“Doing Good is timeless and in our current world, people are hungry to find a way to participate in positively impacting their community and supporting those around them,” explained Rob Wallstrom, CEO of Vera Bradley.
With this simple yet profound truth in mind, Vera Bradley recently launched a concept store, goodMRKT. This store is a collection of brands that all have a socially-conscious component to the products they make and the ways they give back through their business.
I had the privilege of attending goodMRKT’s “Impact Day” or opening day, to represent New Hope Girls. It was magical to walk into goodMRKT and see our merchandise carefully placed and arranged by the talented and kind-hearted Vera Bradley team. Our Surface, Pastel Weave, and Warm Crossroads collections were all arranged with a lovely and inviting aesthetic. Attending Impact Day was an opportunity to go out strong with my advocacy for our organization, our mission, and our girls.
The goodMRKT team really outdid themselves with the flow of the store. There are over 30 purpose-driven and cause-based brands represented but the store has a cohesive flow amongst the individual vignettes. There is also a coffee bar and locally-made pastries that will delight your taste buds. Everything in that store is good – so good.
A Good Vision
Of all the many ways Vera Bradley could focus its time and attention there was a decision to bring goodMRKT to life. That begs the simple but important question – why. Rob confidently explained the vision behind this novel concept store.
“I have been a strong advocate for the power of businesses to drive Purpose in addition to Profit. Building an ecosystem that provides funding for purpose-driven impact and generates sustainable profitability can be a system that transforms our world,” said Rob. I love this commitment to cause and the belief that we can rise together. It is an actionable initiative for tackling the big, complex, and gnarly challenges our world is facing.
A Good Story
As I represented New Hope Girls in our portion of the store, what stood out to me most was how eager people were to hear our mission, cause, and impact. It was refreshing to receive people into our space who wanted to linger and listen. I could sense that most people didn’t want a quick summary of who we are – they wanted more. So together, we stepped into “the more” that our organization does.
We spoke of rescue, refuge, and identity restoration. We discussed how our girls are welcomed as daughters and cared for in every sense of that word. Eyes got teary – both theirs and mine- as we spoke of love – deep, wide, immersive love that redeems even the hardest and darkest circumstances. The authenticity of our conversations was beautiful.
Conditions for authenticity were not a happy accident – there was a thoughtful and intentional team behind the layout and storytelling structure of the store. Harry Cunningham, Vice President for Retail Experience at Vera Bradley was a key visionary in the goodMRKT project and experience. He shared, “I’ve personally always felt the need to learn something new every day, and I hope that our community of socially conscious founders and brands will continue to educate, stimulate, and inspire anyone that comes into the store.”
The structure of goodMRKT makes storytelling an integrated component in the shoppers experience. In fact, the store manager, a wonderful woman named Alicia, is also known as the “lead storyteller.”
There are numerous ways that the store is configured to create connections. “Either through interaction with one of our storytellers, or by scanning a QR code on an individual sign, visitors to goodMRKT will have an opportunity to gain insight into the brands and the people that created them. You’ll discover something new, something different, something… good. The product on the shelf is truly only half the story,” explained Harry.
Interactive, immersive, and intentional – kudos to the visionaries behind goodMRKT.
Mary Beth Trypus, Chief Revenue Officer with Vera Bradley shared, “Together under this one roof we have gathered creators who confront the world to make a difference.” I couldn’t agree more! In between connecting with our customers, I enjoyed eyeing all the lovely products and purposes that surrounded me.
Happiness Project was an easy brand to fall for! The guys behind the brand are driven to make an impact for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. We had an honest conversation about the pain and loss that brought their brand to life. I then shared about the redemptive work of New Hope Girls and how we walk through healing with our girls. It was refreshing to speak honestly about issues that matter deeply. It put a smile on my face when I learned that Jake bought his mom a New Hope bag before he left and I (of course!) purchased a Happiness Project sweatshirt before my final moments in goodMRKT. There was a genuine sense amongst the brands that when one of us rises, we all do.
The purposes of the brands may vary but the shared belief in driving change was a strong tie that binds. Mary Beth underscored that, “goodMRKT is the foundation of a new movement and the brands are the building blocks to make change happen! We are helping to educate, elevate, and expedite the change with this concept store.”
Josh Raines, a morning show host and director of outreach for the radio station STAR 88.3, joined the leadership team for goodMRKT. If you had the privilege of attending Impact Day you undoubtedly heard his contagious laugh reverberating in the concept store. His energy and enthusiasm for the project show and it is clear that he has a way about him that brings people together. Early on, when goodMRKT was beginning to take shape, Josh joined the leadership team. For him, the opportunity to do good was a no brainer. “There has been a lot of division (in society) and when I heard I saw everybody uniting under doing good and that was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Josh.
As a community leader with an emphasis on fostering inclusion, equity, and innovation the goodMRKT project was a natural fit! It was inspiring to see how he poured himself into the project because he believes in shared humanity and wants entrepreneurs to consider limitless possibilities. He wants people to dream of being “owners, not workers” when considering their future.
Although it is hard to pick just one stand-out moment from Impact Day, Josh is able to cite a special chemistry that took place within the space as brands interacted with each other. “I was able to see that this wasn’t just the community for Fort Wayne embracing it, it was another community being created at the same time. It was a spirit of camaraderie not competition,” said Josh.
If you find yourself in Fort Wayne, Indiana you’ve GOT to visit goodMRKT by Vera Bradley. However, if your travels don’t take you there serendipitously, maybe you should visit on your own initiative. As Josh also shared, one project goal is, “For goodMRKT to be a destination of Fort Wayne and for it to inspire other entrepreneurs within the community.” With that in mind, maybe instead of waiting to find yourself in Fort Wayne you should head there now.
Something So Good
The reality is, it is impossible to visit goodMRKT and not feel invited into goodness. I am appreciative that Vera Bradley is using the strength of its company to stand for something so wonderfully good and to extend a hand out to others with big dreams and tremendous potential. And on a personal level, I am thankful that I have received a calling into something so good and that the journey led me to the goodMRKT community.
If your mind is swirling on the possibilities, as you learn about goodMRKT, you are surely not alone. Harry explained, “the beauty of our space is that you can come in for a cup of coffee and leave having made a positive impact far beyond what you ever imagined. At goodMRKT, you belong here.”
“By daring to do good, we can bring life to our communities. Those acts of goodness can be small (a smile, a flower, a hug) or the acts can be large, but each act is precious, and the key is to dare to act, to dare to do good each and every day.”Rob Wallstrom, CEO of Vera Bradley