Rows and rows of white bags line the shelves of The Monogram Shop’s backroom. These are the completed orders, and amongst them lay many familiar East names. A decade ago you wouldn’t have seen students in monogrammed rain boots, headbands and bags purchased from this store, but these items are hard to miss today walking down the hall today.
East parent and business owner Julie Granstaff always had a knack for creativity. She knew that if she had a job she would want to start a business rather than working for someone else. Her dream was to start a monogram shop in Kansas City. Granstaff and her sister were inspired by the success of a similar store.
“A good friend of my sister’s owned a shop in St. Louis like this,” Granstaff said. “They were having a lot of success so we went up there and looked at it and kept building on it.”
Granstaff and her sister visited many personalization stores across the country for business ideas. Some of these stores were located in Atlanta, St. Louis and Dallas. A store located in East Hampton, New York especially inspired their plans for the future.
Searching the market and observing other shops lasted three to four years. Finally Granstaff felt ready to test the market. At this point, Granstaff’s sister was no longer interested in being a co-business owner.
“Right before that year, it was kind of like do or die and ‘are you going to go for it or not?’,” Granstaff said. “She said I don’t think I want to go for it.”
Despite this setback, Granstaff still planned on following through. She began as a retailer at Holiday Mart, a Kansas City Junior League fundraiser. This was where she debuted her first line of products, which included personalized ornaments and stockings. She wanted to see how successful they could be during the holiday season. Granstaff purchased a monogram machine brand-new on eBay for $9,000 in order to make these products for the fundraiser.
In the beginning, news of the business spread by word of mouth. Granstaff describes herself as lucky because of how quickly the news of her business got around.
Once she had the attention of the public, she decided to move to a store. Working out of her house at the beginning was a challenge for her business and family. She claims her family was very patient through it all.
“Considering that my mom had to start somewhere, that had to be our house. For a while it was kinda like living in a store,” her son, junior Jackson said. “It was a sacrifice we were all willing to make, and it really wasn’t anything to complain about.”
She looked for space in Prairie Village, Corinth and Ranchmart, but finally decided on a space in Old Overland Park. The clean look of the store complemented her products well, and close parking provided for easy accessibility.
But expanding her business didn’t come without challenges; day to day business work, dealing with new vendors and the constant learning curve were always hard.
As popularity for the business increased, a second monogram machine was purchased. With increasing demand, it started to become a challenge to get orders finished in a timely manner during the busy seasons.
“We only have two machines in the back for monogramming so around rush, Christmas, and graduation, the orders get super backed up,” senior and employee Grace Cantril said. “People have to order several weeks ahead.”
Competition from other Kansas City stores hasn’t been a problem, but being the first store to get a particular product in the area is key. One way they ensure this is by traveling to Atlanta to work with vendors called temporaries where you get the newest products.
Throughout the years, the store’s popularity has continued to its rise. Within the past year, the most popular products have been cut-out monogram necklaces and phone cases.
“We are now into our third year. So our year to date sales, when we start comparing them on the computer, are up anywhere from 50 percent on a month to 100 percent. It is crazy,” Granstaff said. “Really when I did my business plan I thought maybe 20 percent.”
The small store became a challenge for space. An empty store had remained around the corner from the Monogram Shop since it was opened. Last year, the monogram shop purchased the empty space in order to expand their store, making it an L-shape. All the construction, painting, and flooring was done by Granstaff’s husband, Mike.
The next step into the future involves launching a website, something that hasn’t gone smoothly in the past.
“We hired some guys called The Tech Guys. They took our money and they never delivered,” Granstaff said. “They have done it to several people and I think there are several people looking for this guy. He is pretty well hidden.”
Despite the loss of money, Granstaff describes this event as “a blessing in disguise.” Since the additional online sales would add to the already full workload, she doesn’t think her company would have been able to handle it. Now, since the sales are more controllable, she wants to try to launch a site within the next 12 months.
Granstaff has a true passion for her business and sometimes wonders how it has come so far.
“I feel like it has succeeded beyond my belief and sometimes I don’t know what’s driving it so well, because at times I don’t feel like I have driven it so well it,” Grandstaff said. “I love it and all other aspects that it emcompasses.”