In a tiny jewel box of a boutique tucked away just off of the buzzing Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, is a business value just as important as the racks of carefully curated, stylish outfits that are already driving sky-high sales. It's a philosophy of gratitude...
Launching Gratus, her first business after being a full-time mother of three, Meredith Kaplan chose a name that would embody that belief.
“I was at a crossroads in my life as my kids were getting older. I asked myself what my next move was going to be,” Kaplan says.
Gratus, which means the state of being grateful in Latin, offers a more connected, personal shopping experience than most other stores. Having just opened in early September 2013, Kaplan’s first clients were personal friends. With word of mouth and a savvy use of social media, Kaplan is having to double her orders just to keep the racks full.
With a talent for cultivating (and maintaining) personal relationships, as well as great taste and a knack for finding wearable, fashion-forward pieces, Kaplan is proof that a personal connection still resonates in an era of one-click shopping.
The Huffington Post visited Gratus (think comfy couches, scented candles and a piping mug of personally-made coffee) to speak with Kaplan about her decision to leave full-time parenting behind, following in her mother’s footsteps and exactly what inspires her to a “great throw-down.”
Highlights from our conversation below:
HuffPost: Your store's name means "gratitude.” How does the concept of gratitude fit into your business?
Meredith Kaplan: I feel very grateful. I’m a woman of gratitude. Our business model and our concept is a simple one. We want to take care of the whole customer. We want to do the work for them -- take the stress and anxiety out of it all. If a woman is put together, she feels good about herself and she’s happier. So for me, this is really about taking care of people. That’s who I am. I take care of my family, I was a stay-at-home mom for 20 years but I’ve always loved fashion.
How did you come up with the name?
It’s hard to find a name. In California, a lot of names are taken! Finding the name for a business is not an easy thing and I didn’t want to use my name. I wanted to do something different. So I thought “gratitude” and “grateful” fit. “Gratus” means the state of being grateful.
Who is your inspiration?
I followed a similar path as my mom. She’s my inspiration. She has one of the highest-end linen shops in Michigan (A Touch of Lace in Bloomfield Hills). She started her business in Michigan when we got older. My parents were building a new house and my mom wanted beautiful bedding and great towels and beautiful tablecloths but there wasn’t a place in Detroit to get it. She kept going to New York and Florida, and thought there was a niche. Kind of how I felt there was a niche here.
What did you feel was missing from the retail landscape when you started this business?
I was having a hard time finding a place where I could develop a relationship with someone and really put myself together. I wanted more than just a piece of clothing. I was thinking more about the idea of being taken care of.
I’d go out shopping and call a friend and say hey I found a blouse that goes with that skirt you still have the price tags on, or a jacket that you can wear with those pants. I loved the hunt and the search.
Was it a scary experience opening this store? Or did you feel very confident about its potential for success?
You never know when you start a start-up. There are things you worry about. Will it succeed? Will I have customers? Will I be able to deliver a great product? Will I be able to find things that are different? There are a million stores on Beverly Drive.
What’s cool about this store is that it’s so tucked back off the street. If you didn’t set out to come here, might not find it.
We loved that vibe because it’s kind of a subtle message to our customers that we’re not part of the mainstream approach. It’s a feeling of being in your best friend’s closet -- where it’s not intimidating and you can really be yourself.
When people come into Gratus, are they expecting that personal shopper experience?
Whether they expect it or not, we’re delivering it [laughs]! We’re searching the globe. We’re going to Milan, New York and Paris and we buy with customers in mind now. We will send pictures to clients from the runway or the showrooms. It’s that personal. Eventually, as we become more established, we’ll bring clients on trips with us. That’s our goal.
What is the most challenging part of running this business day-to-day?
There hasn’t been a lot of anxiety and stress for me. I just want to make sure that the customers are happy and that we are maintaining the bond with that customer. We’re also sourcing new lines all the time. A lot of the days we never sit in the office -- we’re out on the floor, we’re busy from 10am to 5:30pm.
