Exceptional Retailer 39: The Rabbit Hole

01
Dec

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
This Michigan smoke shop takes its name from “Alice in Wonderland,” but the business is one dream that did come true — and was even more successful than its owners imagined

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There’s a certain satisfaction here. The type of satisfaction that comes from knowing in your heart that you can do something well, then getting the opportunity you’ve been waiting for and doing even better than you imagined.

Heck, that’s not just satisfaction. It’s triumph.

This is the story of The Rabbit Hole, a smoke shop in Bay City, Mich., where a team of business owners have turned a run-of-the-mill shop into something special.

“The previous owners were friends of ours,” says Jason Eurich, the shop’s manager and son of co-owner David Eurich. “They were looking to cut wind and get out of it. This is something we’ve always been interested in. It’s something we felt like we could tweak and bring with a new aspect to a better part of town.”

The belief in themselves was deserved. The Eurichs and co-owner Jason Patterson made The Rabbit Hole in their mind’s design and they’ve found great success. It’s taken a few years, but they’ve morphed the shop into exactly what they wanted — a 2,800-square-foot building, stacked with products from local artists, with a specific focus on glass and including a 650-square-foot glass-blowing studio on site, that people from the community can use to create their art.

They took over the shop in 2011. The braintrust was mostly family and friends. Patterson had a history selling glass before taking over The Rabbit Hole, while the younger Eurich was an automotive mechanic and his dad was retired after a career in IT. Jason’s sister helps out too.

They took what they got from the previous owners, boxed it all up and moved to a 750-square-foot location that was closer to the two local colleges — Saginaw Valley State University and Delta College.

Their goal was to get closer to the college kids, but it was also to expand past 750 square feet. So in April of this year, they opened their current location. It’s not too far away from the previous one, but it’s much bigger and has more character. It’s a former RV repair place with a big 14-foot barn door that opens up into their glass-blowing studio.

A regular smoke shop, this is not.

“We’re in a bright, well-lit area,” Jason Eurich says. “It’s a nice area where you don’t feel uncomfortable when you walk in. We just went for the wow factor. We just blow people away with really nice glass and really nice heady pieces. We want people to remember us, so everything is bright and well lit. We try to make it very presentable, not something that should be hidden off the beaten path.”

The Rabbit Hole’s name is inspired by Alice in Wonderland. But, really, the shop is just as dedicated to Michigan as it is to Lewis Carroll’s trippy world of make-believe. Being local is important to the folks at The Rabbit Hole and they put that into practice.

“Our biggest thing has always been to support the local community,” Eurich says. “We strive big on selling local. The buck starts and stops here, in this state.”

That’s the case whether we’re talking about glass pipes, or things like wood pipes, ceramic pipes and stone pipes. It’s also the case in their glass studio. Artists from the community can come in, bring their own tools, create something and sell it to the store. That same piece could soon be for sale on The Rabbit Hole’s shelves. That’s the farm-to-table food model put to work in a smoke shop.

It’s not just pipes, though. They support and encourage all types of glass art, both from artists and in the community. As the stigma against head shops continues to go away these days, The Rabbit Hole wants to make inroads in the community.

“We trying to bring a different aspect to people in the community and show them it’s not just about pipes,” Eurich says. “There’s a lot you can make.”

In that respect, there’s one thing The Rabbit Hole sells that opens it up to new sectors of the community. It’s got a huge selection of disc-golf accessories. It’s not at all uncommon today to see smoke shops selling things outside the traditional laundry list of items and at The Rabbit Hole, disc-golf gear gets people through the door. And it surprises even the owners.

“It was something the previous owner carried,” Eurich says. “We thought we would phase it out, but we ended up having more demand. We saw it wasn’t going away. We just expanded from one wall to three.”

It’s even more proof of one of the eternal retail truths: Always listen to the customer.

The customers listen to The Rabbit Hole’s staff too. Part of being a good smoke shop proprietor in 2015 isn’t just having a well-stocked store, it’s being able to match the right product to the right customer. It’s about learning what’s out there in the industry, learning what your customers want and finding the sweet spot in the middle of the two.

“When we started, we weren’t working with a lot of higher-end inventory,” Eurich says. “But we started going to trade shows, mostly CHAMPS and AGE, and we started bringing quality to an area where people are just used to the gas-station type of glass. We started bringing people quality, American-made pipes that stand the test of time and have really good artwork to them.”

And it’s worked.

“We have a lot of happy customers that come back,” Eurich says. “They know that they may have spent more than they anticipated, but in the end, they got a better product and better service than they would gotten anywhere else.”

That, of course, is good for business. It’s what helps little 750-square-foot smoke shops turn into 2,800-square-foot shops and it’s what turns big hopes into dreams fulfilled.

“The dream has been realized,” Eurich says. “And we have property to expand from here. We’re hoping to double up in size in the next five or 10 years.”

That wouldn’t be just satisfying. It would be another triumph.

 


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