We were lucky enough to catch up with Natasha Wong, co-founder and co-owner of Seldom Seen, a boutique tucked into the Hayes Valley district of San Francisco. Natasha filled us in on her store's journey, her vision of the future of retail, and how she centers her store and career on the power of human connection.
Dor: Hi Natasha! Tell us about Seldom Seen and what’s been going on there lately.
Natasha: Seldom Seen is a boutique that brings a unique and inclusive approach to fashion. The soul of our store is one of discovery. Whether that’s discovering a new brand, meeting someone for the first time or experiencing a new culture, we celebrate human curiosity and discovery. We strive to keep our customer curious through the goods, events and experiences we create and curate.
There are plenty of very doom-and-gloom articles proclaiming the death of retail. But what we’re seeing at Dor is that bad retail is dying. The retailers that actually have a mission, that create an experience and that care about their customers, that retail is thriving.
I completely agree.
So what were your ingredients from going online-only to a boutique?
After six months online, we knew that something was missing. We realized we both value human connection and share a human-centered spirit. A lot of what brings us joy today is our customers seeing, hearing, experiencing our store, and we thought that opening a physical space would be the quickest way to achieve what we were missing.
Once Daniel and I knew we needed to open a store, we started the work to get there. We tested our idea with a few pop-ups and saw people touching our product and understanding our point of view. People asked if we had a physical store and that encouraged us to open one.
So pop-ups were the gateway to seeing the tactile interaction that both you guys as owners and your customers craved?
Yeah, and I think we craved it as people. I think we as beings all crave human connection.
Totally. There are a lot of industry voices claiming that retail customers will always choose online convenience over a brick-and-mortar experience, but you’re saying that’s not your reality?
I think it’s a balance. I understand that our customers live full lives, so convenience is important, but I also think they value connecting with other people to find things that they need in their life.
Our customer reminded me why we exist the other day. I asked her, “Why do you continue to shop with us? What keeps bringing you back?” Not only is it the quality of the product, she said, “but I feel like I’m supporting you. At the end of the day, I think it goes full circle.” And I completely agree.
I felt grateful for her support, and it pushes me to continue to create an experience for her, give her products that she feels comfortable and confident in. It’s truly a relationship. It’s not just transactional for us.
How does your mindset about connection with people play into how you hire?
When we bring someone onto our team, I’m always curious about where they want to go in five to 10 years. It’s important for me to understand where they want to go, so that in the time they have with us, we can create opportunities for them that they can utilize in their next job.
Man, if every manager thought like you, I don’t think retail would be as “doomed” as it’s rumored to be.
[laughs] I get that people who are working or interning with us, this may not be their 20-year plan. And that’s okay.
Could you share a specific story about something else you’re proud of about Seldom Seen?
My proudest moments are when I get emails that people want to work with us. They share that they love the energy in our store and want to be a part of it. There’s something that they’re feeling that’s not tangible. The only way that Daniel and I are going to continue to succeed is with that help. That’s when I feel that we’re doing something right.
For sure, when people catch on to your vision, so you know you’re not crazy.
Yeah, people want to be a part of our vision, and we’re grateful that they see value and growth in us and want to help us get to the next level.
So what would be the next level for you guys?
We have goals of opening more stores. I don’t think it’s about the number of stores or the amount of revenue, for Daniel and I. It’s more about the team that we’re creating.
Letting growth be people-driven rather than bottom-line-driven.
Exactly. It all goes back to people for us.
What’s it like to have Dor in your store?
I only have really great things to say about it. For us, Dor has helped us make good business decisions, and we’ve been able to quantify our wins and celebrate them. We’ll be at a year [of using Dor] in July, and we can’t wait to compare last year’s numbers and this year’s, to see that growth and celebrate that with tangible, quantifiable data. We’ve made shifts in our hours, we’ve made scheduling changes based on traffic … I love how it gives us hourly data and I love that it shows weather.
Who is your ultimate retail space crush?
I’ve been watching a lot of HGTV so really into everything for the home right now. I love The Shed in Healdsburg -- I was just there this weekend. It’s beautifully curated and it makes me want to spend all of my free time in my kitchen. If I had to choose somewhere in San Francisco, I’d have to say St. Frank, their textiles are beautiful.
As a San Francisco native, where would you spend your day off in the city?
On the regular, I spend my days off working out (my favorites are Barry’s, TRX and Soul) and having breakfast or brunch at Stable Cafe or Jane. Some of my favorite places to go are Flora Grubb, Golden Gate Park and Lands End. I also get inspired by spending time with my boyfriend, friends and family, and value having some time alone journaling and reading.
Well, Natasha, thank you so much for your time!
Of course! Thank you so much.
Curious San Francisco explorers with good taste can say hello to the Seldom Seen team at 522 Octavia Street from 11am-7pm Mon-Sat and 12pm-6pm Sun. Visit Seldom Seen online at seldomseen.co or on Instagram at @seldomseen. Follow Natasha @natasha.k.wong. Want to be featured in Behind the Counter? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.