You were a stay-at-home mom for twenty years. What inspired you to make a change and start this business?
I always wanted to have a clothing store and I always wanted to style for friends. I am passionate about fashion and being around people. A girlfriend of mine told me about this space that was opening here and it seemed like the right time. I think back to my mom. She was running her business out of the house and I think my father finally said you gotta go! He is a doctor, so people would come over not only to buy linens, but also to get free medical advice! He said it was time for her to pack up and find a space. Before I opened the store, people were so excited about the idea and the concept that I was actually selling out of my house while we were doing construction here.
How did you husband feel about all of this?
He’s delighted. He knows this is something I’ve been passionate about. I have two kids that are driving. I have a 9-year-old who still needs me for a ride and still likes cuddling with me. But he likes to stay at school too.
Does it feel very different for you as a mom to not be home with your third child as much?
It feels natural. My kids are very busy and as they get older, everybody craves their peers. Now that my son has a car, he wants to go out with his friends. And I totally understand that. We crave being around our peers.
Do you wish you had done this sooner?
No. Like I said, it happened organically. The space opened up and I had been talking about doing it for a couple years. Years ago I would say, “One day I’m going to have a clothing store.” I wanted to be able to carry out my own vision for what I feel the shopping experience should and can be.
Is there anything that running this business brings to your life that full-time motherhood does not?
I think it’s connecting with people and making them feel great about themselves. It’s great when someone walks out skipping and then calls me or sends me a picture wearing something they bought in the store. So many of our customers have texted us with their outfits on, ready to go out, saying I feel like a million bucks. The response is very gratifying.
How do you define success?
I’d have to say that close personal connection is probably the best feeling someone can have. That makes me feel the best that I can feel.
Is that something you try to teach your children as well?
Yes, that’s it. My daughter spoke at an event recently, she’s a senior in high school, and they were asked what their favorite thing about their school was. A lot of the students mentioned community service or their teachers or the fact that the school is all girls -- and my daughter said by far it’s her friends. She understands the meaning of those relationships.
How would you respond to someone who feels material things and clothes shouldn’t matter?
Not everybody loves clothes. I fully can appreciate and understand that. I would never try to drag someone in here – that’s not what I’m about. That goes against everything I stand for.
Some people find shopping stressful and have a lot of anxiety about it. They find it intimidating. But they have jobs and have to show up places -- and that’s what we are all about. I have a friend who hates to shop. She can’t stand it. She has to be at a million things, she sits on boards and does a lot of great work and she needs to be dressed. We’ve come into the store on a Sunday, just the two of us. I turn the music on and we tear the place apart.
It probably helps that this is something that you organically love. It comes naturally to you and makes you happy.
I love having a business. Look, if there are ten people having lunch on my floor every day and one person leaves with a top that they feel great about – victory. I am very much okay with that.
What daily habits do you have to focus on your well-being?
I love exercising. I love going to Soulcycle. I love the vibe, I love the music. It’s a real endorphin-rush. I can drop my kid off at 8:15 and run over to the next class, shower and be in the store by 10:00am. It’s a real feel-good. And I’m also a jogger. So I try to mix it up. Trick the system and keep myself in great shape. There’s nothing like pounding music in my ears to get the party started.
I also love dancing. Nothing like a great throw-down. I’m the first one on the dance floor at the bar mitzvahs and the last one to leave. It’s too hard for me to sit still. They play one great song and I’m like let’s get out there!
Are you kids embarrassed?
No. They know me. Early on I said you’re going to have to accept this. They dance with me. When my daughter was in 7th grade and we went to a lot of bar and bat mitzvahs, she would say, “Mom, you have got to calm down.” Now she gets it. I’m feeling it and I’m headed out to the dance floor. So either go sit in the bathroom or join me.
What are some of the most important lessons you want to teach your kids?
Be kind. Be nice and be thoughtful. Feel good about yourself. Have those great friends. It’s not about going to an Ivy League school or getting an A. Have close relationships and you’ll be happy.