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Introducing THE GROVE

As I mentioned yesterday I had the absolute treat of being hosted at The Grove in Winter Park, Florida for two days last week.  If you are like me you have followed along with The Grove on Instagram since they opened and it was a huge treat for me to get to meet the girls (finally) and to spend some time in the magical shop in one of my favorite places in Florida.  It mas truly magical from the moment the Uber drive delivered me to the moment a second special Uber driver picked me up the evening of the second day.

From the moment you round the corner from Park Avenue to Welbourne Avenue you can tell you are entering a special zone.  I remember popping down to Starbucks two blocks away and returning only to recognize the instant smell of orange blossom and honeysuckle, a signature scent for the store, coming from the open doors of the shop.  It welcomed me more than two shops away and make me smile instantly.

There is something very special about The Grove that I have not experienced before.  Yes, it is a retail location which sells amazing gifts and darling clothing but it is truly so much more.  Meredith Gardner and Emily Williams have created more than a store, they have created a community.  Every single person that walked in during the two days I was blessed to be inside had either a question, a story to share or an experience they could not wait to share with others. I likened it to a beauty parlor of late. When my grandmother went to her standing Friday 11:00 am hair appointment for her wash and set she got so much more than her hair done, she shared her life and others shared with her.  It was a true experience she wasn't willing to skip for anything.  The atmosphere and the customers at The Grove are the same. The employees and the customers share their lives with one another and each one is greeted by name and welcomed into the family.

That is, of course, after they say hello to Venture, the adorable Yellow Labrador who you can find in the shop on any given day.   During my two days I met so many fun people (and my new BFF Donna Myers) and gathered so many little pieces of information.  One sweet customer (Hi Maria!) even showed up Friday sporting new shoes which we immediately all tried on and bought online and another (thank you Mary Lane) appeared with a pink bottle of champagne in hand to bless my afternoon.  I mean, does it get any better?  Oh, and one customer, who looked incredible, swears by this cream and another smelled fabulous wearing this perfume.  I am telling you the note section on my phone got so much love in those hours.  You would hear someone say loudly ... "wait, what did I miss" and the whole shop would instantly be in conversation.

Pure goodness!

The recipe created by Meredith and Emily is evident by the very first peek around the shop.  The products they have collected along with the relationships they have built is what is making this little slice of heaven flourish like it does.  I can only imagine every new woman who moves into the area must truly feel this shop is the first stop into feeling a part of her new life.  Not only can she pick up a gift for someone and have it wrapped with every detail thought of, but she can shop for herself for any event she is attending.  From lunching to a vacation to a one of a kind event they can outfit you and if they don't have something they will find it for you.  What more can you ask for?

How about the same level of customer service with your home?  The Grove is a unique combination of outfitting your whole life.  Not only can they help you with that hostess gift or teacher happy but they can also come to your house and help you rework your style, your rooms or even help you navigate a new build.  Their talents truly know no end and Emily is happy to help you with your new or existing home. You can have the full Grove treatment if you desire.  They truly mean it when they say they are available to assist for a "fabulous life and home".

Exciting, right?

Meredith was so sweet to share the details of her journey with me as I spent time with her and I can not wait to share all I learned plus more in the interview below.  I love interviewing others.  I love the story, the journey, the laughs and the hard times people share with me which endears me (and you) to their businesses.

Thank you sweet Meredith for sharing your story with us ... 

First of all, tell me about Meredith Gardner.  Where did you grow up and how did your childhood influence who you are today? 

I am a wife and proud mom of two. I am an only child raised predominately in South Florida with two step siblings that I adore.  I married into a large, loving catholic family and we are surrounded by siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins by the droves. Usually brought together by Sunday Supper or Packer games.

I came to Winter Park by way of Rollins College, Go Tars!, and made it my home.  I have always been super high energy and outgoing, I think that’s why retail is such a good fit, there is always lots to do and we are constantly on the go! I am lucky enough to spend my days chatting with the most interesting and lovely people - every day is a new adventure! Plus I get the bonus of surrounding myself with beautiful things while I help people find goodies that make them feel good. 

