If you've ever needed a gift in Hoboken, odds are you've stopped into Washington General Store. (Odds are also that you've left with something for yourself too!). The windows will be the first thing to grab your attention and the carefully curated merchandise inside is what keeps you coming back! But, did you know this is all because of hard-working mother of (almost) 2 little ones and local girl boss, Megan Lukin? We had the chance to chat with her about all things #MomBoss!!
Washington General always has the cutest decor for each season and holiday, and as the owner, it must be so hard to not take home everything you see! Is your home like walking into a decorator’s catalog or are you lazy like the rest of us??!!
I’d probably fall somewhere in between the two. I love decorating my apartment, but yes, owning the store can be a bit troublesome for the budget! I’ll admit, I take a lot of the “dings and dents,” so don’t look too closely if you ever come over! Since I try and buy an array of décor styles for the store, I feel like my taste is always being pulled in a different direction. The result is, well, let’s just say eclectic! I do feel like it’s important for us to keep an “adult” house though and haven’t let the “kid stuff” invade every room of the apartment…yet…
What is your favorite thing about raising a family in Hoboken?
Despite having an amazing suburban childhood, I’ve become one of those Hobokenites that can’t quite wrap my head around living in the suburbs. I just can’t imagine having to put kids in a car to take them everywhere! I love the walkability of Hoboken and our access to the city. I love that our kids are exposed to so much, but walking down the street you still see familiar faces everywhere. It’s a really unique place, and I think we’re all lucky to have a community made up of great people.
What is the best business advice you ever received? How about the worst?
Best – Learn to delegate! I tend to be a little bit of a control freak (don’t tell my husband that I admitted that!). It took me a while to realize that if I took some things off my plate, it gave me the freedom to grow the business in other ways. It’s something I think I’ll always struggle with, but having a great staff in place definitely makes it easier.
Worst – I had hired someone to help write my business plan before opening the store. Her recommendation was to look for lower rents off of Washington Street, or not open at all. I know it was well-intentioned, and maybe I was stupid at the time for not listening, but something inside me just knew that it could be successful. I wish I could say that she was the only one who thought I was crazy to open up a brick and mortar store during a time when everything seemed to be moving to E-commerce, but she wasn’t. I knew this community and I knew, being a Hoboken resident, the benefit of having the convenience of a local gift store. I could see where Hoboken was headed, and felt strongly about Washington Street being the main artery of what keeps this city flourishing.
In the wake of so many small businesses in town closing, do you have any advice to other small business brick & mortar store owners?
BE DIFFERENT! I really find that my time is best spent curating the store’s product assortment. I deliberately look for products that I don’t see in every other store I visit and I buy from almost 200 vendors. It’s certainly a lot to keep up with, but I truly believe that is what makes the store special. That being said, as important as product is, I think as small retailers we also have to recognize that it’s about the experience. What keeps our customers coming back? It can be a number of things, like the smell, the music, the people – you don’t get any of that on Amazon!
Tell us about your initial concept for Washington General. What did you envision it to be and did it come to life the same way?
I was really inspired by some of the local stores I grew up with in my little town of Sayville, in Long Island. I’m a last minute shopper and I can recall several occasions where I needed something in a pinch and I could run in and grab a gift, have it wrapped on the spot, and be on my way. I really wanted Washington General to be THAT store for Hoboken. My dream was for it to be the “go-to” shop for the busy Hoboken resident who is always on the go. A reliable one-stop-shop that wouldn’t break the bank for a really special gift. Basically, I wanted to help out my fellow last minute shoppers! I also saw it as a place to browse. If you’ve been, you know that we have a very laid back sales approach. We say hello and let you do your thing. I’ve always loved stores that I could just wander through without feeling pressured to buy something at that very moment. Though the store’s product offering has shifted and developed throughout our almost five years here, I think my original vision has always remained intact.
What are your favorite places for a date night when you get a break from the store or being a mommy?
Can’t say date nights happen all that frequently, but when they do they always involve a good meal! My husband, Marko, and I really love Antique Bar & Bakery and we JUST discovered Zero Otto Uno – I’m not kidding, you really have to try this place. It’s actually across the street from the store, and when I saw it opening I said several times, “The last thing we need in Hoboken is another Italian restaurant,” but I was so wrong. I spent a lot of time in Italy in my previous career, so I’m quite picky when it comes to Italian. This place is the real deal!
