From an early age, Michelle Stander, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, knew she wanted to be her own boss. Working alongside her dad in his shoe stores, Michelle grew up with a keen sense of entrepreneurship, eventually opening a children’s shop with her sister. But it wasn’t until years later after selling that business, she knew the time was right to open a store of her own. With the support of her husband and friends, Michelle opened Mixcellaneous in 2012, a 6,000-square-foot gift shop overflowing with everything you could ever want for home, baby, friends, and more with a mom-and-pop feel, a top-notch staff, and complimentary wrapping. We chatted with this Mt. Laurel mom of two adult sons about how the store has grown over the years, top holiday gift ideas, and the local steakhouse where you can also learn to line dance.
Tell us a little bit about your background. I grew up in Cinnaminson, not far from Mt. Laurel, where I live with my husband of 26 years, Eric, and where we raised our sons, Brett, 25, and Luke, 21. Working retail was pretty much in my blood since my dad had stores where he sold shoes. At one point, he had seven stores and a big warehouse, so entrepreneurship has always been second nature to me. After graduating from FIT, I commuted to my job in the city, where I worked for a children’s clothing sales representative. I left when my sister and I decided to open a children’s clothing store together in NJ. I was only 22 when we opened The Playing Field, a shop specializing in boys’ clothing. After running it for over a dozen years, we both felt a little burned out and sold it in 2006.
You launched Mixcellaneous in 2012. Why this particular business? When we sold The Playing Field, I signed a “do not compete” for 5 years, and within a short time of signing that, I realized how much I missed having my own place and doing my own thing. Over time, my husband encouraged me to open another store because he knew it would make me happy. I thought long and hard about what I loved about shopping and what was missing in the market. I knew I wanted my business to be a one-stop gift shop similar to a big old-time department store with different categories with the best customer service. I also wanted to make sure we included complimentary wrapping because when you’re gifting something, you want to make it as easy as possible for both the person giving the gift and special for the one receiving it. My financial advisor knew my background and talents and encouraged me to do this, and my husband fully supported me and was willing to refinance our home to make it happen. We officially launched in 2011. I now have so many customers who come in with a list of the people they need gifts for during the holiday season, and they walk out with all their shopping done and everything beautifully wrapped and ready to present. We have a huge following because the back-end service they experience is worth it.
How has Mixcellaneous changed since you first launched it, and how do you determine what to carry in your shop? It’s certainly grown in terms of the number of items I carry because, at almost 6,000 square feet, it was impossible to fill it to the brim the way it is now. I learned quickly that gifts are great, but a business can’t survive and thrive on just gifts alone, so I added in women’s clothing and baby things so that people would be happy to shop for themselves here, too. Each season can look slightly different than the last—I mix things up a bit to keep things seasonal but also new and exciting for my many repeat customers. Anywhere there’s a gift show in the country, I’ll go, and depending on what I see, I’ll start to put together “stories” in my head and how particular merchandise will fit into the different categories we cater to, like hostess, wedding, holiday and baby. It’s always a process and so much fun.
Michelle carries a variety of “works of art” charcuterie boards, perfect for gift-giving or your own entertaining.
Tis the season—any great gift ideas? We sell so much that it’s near impossible to pick a best seller or even a personal favorite, but gift-wise, one thing that fits the bill for many people is a great-looking handbag we have in the shop that fits a water bottle, credit card, and phone. There are also some beautiful charcuterie boards that are the perfect gift for multiple occasions.
How do you compete with the Internet? I don’t compete with the internet because online shopping is a different experience. When you’re shopping online, you’re not browsing–you know exactly what you’re looking for, but when people enter my store, they go into it waiting to see what hits them. It’s a sensory experience you can’t replicate sitting in your pajamas at home. You walk in, the store smells so good, and you see beautiful displays put together in ways you wouldn’t have thought of. You touch things and know how soft something is, or the quality, and our staff is here to help you choose it. None of those things can happen online.
Please share some NJ spots that you and your family enjoy. Laurel Acres is a beautiful park where we like to take walks. When my kids were young, we went often because of the lake, swing sets, and other fun things to do there. Prospectors Steakhouse and Saloon in Mt. Laurel is a lovely, family-friendly steakhouse with a room for country dancing where they offer lessons. And, of course, the Jersey Shore is where we’ve spent a lot of time. The beach at Margate and the boardwalk in Ocean City hold many special memories.
What’s your best practical advice for a mompreneur just starting? Don’t put off making your dream come true because our dreams are such a big part of who we really are. Too often, moms will squelch that part of themselves because they feel guilty about the time it can take away from them being with their children. The truth is that if you do have the urge to do something, you should try your best to make it work—it can make you a better mother because you’re being true to yourself. You’ll feel happier and more fulfilled because of that. It works for me.