In 2005, what started as a grassroots idea to help parents learn the ropes of cloth diapering quickly morphed into a central meeting & physical space. Now, Jillian’s Drawers finds itself in a 2,300+ square foot retail store thriving in Ithaca, NY. Their incredible and unconventional secret to success? Putting profits towards that which they cherish most – people!
From being a Certified Living Wage Employer to offering Employee Paid Time Off benefits and more, we caught up with Opal Avenue community member, Kelly Serbonich, the owner of Jillian’s Drawers, to learn all about her remarkable business philosophy and entrepreneurial journey.
Kelly, thank you for sharing your story with us today! Jillian’s Drawers holds a special place with the community and helps parents find empowered solutions. Where did the idea and inspiration to start the shop come from?
Founder, Mandi Meidlinger began the store online back when her daughter, Jillian, was a baby and found herself naturally helping other moms with cloth diapers in a small playgroup/new mom group. It quickly became known for great customer service. Eventually, she moved to Ithaca and opened a retail store with a small community room as part of it. During this time we began to realize how a much-needed central location for new parents to congregate, find support and find each other was. I was lucky enough to watch this evolve over time and eventually take over the business. Although we considered cutting the Community Room aspect of our store over the years, we have always come back to acknowledging how critical and rewarding this aspect of the business is.
This is an aspect of business that is continuously evolving but when you think about the vision for Jillian’s Drawers, what gets you most excited?
What gets me the most excited is establishing a business model that can be replicated in other communities. Retail, in its most basic form, is extremely challenged and requires loyalty that cannot be earned simply by selling products. Over the years, we have diversified to include both new and used items, unique services, and offerings that foster community. Our community in Ithaca is lucky to have this, but we have realized that not every community has a store like ours, and at the same time, how incredibly important what we do is. Parents need support, they need to be able to save money and reuse, they need help shopping when they can’t get out of the house, and they need solid, non-judgemental advice from folks who care! I truly hope that what we do ends up in every community, simply because it seems so essential and should be the norm.
You courageously embody your values and operate by example. Can you tell us more about the amazing culture you’ve established at Jillian’s Drawers?
Over the years it has always been about supporting each other (on staff). Since the early days, we have all had our struggles and been lucky enough to feel very supported by the business. Mandi ran the business with a “people before profits” attitude and I have been proud to keep this focus. I was able to raise my son as a truly single mom and earn a living because of this; it was incredibly special and unique. Now I have 2 stores (Mama Goose & Jillian’s Drawers), and we are finding our way with a larger staff and through a pandemic, but what hasn’t changed is that we support each other and continue to find ways to help our community.
What is your most favorite part about discovering and selecting new brands to stock in your shop?
Parenting innovation is always fun to be witness to! We love finding practical solutions that really speak to parents’ and moms’ needs. We always take a look at the company’s roots and back story before deciding to bring a product in. Being that we pour over families’ used items every day, we have a lot of experience with what sells and what people are looking for, so evaluating new products is always a fun extension of that.
Being so connected to your industry, what important shifts or trends in baby and parenting have you seen over the past year?
It’s hard to evaluate this since what happened early in the pandemic was different from what is happening now. We saw a major increase in online sales initially, and now are busier than ever helping our customers via text and messenger on Facebook and Instagram. It was always helpful for us to communicate with new parents this way because when you have young children, coming to the store to browse isn’t always easy or doable. Now that has risen to a new level and set a new bar for customer service, with more folks avoiding in-person shopping, we spend a lot of time on our devices with customers. We’ve seen more folks seeking activities to do at home (games, puzzles, learning materials).
All front line insight to consumer behavior and how that’s shifting. Truly fascinating to hear about this, Kelly! As we wrap up you know we can’t help to ask, what’s next for you and Jillian’s Drawers?
Well, we made a huge move of two stores late in 2020 so we are still getting settled in from all of that! We are hoping that we can resume our Community Room operations in 2021 and host classes and meetups again. We are looking forward to posting more of our great gently used items online and finding our groove in our new location!
Here at Opal Avenue, we celebrate independent retailers who courageously choose and champion honestly good products. They are growing their businesses while shaping a better world! It was a pleasure to sit down and talk shop with one of our stand-out retail community members – Kelly Serbonich, Owner of Jillian’s Drawers boutique.
Learn more at JilliansDrawers.com
Follow Jillian’s Drawers on Instagram: instagram.com/jilliansdrawers
Connect with Jillian’s Drawers on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JilliansDrawers/