Store name: The Sacred Well
Location: 536 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610; 510/444-9355
Owners: Rabbit Matthews and Barry Perlman
Date opened: October 19, 2007
Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Number of employees: 6 (3 full time, 3 part time)
Square footage: 1,000 sq. ft. including back office and reading room (600 sq. ft. of retail space)
Bestsellers: crystals, crystal jewelry, incense, books
Favorite wholesalers: Coventry Creations, Gypsy Goddess, Maroma, AhhhMuse, Fred Soll’s Incense
Inventory method: by hand
“Serendipitous" is a word partners Barry Perlman and Rabbit Matthews, owners of The Sacred Well in Oakland, Calif., frequently use when talking about their retail journey. Introduced by mutual acquaintances over brunch at a Buddhist temple several years ago, they quickly became fast friends. The pair soon discovered they both had long held the same dream—owning a shop.
In fact, Rabbit, a Pagan high priestess, says she knew her future early on and announced it when she was a child living in western New York. She told her mother she was going to “move to Berkeley, live with the hippies, and open a store,” although she wasn’t sure what type of store. Perlman, a practicing astrologer who operates under the separate business name “Astrobarry,” wanted a place where he could teach astrology and do readings. But it wasn’t until 2006 that they knew the time was right.
Perlman was at the gym on winter solstice when, he says, “the idea popped into my head to open a store with Rabbit.” He called her at home, where she was about to celebrate the sabbat; she said yes immediately.
Although their doors didn’t open until nearly a year later, Perlman and Rabbit used that time to flesh out their business model down to the smallest detail, and their extra patience paid off.
Named after a sacred site for the goddess Brigid that Rabbit had visited in Ireland (which she found through—yep—serendipity), The Sacred Well may look like a New Age retail store, but it’s a lot more, Perlman and Rabbit say. Every action is based on the concept of infinite abundance, which plays an integral part in their business plan.
Perlman says, “We strive to unhook the model that says making money is corrupt, not in line with the spiritual.”
“We see money as positive energy,” Rabbit says. “We’ve created magic in the store, with the intent that for those who have spent money here, they have greater abundance in their own lives. And it works.”
Even the energy their staff bring into the store is taken into consideration. “When we interview potential employees, we ask them their views on abundance,” Perlman says. “We need people to be able to believe it’s all right to sell beautiful and useful items to our customers [without feeling it’s wrong],” Perlman says.
All of this attention to the energy surrounding money and commerce has paid off, they say. Even though they opened the store just before the economic crash, it survived and thrived. “Last year, our sales were up 10 percent,” Rabbit points out. “This year, our sales have been up 12 percent over that. Even in the current economic climate, we’ve had to hire another employee—in the middle of a recession! Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a slow day once in a while, but we work it out. We hope to be an inspiration to others who might be struggling.” Her advice? “Trust. Be responsive. Be open to other options.”
In other words, be open to any serendipity the Universe wants to share with you.
Dogs, cats, and rabbits
As for their business model and long-term vision, they’re based on animal interaction. Really. “Most businesses are organized like dog or cat power structures,” Rabbit explains. “Dogs have a hierarchy where one dog reports to the next higher dog, and that dog reports to the next higher dog, all the way to the top. Cats have one leader that all the cats report to. And then there are rabbits. They have many small, overlapping circles where power is shared. We want The Sacred Well to be based on a rabbit-like system.”
In business terms, that means The Sacred Well is run like a family business, even though none of the people who work there are related. (In addition to Rabbit and Perlman, The Sacred Well has two full-time managers and two part-time workers.)
“Barry and I are the ‘mom and pop’ owners,” Rabbit says, “but we can see having stores all over the country, all over the world, that are their own small circles. Ideally, this is the vision that will go on after we retire.”
Perlman and Rabbit say accommodating their employees’ personal needs is integral to having a happy staff—and that can mean taking the concept of “family business” literally. “Right now two of our employees have babies,” Rabbit says. “One brings her baby to work. We love the baby; the customers love the baby.”
The owners also want their employees to be as dedicated and invested in the store as they are and to benefit from the abundance it provides, beyond just collecting a paycheck. “Our two managers are on the path to becoming partners,” Rabbit says. “Our policy is after a certain amount of time working full time at the store, our employees can attain part ownership.”
“Magic happens every day”
Even their tagline, “Magic happens every day,” invokes the energy of abundance and the blessings of the Universe. Perlman, who came up with the line, says, “Remembering that magic happens every day keeps you open to receiving blessings. And big personal changes can be affected by small serendipitous events.”
Rabbit says it’s also an “intentional statement and magical affirmation recognizing the miracle of breath, the cycle of birth and death, nature … and reminds us that everything we do has an effect on the world. Magic is what you do by living, not just during a ritual at an altar.”
