This week, we talked to John Frechette, an artist-turned-entrepreneur who owns MADE, a boutique in the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Founded in 2010, MADE initially served as a storefront for John to sell his own wares: glass belt buckles with motifs of the American West. Today, MADE sells handmade goods from over 360 American artists, and John has expanded his retail presence to four shops that are popular with locals and tourists, including a stylish brother boutique called Mountain Dandy and the revival of a nostalgic candy shop in town, Mursell’s Sweet Shop.
Here, we’re sharing an abridged version of our chat with John.
I think what is fun for us is that we’ve always been good at connecting with our customers and making that experience special for them in the store, and I think that is exactly what’s going to help us get through this.
Q: How did you end up in Jackson Hole?
I actually moved out for work, a company I was working for in New York City, a real estate development company, moved me to Jackson and I worked for them for about five years until 2008. When the company filed bankruptcy in the recession of 2008,I was here and that was actually how we opened MADE, when I lost my job and didn’t know what to do.
Q: What motivated you to open MADE?
I decided to stay in Jackson and I was a glass artist on the side. One of the items I started making was glass belt buckles, and I started selling those. With some encouragement from friends, I took a batch of the buckles that I had made to a local Christmas bizarre here in Jackson. I went in with 80 buckles and I left with four. And after about six months, I found a teeny little retail space in what’s called Gaslight Alley right off the town square in Jackson and that was how MADE started. We started with selling my work and once I knew that wasn’t going to be enough to support the business, I called every artist I had met along the way and begged and borrowed and got as much inventory as I could to get the store open in May of 2010.
Q: Tell me a bit about building community in the early stages of MADE.
It’s easy to build a community when you’re in there every day. And when MADE started, I was the one behind the counter every day. So every person who came in, they met me. Everyone is always in a pretty good mood when they’re walking around so we get pretty friendly with people. Over the years, that has sort of helped grow the business. Like I said, if we can focus on the locals, then we think other things will fall into place.
Q: How have you approached your business’s growth over the last 10 years?
I started MADE on my own. My partner, Christian, was a teacher at the time, at a local private school. He would always help me with the store at night and help me brainstorm ideas. The two of us did a lot of it together, although I was the one who was going into the shop all the time. About four years into MADE, we had been talking about this concept for a kind of a man store, like the men’s version of MADE. I convinced Christian to take a sabbatical. We opened the second store called Mountain Dandy, and then he never went back. So he works with me full time now and we run all the shops together.
We have MADE, and we have Mountain Dandy, and we just recently opened the newest one, which is called M, which is out a little bit closer to the ski resort, but we’ve tried to keep them all different. The fourth store that we have now is a store called Mursell Sweet Shop. Mursell was a chocolatier and a store owner next to us, and she was also my landlord at MADE from the very beginning. She was an older woman and she didn’t want to give up on her business because she didn’t know what else to do. We had been trying to see how we could help reinvigorate her old school chocolate shop and in the middle of the conversations, she passed away. That was about two and a half years ago, and we didn’t know what to do. We spent a lot of time talking to her son and ultimately decided that we would reopen the candy store with our twist on it. We named it after her; it’s called Mursell Sweet Shop.
Q: When would you say you saw the first signs of the slow down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?
On the 11th of March, the mountain resort closed. When that happened, we followed suit pretty quickly. There were still a lot of people visiting, but they were quickly dissipating, and we just thought it was in the best interest of our customers. Certainly, in the interest of our staff was to close. So we closed our doors on March 12th. It kind of all happened really quickly and we’ve been trying to react the best we can.
Q: What tactics are you using to serve your community, online or offline?
When we closed the doors, one of the things that we did was we tried to pivot our business as much as we could towards online. Christian actually came up with the idea with one of our managers. She had seen a baker, I guess, in San Francisco or California who had made quarantine cakes and she would deliver them to your house and that was sort of her thing. She had been oversubscribed and sold out in 24 hours.
She had told us that story and Christian and Sarah said, well, ‘What if we made quarantine boxes?’ – curated gift boxes that we sent out to people who wanted to send something fun to friends and family. It’s a make-you-smile, give-you-a-sweet treat, type of a box. We quickly built an added page on our website and launched that. We sent out an email to all of our loyal customers and started talking about it on Instagram. Then we’ve been building each box custom, depending on what they put in the notes and, and who they ask to send it to.
Q: Do you think COVID-19 will fundamentally change the way you do business?
I think, fundamentally, we will try to go back to doing what we’ve always been doing. I don’t think that we are going to become a gift box company and close our retail doors. We liked what we were doing, and we want to get back to that.
I do think that some things will change. I think we’ll be a little bit more stringent on how we spend money and where every dollar goes. I think we’ll make sure that our curated collection is that much more curated so that we don’t have the sort of product that sits around. I think we’ll be a little bit leaner and meaner, but I do see us staying the course and bringing our team back and, when we can, getting back open for business. I think what is fun for us is that we’ve always been good at connecting with our customers and making that experience special for them in the store. And that is exactly what’s gonna help us get through this and why they’ve been supporting us. So when we come back out, we’re going to go back right back to doing what we were doing.
Q: What is one piece of advice or encouragement you have for local retailers?
Keep doing what you’re good at. We have found that people have liked us because we work hard and we provide good products. So if we can keep doing that, they are going to keep supporting us, even if they can’t walk through the door. They’ll figure out a way to find it or find us and work with us. We’ve had phone calls and emails and web orders and Instagram messages and people have messaged me in ways I didn’t even know I could receive messages. That just shows the resilience of our customers and the resilience of our business. Just keep doing what you’re doing and keep working hard and we’ll all come out on the other side.
To listen to the whole interview, head to over to the second episode of our new podcast Brick & Order.
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