Several years ago, Petra Geiger was living in Atlanta and struggling to find the right sales outlets for her handbags and stationery. Many other designers in the area, she realized, were in the same boat.
In 2004 she got a group of them together and founded Beehive Co-op. They launched a store, a sleek contem- porary bazaar where some 50 members showcase their stylish handmade clothing, home accessories and jewelry, such as Olaria Studio’s Chatham ceramic necklace. Geiger, 41, recently moved to Mt. Kisco, New York, and opened a Beehive branch there. North and south, the merchandise is high-quality yet affordable. “Our goal is to make craft and design more accessible,” she says. “I want people to fall in love with something, and be able to buy it.”
With both stores getting good buzz, Geiger plans to build Beehive into a national brand with an online shop and franchise locations around the country—all with a consistently “fresh, polished, modern” presentation, each reflecting its own distinctive regional flavor. “The word ‘franchise’ has cookie-cutter connotations. That’s not what we’re about,” she says. “Local by design” is a concept she’s convinced can succeed anywhere.
Collaboration is the basis of Beehive’s business model. Customers get to buy local goods directly from the source. Designers grow their businesses by pooling resources; working in the store, they enjoy what Geiger describes as
“a sense of place, of not being isolated in their studios.”
“The best thing is the camaraderie. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one out there,” says Heather Swanepoel, a maker of artisanal bath and body products. She adds, “The sales have been great, the exposure has been amazing. The Beehive name has clout now in Atlanta.”
And the time may well be ripe for Beehive to blossom nationwide. Geiger happily reports that after months of limiting their purchases to gift items during the economic downturn, “people are starting to buy things for themselves again.”