What did your business career look like before you opened The Grove?

Before The Grove I was lucky enough to spend 8 years working for Lilly Pulitzer and  5 years with J.McLaughlin prior to that. They are two brands I love so very much! Corporate retail offered me invaluable experience, structure and since they both manufacture their own lines, knowledge of both sides of the business. I had the opportunity to be surrounded by bright, creative, and wildly talented people that laid the foundation to enable me to go out on my own.    

How did you make the decision to take a leap of faith and open a store?

Leaving Lilly was a really hard decision, I was happy there and loved the people I worked with but after 8 years I needed new challenges. I also yearned for more flexibility in my family time that a corporate environment couldn’t provide. I really didn’t know if opening a new business was the right path to achieve that but it was really my family and friends that convinced me to take the leap. One of my most supportive friends, Emily, was so encouraging that she jumped in with me and together with our families we opened the Grove. With the full intention that we would create an environment that was inclusive of not only our children and dogs but the communities as well. We wanted more than a store but a fun space to hang out, visit and catch up with friends. We are the shopping version of “Cheers”. 

Tell me about the name ... how did you choose The Grove and what does it mean to you?

The Grove…It started out as a place holder while we were trying to decide but the longer we used it, it just stuck since it hit all of our buttons….

1. We are Florida Peeps- we wanted something that was a nod to that fact but would be relevant in other markets
2. My husband grew up with his 4 siblings and house full of friends on Temple Grove. They fondly recall running through the groves, playing tag etc really an idyllic childhood
3. I knew the store would use some sort of monogram and TG just seemed the perfect fit as we are The Gardner family.

I love that everyone who works with you and close to you is all "related" to each other in one way or another.  It is one big "family" in a way, don't you think?

We really are and that’s just the way we like it….. Emily and I were good friends before we opened the store but she had been friends with my husband since Junior high and I have been close to her husband, Zane since I graduated college. Zane negotiated our lease and completely renovated our building. Our children have grown up together so we started this business as a tight little group and we knew that’s what we wanted the vibe of the store to be so when it came to bringing on a team we wanted to make sure that we had a team that was more a family than employees. Both of our mangers worked with me at Lilly at some point, we hired a college friend of Emily’s, that we have all been friends with for a decade. Even our landlord has joined the family… She met and fell in love with Zane’s brother at our grand opening and a year later joined the family. As our business has grown we have found ways to bring more into the fold… it may not work for everyone but so far it has really done right by us.    

You have thought of every detail in your shop right down to the branding and the smell that truly welcomes you when you walk into the store to doors that remain open to the outside all day long.  

Emily is really design oriented and helped up find Emily McCarthy who did an amazing job translating our vision for our store into something tangible.  Once we had that foundation Zane was able to help us incorporate that into the construction of our store. We wanted the store to pay homage to the community we love, incorporate our classic styles but also give it a modern twist. The store has bright white walls inside and out with over sized black high gloss windows We took the stripes from our logo and ran them across our awnings. The front doors, that we leave wide open are my personal favorite…700 pounds of bright green wrought iron with oversize MONOGRAMMED handles! When it came time to lay the floors we all decided that they had to be brick to tie into the brick streets that are the foundation of Park Avenue and Winter Park as a whole. As the color loving girls we are and wanting to add our own twist so we painted them aqua! Behind our cash-wrap is a huge photograph of a Grove during the freeze of 1890. It was taken just down the street from us and is certainly one of the most frequent questions we answer… We planted pots of orange trees outside and when orange blossoms are in bloom it smells amazing. We knew we had to find away to have that scent all the time. We were lucky enough to partner with a local candle company, Winter Park Candle, and the owner helped us create our signature scent.
Can you tell me about what those details mean to you?

Winter Park is our home, we feel blessed to live here and are invested in the community. We wanted create something that would add value to that community. We are only successful because of the family, friends, and neighbors that support our business, so really,  it’s our job to pay attention. Attention to details, to their needs and wants, to provide the best experience we can.  

