”
Providing service and building personal relationships are mentioned by Kriele as ways to add value to face-to-face buying and she testifies that competition is what motivates businesses to grow and innovate.
Kriele began her business as an on-line retailer carrying antiques and vintage European linens. Product offerings expanded. Work as wholesaler of European lifestyle goods, like Reisenthel market bags, is now included.
“The fear of the unknown of the whole process is what keeps many people out of the import business. We know how to import,” Kriele says. “Not having a language barrier helps.”
Kriele’s first language is French and her husband, Peter, is Dutch. Peter works at the business, and is in charge of operations, which includes managing 19 full-time employees. The business also provides work for two buyers, or pickers, of vintage linens in Europe.
Mimi acts as “chief cook and bottle washer,” with primary responsibilities of buying and market development for her retail business that carries about 13,000 products, including 8-9,000 vintage items that are either displayed or stored in a total of 18,000 square feet of retail and warehouse space. Prices in the store range from $4 to several hundred dollars.
The website look is only one week old and features a rewards program for regular shoppers and an on-going customer submitted image contest.
On Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3, Touch of Europe will have a holiday open house. Festivities will include a raffle, apple cider and fresh, French-baked goods. The physical store will be closed Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 for decorating.
Q. What's the best thing about your job?
A. Variety. I get bored easy and I get to decide what I’m going to be doing.
Q. What is the best thing about East Cobb?
A. Convenience. It’s easy to get to the Atlanta Gift shows as a vendor for Reisenthel.
And, we live two miles from the office. We’ve lived in Cobb for seven years. Everything I need is close, good places for dinner and entertainment. I love the Bluegrass jam on Tuesday evenings at Australian Bakery on the Marietta Square.
Q. Why did you choose to open your business in East Cobb?
A. We were living in Lawrenceville and my husband got a job in Northwest Atlanta, it only took us three months to move and make the daily commute OK for him.
We’ve only been living in the U.S. since 1996. I’m an American citizen but grew up in France and Italy. I’ve got a degree in business from UGA and had to take an English exam, before being admitted, to prove that I could speak the language. The request was funny because I grew up speaking English at home, but my school records are French.
Q. Why did you pick this kind of business?
A. I’ve been in the textile business about 20 years. I’ve always appreciated vintage linens and know quite a bit about them. I started selling European linens on EBay in 1999. Nobody else was selling them on line.
We’re one of the biggest European linen dealers in the U.S. Other dealers watch us and copy us. We were the first to add linen care items, acid-free paper and storage boxes. Now other sites sell acid-free products.
I don’t mind having to keep finding new and innovative products for my business. I try to offer things that you can't find anywhere else.
Q. What are some of the services you offer that people may not know about?
A. All the vintage items seen on our website are here. A customer can come in and ask for particular linen and we can walk to the back and get it for them. No waiting for shipping.
And, we have regular events in the store. Every first Friday Annie’s Baked Goods is here selling fresh, French breads and cakes.
Q. When did you start your business?
A. We’ve been online since 2000 and the store opened April, 2010.
Q. How did your business get started?
A. I graduated from college and decided to make my part-time vintage linens business full-time, went to Europe for three months and filled my first container.
I started working out of my daylight basement in Lawrenceville then rented warehouse space in Cobb when we moved here.
The pressure of the fixed rent each month made us grow.
Q. Do you have advice for anyone who'd like to start a small business in this area?
A. Do your homework. Do a lot of research.
Don’t think that you’re going to get rich quick.
Know that anything that involves goods is not simple. This economy is challenging. Current times are difficult. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?
A. Come and visit us, you’ll like us. We have regular customers who come in the store and many people tell me that the place is different every time they’re back.
Mimi Kriele, owner
Touch of Europe
1765 Roswell Road