It’s not a dollar store, even though some of its prices are not much more than a buck.
And it’s not quite like HomeGoods. It has a smaller selection of home décor — and it also sells some groceries.
But it’s not really an Aldi either. After all, it sells mostly brand names as well as clothes and handbags and accessories.
So what exactly is Here Today?
The veteran retail team of St. Louis area executives who dreamed up this concept of a discount retail store say it’s a little bit of all the above, with its own upbeat twist. The first Here Today store opened this week in Florissant.
“It’s difficult to describe because it really isn’t like anything else,” said Bill Shaner, one of the investors and a former CEO of Earth City-based Save-A-Lot. “If you take a combination of a Trader Joe’s, a HomeGoods and a Five Below and mesh them all together — put them in a pot and stir them up — that’s Here Today.”
Shaner and the team of investors who have raised $6 million to support this value retail chain hope it will resonate with consumers enough to warrant opening dozens — and perhaps hundreds one day — of Here Today retail stores.
As alluded to in the name, the store is centered around the idea of a treasure hunt, with an always-changing inventory based on opportunistic buys, such as closeouts, overstock and other good deals the store’s buyers are able get their hands on.
The merchandise covers a wide spectrum of items, such as greeting cards, party supplies, home décor, frozen and dry foods, cleaning aids, women’s apparel and accessories, and a sizable wine and craft beer selection.
When the store quietly opened on Wednesday, it had prominently displayed R+J handbags and Lurex scarves, with signs above them noting they had been sold at Nordstrom and Anthropologie for more than double the price being offered.
Other deals promoted in the store included Essie nail polish for under $5 and 18-ounce boxes of Cheerios for $2.99. It even had Gouda cheese.
“We’re trying to frankly create a different niche of retailing that is a wonderful experience — a place that is fun and different and also meets needs,” said Tom Holley, one of the partners in the project.
Earlier in his career, Holley ran Grandpa’s, a chain of discount stores in the St. Louis region started by his grandfather and eventually sold to Value City. He also founded Deals Nothing Over a Dollar, which was later sold to Save-A-Lot and then to Dollar Tree.
The Here Today store in Florissant is brightly lit and has an open layout with low shelves — providing an elevated experience, the investors hope, from other discount chains with their often cluttered aisles.
Large whimsically named signs throughout the store signal various departments such as “Celebrate” for party supplies, “Imagine” for home décor, “and “Savor” for food.
And when shoppers walk in, they can help themselves to a free cup of coffee. On Wednesday, the shop was brewing Kaldi’s French Roast.
The new store concept hits a sweet spot in the retail industry right now. Value-oriented chains such as Five Below and Ross Dress for Less, as well as many dollar store chains, have been rapidly expanding in St. Louis and nationwide in the years since the recession.
Jason Long, owner of Manchester-based Shift Marketing Group, said Here Today may not be reinventing the retail wheel, but it does offer a different approach. He added that the marketplace has room for new concepts that elevate the experience of a dollar store and other discount chains.
“If you look at what Five Below has done, they took what seemed like an old, tired concept and really spruced it up a little bit,” Long said, referring to the up-and-coming chain targeted at teens and young adults, where everything is under $5. “Dollar stores are pretty no-frills. So if you can take that model and ‘Trader Joe’s’ it up a little bit, I think there’s something there.”
Long added that other chains have found success with the treasure hunt model, such as a club store, Costco, and places like Menards, where random artwork and groceries are sold along with typical home-improvement wares.
But one question facing Here Today is whether the thrill of the treasure hunt will be enough to drive traffic. Holley and his team think it will be, while also noting that the store carries a lot of basics such as milk and frozen foods.
“It’s not necessarily the place someone is going to go when they have primary grocery shopping to do,” said Shaner. “But it’s going to be a place where they have fill-in shopping to do and when they might need something for a birthday or a party or if they need something for their home.”
Here Today has plans for five to 10 more stores in the next two years in the St. Louis area, with hopes eventually of expanding the concept beyond the region. But Holley cautioned that they have to see if the concept works first.
“We have big plans,” he said. “But if nobody buys anything ...”
The investing team, which includes other former executives from Save-A-Lot, Grandpa’s and Deals, created an umbrella organization last year called GPO Merchants & Operators LLC, which is based in Brentwood.
GPO also is resurrecting the Grandpa’s name with two Grandpa’s Outlet stores slated to open in the coming weeks in Ellisville and O’Fallon, Mo.
Holley said those stores will have some overlap in merchandise with Here Today but will have more of a bare-bones format.
“We just want to fiddle around with it and have some fun with a discount format,” he said.
A third initiative the company has launched is a wholesale division: STL Global Sales. It acquires products at liquidations, bankruptcies and other buying opportunities and resells them to other discount merchants such as Menards and Save-A-Lot.
The 17,000-square-foot Here Today store at 770 North Highway 67 in Florissant will have a grand opening on Saturday. But some shoppers have already been checking it out since the soft opening on Wednesday afternoon. Many of the first shoppers seemed to like it, judging by the shopping bags they left with.
One shopper, Diana Joco of Florissant, stopped in when she was driving by, attracted by the green-and-blue sign. She filled her cart with several frozen food goods and called up a friend on the spot to tell her about the good deals she eyed.
Another Florissant resident, Dietra Long, walked around the store with her husband, commenting aloud about many of the prices she saw. Besides the prices, she also liked the upbeat atmosphere and helpful employees who reminded her of Trader Joe’s.
“It doesn’t feel like a dollar store,” she said. “It has better brand names and other useful stuff. I like it. It’s a feel-good store.”
As she continued browsing, she sipped from her free cup of coffee.