With careful research and planning, this Chicago-area retailer has a winning store on her hands.
When speaking to civic and business groups, Connie Citarelli asks, “Who opens an eco-boutique in the middle of a recession?” The answer? She does! Located on the square in the heart of Woodstock, IL, Green Box Boutique is a gift store with eco-sustainable and fair-trade products from local sources and communities around the world. Citarelli opened the store in November 2009, but not before doing her homework.
Citarelli wanted to open a retail store to sell unique gifts for everyone, environmental enthusiast or not. With a background in banking, she knew she needed a business plan. She purchased demographic data from a research company, combined it with the numbers collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and sought assistance in writing her business plan. She attended the Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago (Woodstock is around 50 miles northwest of the city) where the counselors helped her construct a viable plan.
Woodstock provides three-year demographic reports for individuals considering retail ventures in the town. There were several indicators that an eco-friendly retail venture would be well received in the area. Historic Woodstock Square is home to a popular farmer’s market that was voted #1 in the state of Illinois in 2012. The farmer’s market is a producers-only market, meaning everything sold is grown or produced directly by the seller – local farmer or artisan. The market is held on the green bringing many shoppers to the area. Several established retail stores on the square were already selling merchandise with a re-purposed and recycled focus. Citarelli saw this as a benefit rather than competition and decided the customer base and retail environment in Woodstock would be ideal for her vision of the store.
Citarelli addresses the issue of perceived higher costs for eco-friendly products and acknowledges that it is accurate at times. “Some things cost more because it is a better product,” says Citarelli. She enjoys educating her customers about wholesome ingredients and how most green products are better for people and for the planet. Though she tries not to be what she calls “preachy” about it, she also points out the high quality handiwork of many products in her store and explains the concept of fair trade as it pertains to fair treatment and compensation for workers.
Citarelli’s interest in protecting the environment began in the 1970s with an organic herbal garden. She became an advocate for toxin-free clothing for children and steadily increased her knowledge until green living became an everyday way of life. She was accustomed to locating eco-sustainable product sources long before she started buying wholesale to stock her retail store shelves.
Citarelli regularly attends the STYLEMAX and Beckman’s Handcrafted shows in Chicago to locate new products for her shop. She also visits showrooms during the Chicago Gift Market at the Merchandise Mart. Much of her product research and ordering is done online and she has a few sales representatives that periodically visit the store.
High-performing categories at the Green Box Boutique are personal-care products, ladies accessories, soy candles, dresses, wine and tabletop items which vary greatly by season. Some of the best-selling lines include Pompeii Street Soaps, Mixture Bath & Body Products, True Recycled Glass, Couronne Co., Chartreuse Tea, Salt Sisters, Jeanne Beatrice Baskets, Oka B Shoes, Stellar Organic Wines, Bridgewater Candles, Mixtures Soy Candles, Chronicle Books and Late For The Sky Games.
Citarelli and her staff recognize the importance of buying locally to support the community – including farmers, artists and businesses. Local purchasing leads to fewer goods being transported across the country or globe, reducing fuel costs, packaging and pollution. As part of the buy-local philosophy, the store sells wine from local vineyards, personal care items from local businesses in the region and eco-art and jewelry created by designers in the area. Citarelli believes in products that make a difference, encourage eco-friendly living and healthier lives.