Have You Ever Wanted to Open Your Own Goth Store?

Terri Kennedy of Ipso Facto, Fullerton California

Obviously there are many online goth stores, but I’m talking about brick and mortar here. I recently spoke to Terri Kennedy of Ipso Facto in Fullerton, California and she agreed to answer some questions about what it is like to open and run a brick and mortar goth store. Check out the interview below.

And don’t forget to visit the Ipso Facto website at: http://www.ipso-facto.com/

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When did Ipso Facto open its doors? Was it an online store first?
Ipso Facto started in 1989, the year the internet was invented. I got a basic Ipso Facto website going in the 1990’s and code it myself. Back in the early days of the store, print advertising, and word of mouth were the best forms of advertising. We advertised in a lot of xerox fanzines back then and did a lot of letter writing to customers who had no internet. The store had a gallery in the back until 1999 which hosted poetry readings, art openings, live bands, and eventually Orange County’s first body piercing studio. My concept was always an idea of a “salon” where people could meet and discuss taboo subjects and buy unique products. We gradually filled up the store with all sorts of merchandise, which was hard to find back then. I also made jewelry and clothing to supplement the stock offerings and brought in consignments of original items from taxidermy wreaths and scary dolls to talisman jewelry made of chicken feet and off-the-wall t-shirts made by locals. We also were first in the area to sell music by many European goth-industrial bands that no one else had heard of, like Wumpscut and Qntal. I became a sub-booker for local clubs while playing with my own band, Stone 588 and through my store I helped other bands connect with promotors, sell merchandise, and get their music into the hands of Ipso Facto clientele. I was always championing new product lines, styles of clothing and accessories and alternative fashion trends like Cyber-goth, Steampunk and Lolita that are fairly commonplace now. I had to work a second job for the first four years we were open because we hadn’t shown a profit yet. It was hard and crazy and fun!
What did it take to open your brick and mortar store? How did you find a space? How did you get your starting inventory?
I had just over $10k which I had saved from years working in the retail, wholesale and banking industries which I used to open Ipso Facto. Sometime in the first year I brought in Bob Medeiros, who invested funds to help keep things going. My parents believed in me and also, put in an equal share to mine to help out, for which I am very grateful. Bob definitely got much more than his investment back in profit over the years. I wanted to put down roots in Fullerton because it was the center of Orange County punk rock rebellious youth culture in the late 1970’s and 1980s (home of Fender!), and boasted a wild underground art scene. I saw it as a place that preserved it’s history and promoted the arts with events and sponsorship. It is also friendly to small business and has many amenities of a large city like a hospital, universities, etc. I set up right next to a long-gone lowbrow art boutique, “Get Lost.” Downtown Fullerton was mostly empty back then with just a few pawn shops, used bookstores, a comic book store, dive bars, casual eateries and a couple of unique stores. It was definitely not the mainstream nightlife/shopping destination it is now.
In the 1980s I had managed a showroom in the wholesale fashion district in downtown Los Angeles, so I had inside experience and trade show savvy, learning where and how to acquire product. Before opening, Bob and I went to NYC to establish a business relationship with Island Electric (which became Eternal Love) apparel and New York Hat company. Lip Service from Los Angeles became my main supplier of mens and womens alternative fashion until owner Drew’s recent passing. And we carried Manic Panic hair dye and cosmetics from the start. I hand made apparel and accessories (i.e. rat skull earrings!) myself also.
Was it scary opening a store for such a niche audience?
Yes, it retrospect it was a crazy endeavor, but I had a vision and was young and healthy and a bit naive with a dash of hubris. I had a lot to learn along the way about accounting, taxes, licenses, management, graphic design, advertising, etc. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so many things. I can frame a wall, fix broken stuff and design things, which I never imagined I would do.
What is the most rewarding part of owning Ipso Facto?
Learning so many skills, meeting so many interesting people and perhaps touching the lives of others in a positive way.
What one piece of advice would you give to another person considering opening a brick and mortar goth store?
I have to say the retail landscape has changed greatly in the last 28 years that I have been open. Starting an enterprise such as this now requires a varied skill set. Social media savvy and being able to adapt to trends quickly are two skills that are imperative. One definitely has to do more than offer products for sale, there must be a draw to bring people into a brick and mortar location. Ipso Facto still has that “salon” aspect, in that we offer bi-monthly wicca workshops, free lectures on history/anthropology/mythology, plus occasional book signings, fangsmithing events, Spiritualist spirit circles, tarot reading, live bands, etc. Our annual anniversary event is a free event every November featuring some cool live entertainment and product giveaways. This year’s anniversary featured “Tottendanse, ” a historical Danse Macabre music and storytelling troupe. Last year was a vaudeville show. Always something different!
What advice would you give them on how to keep it alive for so many years?
Keep it fresh, unique and don’t lose touch with your original excitement and entrepreneurial curiosity.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about running a successful store?
Don’t do it for the money. Do it for the love of creating something, learning, and hopefully creating a community legacy. I make just enough to live, much of the time. That’s all one really needs.