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When Dreams Become Reality

Local shop owner Sonia Sotire Molloy shares her unique entrepreneurial story as she celebrates five years of Splurge

After many years of planning, my wish to open my own unique retail shop came true when I answered a Craigslist Ad for a small retail space on East Putnam Avenue back in late 2007. I felt that the stars had aligned and it was meant to be: while the space needed a facelift, it was in a good location and the terms were fair. I felt very lucky to have a rare opportunity to test a business concept with relatively little risk. Once the lease was signed, my entire family pitched in and frantically worked to make it shine. Meanwhile, I worked to refine the SPLURGE brand, place the buys, determine the marketing and advertising strategy, and prepare for the grand opening. On December 1, 2007, armed with a comprehensive business plan, a handful of savings and a stack of zero percent interest credit cards, it was with great enthusiasm that I introduced Greenwich to SPLURGE.

No one could have predicted the events that rocked the global and local economy shortly thereafter, but suffice to say that my first 18 months in business were not easy. However, I was blessed with a wonderful landlord who wanted me to succeed, terrific retail neighbors who helped promote SPLURGE and introduced me to the community, and the most important support of all: our customers. Although the experience was extremely challenging and many sleepless nights were spent worrying about details, I believed that I had a meaningful concept and was determined to hold on and weather the economic storm. After all, I was pursuing a dream that began when I was a young child; I just had to see it through and execute on my vision.

Owning and running small businesses is in my blood. Some older generations in town might remember the variety store that my grandfather owned in nearby Stamford, where my grandmother assisted with the buying, or my other grandfather’s fruit and vegetable store on Fisher’s Island, NY. My business interests started at age five with my first lemonade stand. At age nine, I discovered the lucrative business of garage sales and my parents supported my efforts. I proceeded to clean out their closets, attic, tool shed and garage in search of sellable items. I vividly remember pestering my father as he attempted to do his weekly book keeping, asking if I could sell a tie that was too wide, a shirt with an extra-long collar and anything else that I deemed, “must go”. I thoroughly loved organizing and pricing piles of clothing, household items and bric-a-brac on the family room floor, and I discovered that I had a knack for providing good value at an early age. My garage sales always featured a table of items with prices ranging from a nickel to a quarter and we had a “The more you buy, the more you save” promotion during each event. I organized annual garage sales for four years until we literally ran out of items to sell.

Fast forward a few years, while attending Washington University in St. Louis, I had initially envisioned a career in clinical psychology. My aspirations changed one summer when I had an opportunity to visit the wholesale jewelry and accessory district in New York City. As I walked through showrooms filled with aisle after aisle of hair accessories and jewelry displayed floor-to-ceiling, I thought to myself, “I could sell these things.” After much deliberation I spent $50, and proceeded to have buyer’s remorse during the entire train ride home to CT. I feared that my parents would be angry with me for spending what seemed like a large sum of money at the time. However, when I arrived home they smiled and said that they were proud of me for recognizing an opportunity and taking a calculated risk. That was all I needed to get started with my new business venture. The fire was lit.

That night, I displayed hair scrunchies on empty shampoo bottles, clipped barrettes to thick ribbons, and covered the top of a shoe box with velvet and poked holes through it to hold earrings. When the displays were complete, I took my wares to friends and family, and to summer job co-workers. Amazingly, within a week I had sold out. People began hosting parties at their homes, where I came to sell my products to an eager and receptive audience.

For the rest of the summer, every Saturday my dad, sister and I traveled to New York City to replenish inventory. At the end of the summer I knew I was onto something and asked a friend to partner with me to launch this business at college. We sold our products in the student center and during our first event we grossed hundreds of dollars in just a few hours. It was an adrenaline rush like no other. Eventually, the business helped pay for spring break trips and sorority dues, and helped me to realize where my passion lived. It was during my sophomore year that I added a business minor to my curriculum, and decided to pursue a career in corporate retail after graduation.

I knew that I wanted to own my own business, going back to the very first time that I sold lemonade. However, I believed that I should learn from the best before going out on my own. I started in the May Company (now Macy’s) Executive Training Program after graduation. After spending eight years with the May Company in various buying and management roles, and another six years in senior marketing and merchandising roles with Avon Products and Victoria’s Secret Beauty, I decided it was time to pursue my dream and leave the corporate world.

As SPLURGE celebrates five years in business, I often reflect on what we have accomplished. Many told me I shouldn’t open a store, some even told me I wouldn’t be successful. And so it was with great pride that I realized in mid-2010 that we had outgrown our space on East Putnam Avenue. The move to 39 Lewis Street in the fall of that year was a landmark event, personally and professionally. Shortly thereafter an exciting opportunity to launch the SPLURGE Kids concept presented itself, in a space right across the street from the main SPLURGE location. Without question, this journey has been extremely rewarding and extraordinarily hard work, more than I could have ever imagined. Owning your own retail store is a 24x7 passion and definitely not for the faint of heart.

It’s been an amazing five years of growth and learning. When I was asked recently what I am most proud of, it is the jobs that I have created for my employees (and internships for motivated young students), our charitable activities in the community, and the relationships we’ve developed with our customers. It has always been my strong belief to “Do good while doing good business.” From food drives to Easter basket collections, to charitable giving and educational events, I consistently use SPLURGE as a conduit to support the local community. Over the years we have delivered nearly 400 Easter baskets to Kids in Crisis and The Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County (thanks to our wonderful, generous customers), countless cans of food to Neighbor to Neighbor and toys to Toys for Tots, held dozens of “SPLURGE for a Cause” charitable shopping nights, donated hundreds of items to local and regional charities for silent auctions and events, sold products made by people with developmental disabilities at Abilis, provided a place for Girl Scouts to sell cookies and provided an outlet for budding local artists to debut their designs. These efforts are a consistent and significant part of the soul of my business, and I intend to strengthen these efforts even further in the coming years.

I am very grateful to have made hundreds of friends in this wonderful community who have been very supportive of me and my business, and have come to enjoy our warm, friendly and comfortable store, with its unique fun items and fair, approachable prices. I can’t wait to see what the next five years will bring.