Tell us your funniest mom-fail moment.
I think I mom-failed before Poppy was even born, honestly! She was due in mid-November, so like any reasonable couple (or NOT), we thought it was a good idea to start a gut renovation of our apartment in September. Construction obviously ran over schedule, and our daughter was born 3 weeks earlier than expected, so we had to bring her home to my mom’s apartment on the Upper East Side. Since the holidays were quickly approaching at the store, she and I were commuting back and forth to Hoboken starting at about her 2 week mark. I’m glad she’ll never remember the first two months of her life consisted of 12 hour days spent in a Pack-n-Play in my office! I just remember running around the store like a crazy person (if you’ve ever been here in December, you’ve seen it in action), and someone would alert me that the baby was crying, so I’d run in to nurse her. I’m pretty sure I scarred my staff for life – they’re probably never having children! My husband was also working full time in the city while simultaneously completing his MBA, so he helped as much as he could, but it was rough! Thank God for family and friends that helped along the way! I’m happy we can look back and laugh now, but I honestly don’t know how we made it-- HAHA!! If nothing else, Poppy is an extremely adaptable kid, which I like to tell myself is a result of her less-than-tranquil start to life!
As a small business owner, we know that there are times where you feel like you are killing it, and times you just want to throw in the towel and give up. There are so many ups and downs! Will you tell us about a time you felt defeated, and what makes you keep going?
I’m not sure that I would ever use the word “defeated,” to be honest. Disappointed, YES! There are definitely ups and downs in retail, and coming from a wholesale background, I came into this business having a very realistic understanding of that. Strictly looking at the numbers, 2016 was not the year I had wanted it to be. I still had a skeletal staff when my daughter was born that year, we moved and renovated our apartment, and we had experienced major life changes in both mine and my husband’s families. Life happened and the numbers reflected that. But it also gave me an opportunity to see the flaws in the business and what needed to change. It never even entered my head that it could be the beginning of a downward spiral, which thankfully, it was not. My customers keep me going every day we’re here, because I want to make them happy. When a local business closes, I always read the sad comments that customers make. I never want my customers to feel a void that I hope we’ve been able to fill for them.
What are some future plans we can expect to see from Washington General?
I’ve been searching for a second location for a few months, but nothing has jumped out at me. I really want it to be the right space and location for the business, so I’m pretty particular about what I’m looking for. In true Meghan fashion, I’m sure I’ll find the perfect location just as baby #2 arrives-- HAHA! We’re also exploring the ideas of Pop-Up shops as well, so stay tuned!
A day in the life of Meghan, Go!
Well, I REALLY value my sleep, so I’m in bed until Poppy gets up, which is anywhere between 7:00 and 8:30 (really hoping this next kid sleeps like us!). When my feet hit the ground, I’m off for the day, with very little down time. It sounds kind of odd, but one of the first things I do to start the day is empty the dishwasher. I think I create tiny routines for myself in the morning because the rest of the day is always a toss-up. I’m also a firm believer in bed making (thanks Mom). It’s totally a mental thing, but I’m not fully functioning until Poppy’s and our beds are made. I feed and take out our dog, Georgia. Poppy and I eat breakfast together, I get her dressed for the day, and she gets to watch a show, so I can squeeze in a peaceful shower. Our (amazing) nanny arrives around 9:30 and I’m off to work. Work days are anything but repetitive. I’ll usually come in and catch up on emails, process payroll (if it’s Monday), and start tackling an ever-running TO DO list. Most of my time in the store is spent sourcing new vendors, reordering (all day, every day!), meeting with vendors, window planning or installing, remerchandising the sales floor, or reorganizing the stockroom. That last one NEVER seems to go away! I’m usually home between 6:00 and 6:30 to squeeze in some time with my girl. I wish I could say I run home and whip up a tasty meal, but that would be a bold faced lie! We are take-out people, so I get the daily phone call from Marko of, “what do you want to order for dinner?” We talk about our days over dinner, Poppy gets a bath, and then it’s bedtime for her! Marko, Georgia, and I crash on the couch, and head to bed around 10:00-10:30 to start another day!