By the way, what is that amazing scent?

We can’t give away all of our secrets…J but it is orange blossom based, we are The Grove after all.

What inspires you in your hunt for merchandise? 

We always said the store would have a Palm Beach meets Palm Springs vibe with a bit of sparkle for good measure. I feel like have held tight to that mantra with our clothing, gifts and home furnishings and so after that we just buy what we love and that we think our customers will love too. We want to find clothing that makes you feel good, gifts that you are proud to give and would be thrilled to receive. As for our home furnishings… We look for things that are classic but also elegant and fun. Emily will of course tailor her design services to fit a customers’ needs but most choose her because they are drawn to her colorful aesthetic.  We try to do what we do and let the other stores do what they do best. We are surrounded by great stores and we feel like we will do our thing and let them do theirs than everybody wins….Need a great caftan come see us…. Need something more trendy go see our neighbors at Tuni, they are happy to help. 

Can you describe your customer ... who is your local shopper? 

Gosh, we are so lucky our customers are great in the sense that we get a little bit of everything. Rollins is down the street so when school is in session we see some of the college girls, on most days the Grove is filled with moms about 30-70. There are always little children and dogs in toe. Our customers tend to hang out…sometimes they are shopping sometimes they are just popping in before a lunch or in between pick-ups.  We always have chilled champagne in the fridge for anyone who just wants to hang out a bit longer and is in a celebratory mood and Coors light for any husband along for the ride.

How does your in store customer differ from your online customer?

We really know our in store customers. It’s not quite as easy to have that same connection with our online customers, social media such as Instagram helps. We have some repeat customers and once they establish a buying pattern it certainly makes it easier to get to know them. We do talk to a bunch of our web-customers about personalized and custom orders so it provides us the opportunity to get to know them.

Tell me about your adorable pup! 

Ah Venture... he is certainly the most popular Grove employee! He is a 5 year old lab that we were lucky enough to adopt from the Canine Companions for Independence after he was released from training. He is such a good boy and loves being at the store. He spends his days commuting between the sidewalk outside of our front door (so everyone will stop to pet him) and napping in front our our cash wrap. He greats everyone...fellow puppies, shopperand his favorite small children. Thankfully we live in a dog friendly town and I’m certain if there was a Mayor of Park Avenue it would be him. 

Five favorite things in the shop right now?

1.LaRoque Camo Ivy Top
2.We just got in this Natural Cable-knit Fur trimmed Poncho - OMG
3.Lime Green Barbara Cosgrove Foo Dog Lamps
4.Julie Brown Rose Gold Sequin Tee Shirt Top
5. Taylor Burke Mongolian Fur X-Benches

What is your favorite way to unwind?

We are a family of foodies… So there’s nothing better to me than a cocktail and a great meal surrounded by friends and family with our kids all running around. It’s a good life nothing better than stealing moments to slow down an appreciate that fact.  

 Five must haves.

1. SS Bar Cart
2. Bring it Up’s
3. Paige Gemmel Pillows
4. Solid Ivy Top
5. Statement Earrings

Favorite quote. 

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do that
-Maya Angelou

There are so many things Meredith shares that I truly connect to, and of course, seeing her photo with her kids in their flip flops hits all my happy notes.  I grew up wearing them everyday and still do, and it gets noticed a lot here in Atlanta when I am wearing them in October.  I just add a warm sweater and put on the dressier ones.  It is a way of life for this Florida girl.

As you can tell I truly loved my time with the girls and customers from The Grove, so much so we have already planned to be together again when they go on the road for pop up shops.  I will be making appearances there as well and I am so very excited. Now that I have that orange blossom + honeysuckle scent imprinted on me I am sure to have a long relationship with these girls.

And I couldn't be happier about it!

To visit The Grove from afar shop their website.  If you have questions, call the shop and they will happily help you navigate your needs.  And please tell them I sent you ...

Have the best Friday!

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