Headshot of Alex Dakoulas, founder of Strange Ways.
Alex Dakoulas, owner of Strange Ways, used his passion to grow his online shop into a successful brick-and-mortar business. — Strange Ways

Alex Dakoulas, owner of Strange Ways in New Haven, Connecticut, believes a successful business begins with passion — not financial motivation.

“Don’t start a business to make money,” he said. “You’ll get bored of it. [Instead,] begin with something you’re passionate about. If you are interested in it, you should be able to find others like you [who] will want to be a part of it.”

Strange Ways was born out of passion in 2014 when Dakoulas launched the business online. He describes it as “a curated shop” that showcases the work of over 100 independent artists and designers. Customers can find a wide variety of statement pieces, from fun graphic tees to pins and patches that add a personal flair to any wardrobe item.

Working with so many different artists allows Dakoulas to have a consistent rotation of new inventory, giving customers even more of an opportunity to find something that expresses their individual styles.

Making meaningful connections and championing the work of others

One of Dakoulas’s favorite parts of being a store owner has been showcasing the work of others and exposing customers to talented artists they may have never known about. He buys a lot of work from local artists in his community, a decision he believes gives Strange Ways a more authentic feel.

“So many artists aren’t great marketers of their work,” he said. “I love being able to connect those dots with customers.”

Online customers and sales are a powerful way to reach a large audience, but there can often be a tangible connectedness that is lost. Since Strange Ways showcases emotional, opinionated, and shareable work, having a space to do that [in person] expanded the scope of the product.

Alex Dakoulas, Founder, Strange Ways

Additionally, Dakoulas has a connection to the artists he works with and selects items for the store that he would personally use or wear.

“The social issues came naturally as a gay man, as someone who doesn’t tick every heteronormative box,” Dakoulas said. “Once I started carrying things I would want for myself, [I started] to see how others appreciate this, too.”

[Read more: How to Use Content Marketing to Grow Your Business]

Using your platform to create a community

Strange Ways has been a passion project from the beginning, and after his first year of online sales, Dakoulas decided to expand to a brick-and-mortar location.

“Online customers and sales are a powerful way to reach a large audience, but there can often be a tangible connectedness that is lost,” he said. “Since Strange Ways showcases emotional, opinionated, and shareable work, having a space to do that [in person] expanded the scope of the product.”

Opening a physical space has also changed the way that Dakoulas runs his business. For other entrepreneurs considering this pivot, it’s important to keep in mind the unique challenges that come with operating in person as opposed to strictly online.

“Running a physical location is much more regimented and involved than being solely online—it’s seriously still something I am trying to master!” Dakoulas said. “You can't hide away in a studio and just send stuff off in the dark. Now things need to be merchandised, the store staffed, and customers [welcomed] as they’re walking in.”

But despite the learning curve, having a physical store has worked in his favor. Strange Ways has recently expanded by moving into a much larger space in downtown New Haven. Dakoulas now has an office space where he’s able to host events, shoot products, and increase production.

“The space allows us to invite other creatives in, and continue that thread of community which goes naturally with what Strange Ways is about,” he said.

[Read more: 10 Small Business Growth Strategies for 2022]

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Published August 11, 2022