#15: Brooke Richman, Founder of coop & spree

Catering to the stylish, young Metropolitan consumer who has grown accustomed to shopping online, coop & spree delivers the ease, efficiency and premium service that she has come to expect.
coop & spree is the brainchild of Brooke, who graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. Brooke then worked at Citigroup as a Credit Sector Specialist, covering high grade & high yield retail companies before leaving Citi to work as a buyer for Theory & Helmut Lang. Knowing she wanted to open her own retail venture, Brooke wrote her business plan at Columbia Business School, where she graduated with an MBA in 2013.

What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

The customer is always right; our customer service is what truly sets us apart; we always go above and beyond for our customers -- we're accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (when the store isn't open, we're still communicating via text, email, and instagram DM) and even assist them with matters not pertaining to retail (such as where to eat dinner in the neighborhood, what to buy their significant other for the holidays etc etc). 
Always tell the truth and act transparently; this isn't just my personal life motto also our coop & spree motto for how we treat each other as co-workers and how we treat our clients, our vendors, our electricians, our HVAC company etc. Our honesty is instrumental to our success since our customer trusts us and, thus, keeps returning since she/he knows that we will steer them in the right direction when it comes to purchasing (or not purchasing) an item. My sales associates deliberately do not obtain commission (instead I pay them at a rate which is much, much higher than the norm); I didn't want anyone to potentially push a more expensive item since that would directly benefit the person more vs. a less expensive option at the customer's expense, and I didn't want my employees to compete with each other over clients. As a result, our associates work together as a team and our customer knows we're not giving them feedback thats personally incentivized so it helps with our credibility. 
Instilling a "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take" attitude in my employees; I encourage my employees to always ask questions and to always offer ideas and suggestions. What's the worst that can happen? In my mind, there's only tremendous upside to asking questions. Additionally, this is also my motto when dealing with our vendors. To me, the worst thing a vendor could say to me in response to a question is "no" ...and that's not so bad!

Can you share a time you either thought you failed, or actually did fail? How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

I'm not sure I would call this a failure, per se, since I learned from it tremendously but: I hired someone as a store manager who I thought was an ideal fit since he had tremendous retail experience and an amazing personality. Since he had worked nearby prior to working at coop & spree, he came into the store frequently and befriended me and my staff; we loved him and knew he would be a hit with clients. Plus, we thought his energy and positive attitude would also contribute to our internal culture. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a disaster for a variety of reasons I won't list here but I ultimately couldn't trust him. Even though I had known him for almost 9 months prior to hiring him, and even though he passed his background check, I now know that I still should've obtained multiple references and communicated with his past employers (which I didn't do). Now, going forward, I always ensure I do a tremendous amount of due diligence even if I know the person personally -- no exceptions.

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

We're currently expanding coop kidz, our in-store children's concept for babies & toddlers, to include both boys and girls since coop kidz, when it first launched this past August 2018, only featured baby girl and toddler girl merchandise. There's been a very strong demand for baby boy and toddler boy so the decision to carry boys as of this spring was an easy and organic one.
Additionally, even though we're a brick & mortar retailer without a transactional e-commerce site, we're in the process of building a coop kidz registry since newborn gifting has been a largely successful enterprise for us so far. 
Since we now carry both women's and kids, we're able to foster relationships with children/family oriented influencers and bloggers (prior to kidz, we primarily collaborated with influencers and bloggers whose primary focus was on their personal fashion and style). We have some extremely fun and exciting social media partnerships occurring this spring on coop & spree!