From TV jobs to coastal music scenes, Molly Brown has lived many professional lives before she opened Springfield Mercantile Co. on Commercial Street last fall.
The Los Angeles native started her career in TV as an assistant to producers on “Night Tracks” and casting agent for “Kids Incorporated,” eventually working her way into the music industry with Warner Music Group.
The music business work took Brown to New York, where she started a department for scheduling releases of new albums during the rise of the internet in the mid-1990s.
She moved back to L.A. after a stint in Denver and shortly after her father’s passing, a friend was in town for business and recommended living in Springfield. After visiting two weeks later, she and her husband Brooks were sold on the Queen City.
“Having both grown up in bigger cities, we were both just struck by the sense of community here,” Brown says.
Now, she runs a general store specializing in natural goods.
After moving to Springfield, the next step was finding work.
“We moved with no jobs and started working with a business broker,” she says, noting the couple just sold three Papa Murphy’s franchises. “I figured we had sold businesses, so maybe we can buy a business.”
The couple received a recommendation from a broker to look into Wild Birds Unlimited.
“We already had earnest money on another business with another broker, and we went back to get our check,” Brown says. “We had given them one criterion – no retail and no franchises.”
The Browns went against their own caveat.
“We bought a retail franchise,” she says with a laugh.
The couple has owned Wild Birds for 10 years.
“The original plan was to get Brooks set up with something else, then I would probably go back to consulting,” she says.
She spent a few years working on computerized inventory and barcoding at Wild Birds, along with filling the role of interim chief operating officer at Mother’s Brewing Co. and some consulting for Matthew Miller of The Vecino Group.
With the consulting work not scratching the right itch, Brown began working an idea that would become Springfield Mercantile Co.
“In 2016 I started with the name Springfield Mercantile Co. and just started in between things thinking what it would be,” she says. “The name came first, and I really wanted it to mean something. To me, those three words, Springfield Mercantile Co., embody everything I’m trying to do in terms of making a connection between nature and people and economics.”
The next venture
Once her husband settled in running Wild Birds, it was time for Brown to enter the next step of her professional life.
Springfield Mercantile opened on the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, in 2017. On the shelves at the 326 E. Commercial St. store are dental floss made from silk, horse hair brooms, goat hair brushes and metal drinking straws.
“I started basically with the sustainability thing I was passionate about,” she says. “Really, what we’re trying to build is a new model for specialty retail where you have brick and mortar, and your online is supporting brick and mortar – not the other way around.”
And when Brown says sustainable, she means it. For example, she’s found organic cotton infused with beeswax as an alternate to plastic cling wrap, reusable silicone bags to replace zip-close bags and natural laundry dryer balls that can be filled with essential oils to replace dryer sheets.
“I try to be honest with people and say it’s not without some behavior modification, but to me, that’s the whole point. I want to be more thoughtful,” she says.
Brown says she sources products from all over the globe – dishcloths from Sweden, brushes from Germany, organic cottons and essential oils out of California, and wool from Minnesota.
She also works with local purveyors for small-batch orders. Askinosie Chocolate LLC and Date Lady Inc. are two C-Street neighbors with their products carried in Springfield Mercantile.
“She actually reached out to us after she opened and asked us if she could retail our products,” says Lawren Askinosie, chief marketing officer for Askinosie Chocolate. “We love her store and I think it’s offering a great selection of unique, well made products.”
So far, Brown has placed one order with Askinosie, which sells to about 1,000 stores around the country, to gauge how the chocolate sells for future ordering.
“We’re anticipating and hopeful to have a long, fruitful relationship,” Askinosie says.
Brown also made the first move for the Date Lady’s syrup and sugar products, which have been sold at Springfield Mercantile for the last few months.
She also started small there, with a single, $200 order of pure date syrup, coconut caramel sauce, chocolate spread, whole dates and date sugar.
The Date Lady is featured in about 10 stores locally and 1,000 retailers nationwide. Co-owner Colleen Sundlie says the company sends pallets of products for Amazon orders weekly.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that as their traffic increases, so will the sales of our products,” she adds.
Declining to disclose first-year revenue, Brown says her best-sellers are organic cotton products and the natural bristle brushes.
Along with helping out C-Street neighbors, Brown wants to do the same for her three employees.
She signed a petition to support raising Missouri’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023.
“There’s three things you can do with profit,” she says. “I can take it home, I can reinvest or I can pay down debt. I want to reinvest, so I’m going to reinvest in my people.”
Edd Akers, Rick Huffman, Tracy Kimberlin and April McDonough participate in the discussion.
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