Grayce Notes

A pre-pandemic photo with storeowner Grayce McLaughlin (third from right), manager Jennifer Sassano (far right), and staff.
by Tina Manzer

Touch of Grayce in Geneseo, New York, is celebrating 25 years in business. The store has occupied the same 2,000-square-foot space on Main Street since 1995. “Things to do these days are limited, and we think people find comfort in familiar and peaceful shopping experiences with trustworthy and well-known shops,” says owner Grayce McLaughlin. “Main Street Geneseo has continued to be a safe and vibrant place to be throughout this time.”

Before she was a retailer Grayce was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years who wished for a toy store on Main Street. When the time was right, she opened one that featured educational toys, children’s books and natural healthcare products. Over the years her inventory has expanded to include “an array of Earthly goods,” including handmade, locally made and ethically sourced gifts, jewelry, kitchen items, décor and more.

Geneseo is a college town, and Grayce is a graduate of the state university there, as are many of her staffers. The SUNY students and alumni are an important market to the stores and restaurants in town. They are also loyal local shoppers, and Touch of Grayce is happy to serve them.

When the store closed for the pandemic on March 17, was up and running a week later as an e-commerce site. “Our manager, Jennifer Sassano, has built and maintained our website with constant feedback and help from the whole team,” explains Grayce. “Although we prefer seeing our customers face-to-face, the website has become a resource for our community to safely browse our selection. 

It’s a joy to browse the product selection online because the choices are ever-changing depending on the weather, current trends, holidays, and more. It’s a true reflection of the unique brick-and-mortar, Touch-of-Grayce experience. How well is it working? We talked to Grayce to find out.

edplay: First, how’s business?

Grayce McLaughlin: Since we opened up back in June, business has been steady. We have connected with new people who discovered us after their normal routines changed.

I love the “curations” section of your website, especially the themed gift bundles – the “witchy” bundle with the Dragons Blood incense, the “Go Vote” bundle with the candidate socks, and the Waboba bundle. How often do those categories change?

Our curations are a collaborative effort based on the pulse of the world around us. Right now they range from “Dead Head” and “Artists” to “Outdoors” and “Woman Power.” Customer feedback, current events, and new products all factor into our choices. Our team members all have different interests which keeps our selections fun, relatable and fresh. Our gift bundles are designed to be a fun surprise whether you are gifting them or getting one for yourself. They were born from the many items we have that are an assortment.

“Shop our window” is one of the categories. How often do you change your displays?

We swap out the books in our window every other day, and our full displays change monthly. We have always thought of our window as our “first online store” because it was something people could browse at any time whether we were open or not. Main Street Geneseo is lively from early in the morning to late at night with students, people walking, or families on their way to dinner. We want to catch their eyes as they go by and remind them of the array of products we have available inside! Thanks to our website, now they can purchase the products 24/7!

How challenging is it to keep things fresh? How effective is it for sales?

The big push for small business over the last few years has been to become “omnichannel.” That means being present in-store, having an online store, being active on all social media channels, and being accessible via phone, email, DM, and in-person. It can be overwhelming. In order to keep all of these channels engaging to customers, we have to keep things fresh. So each time we create a new bundle, or change a window display or a curation – we need to take photos, update our social media pages and website.

How important is social media? Has it become more important since the pandemic?

Social media is a great resource. During the pandemic, channels like Facebook and Instagram felt like the only real way to communicate with our customers and keep them up-to-date. It also is a more casual way for them to get in touch with us compared to an email or phone call.  We try to post daily. We do this with a combination of scheduled pre-set posts as well as organic spur-of-the-moment posting when we get in a funny new book or an exciting order. Jennifer is our social media expert, but lately we have been encouraging our customers to share photos with us so we can share real-world use of our products!

How many employees do you have?

Our team has remained small over the last five-or-so years with just three to four members at any given time, plus a little extra help during the holidays. Because everyone has different interests and specialities, it helps the store run smoothly.

Heading towards Christmas, what’s your bestselling toy?

At Touch of Grayce, you will never see a big rack full of “Our Bestselling Thing.” When our customers are looking for a toy, we take into consideration the child they are shopping for and find the best thing for them. We are very knowledgeable about our toys and we definitely have personal favorites and tried-and-trues. But each sale for us is an individual opportunity to deliver the best gift or toy that person can give.

What’s your prediction for the holidays?

Our hope is to stay healthy and open. We are expecting to face challenges this season, but we are planning ahead to ensure a fun, safe, and easy environment for all of our shoppers. We are working hard to meet the needs and preferences of all of our customers. We think all of the options we have created for our community will make for a joyful holiday season.

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