While Rabbit keeps her organization, the Come As You Are coven, separate from the store (it’s not a base of operations, she says, but there is some overlap, as coven members can take classes there, as well as purchase their supplies from the store), magic is a very important part of their day-to-day operations.
“When we opened, we did a ceremony that invoked the deities of many different pantheons; we promised to create a haven for all their followers,” Rabbit says.
The Sacred Well welcomes all paths and belief systems, many of which flourish in their “eclectic region,” as Rabbit calls it, and the store’s product lines, readers, and classes reflect that. Their inventory includes stones, crystals, and crystal jewelry; books and tarot cards; spell kits; ritual tools and supplies such as malas, prayer beads, athames, powders, herbs, essential oils, candles; and statuary.
They make their own line of blended essential oils created within a sacred space, gem elixirs using stones from their own collections, and herb essence elixirs made with plants from Rabbit’s garden, grown and harvested in accordance with the moon phases.
A “family” business
Classes held at the store cover subjects such as astrology, Wicca basics, reiki, and goddess energy; readings are done by Rabbit, Perlman, Iris (one of their managers), and several friends and professionals Perlman and Rabbit have known for a long time.
“So many times readers have walked into the store and expressed an interest in working here,” Perlman says, “but we keep tight control on who we allow to read for us. We’re critical. The readers we do use have been on our radar for many years.”
“Laura Kennedy, a hand analyst, has been in business for 20 years. Iyanifa Fakayode, our shell and palm nut reader, is world renowned,” says Rabbit. And Perlman has known channeler Mollie Jensen for many years. “We want to be able to stand behind our readers.”
Readers share a portion of their income with the store, Rabbit says, “but the readers keep most of the money. We don’t charge for rental of the space, in order to support the art of each of our readers.”
The Sacred Well also supports local artisans by buying their work outright or carrying it on consignment. Rabbit meets with each artist to ensure their work is a “good fit” for the store. “About 25 percent of the items we have in stock are from local artisans. Some find us; sometimes I find them at craft fairs. Sometimes friends who know what I like will tell me about artisans they saw at other fairs.”
Likewise, when they travel to the gem shows in Tucson and Denver, Perlman and Rabbit make a concerted effort to purchase stones, crystals, and jewelry from artisans and small, family-based vendors instead of from the larger dealers, all in the interest of supporting independent businesspeople.
The rest of the store’s inventory is purchased from wholesalers, and Perlman and Rabbit have fun trying to figure out what’s going to be popular in the store from week to week, because it varies just about as often.
“It goes in waves,” Rabbit says. “One week we can’t keep enough brown tourmaline in stock, another week the focus is on Orisha, and another week everyone wants cauldrons. It’s crazy. But that makes it fun to stock the store; we do it intuitively.”
Open to all
One thing The Sacred Well staff makes sure they encourage is inclusiveness. Not only do they welcome people with any type of belief system, they also welcome people with no belief system at all.
“Two or three new people come into the store every day,” Rabbit says. “And they all say, ‘I never knew you were here.’ We answer, ‘We become visible when you need us.’ Some of these people are seekers, but some say they don’t believe in ‘that stuff.’ Barry says to them, ‘Even if you don’t believe, these items are pretty and artistic, and they make you feel good. The customer says, ‘Well, I’ll just try this,’ and six months later they come back and tell us it really worked.”
Perlman adds, “It’s very important to us that anyone can come into our store and not believe, or not ‘get it.’ In other stores, you get the vibe that ‘you have to know something to be here.’ It’s very intimidating. We treat everyone like they belong here.”
Because there is no separate classroom in the 1,000-square-foot store, classes are held at the round table in the center of the 600-square-foot retail space. Rabbit calls the table the “heart” of the store, a place where people sit and chat when there isn’t a class going on. Classes are held during store hours, and shoppers might join in if they become interested in the subject matter.
“Sometimes people walk in off the street, realize there’s a class going on, and it hits them that the subject is exactly what they needed to learn about at that moment in their lives, or they’ll say, ‘I was just thinking about this topic.’ Having class in the middle of the store inspires curiosity and adds to the sense of community space,” Perlman says.
Onward into cyberspace
As popular as their brick-and-mortar store is, Rabbit and Perlman say their next goal is to beef up their online presence. They send out an e-newsletter to approximately 1,000 subscribers, and their focus in the coming year is to redesign their website (www.sacredwell.com) to include an online store and integrate their social media links (Facebook, Twitter) and blog. After that, they’d like to host tele-classes and readings by phone and Skype, “So readers and clients can see one another,” Rabbit says.
Their long-term goals include starting a publishing company, selling their own product lines wholesale, and starting up those multiple retail stores based on their mom-and-pop philosophy. “We want to encourage the evolution of the mom-and-pop style at the level of corporations’ success,” Rabbit says. “With authenticity and integrity.”
First published in Vol. 25 No. 2 of Retailing Insight. © 2011 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.