After two years of making Queen Westers look so good, this speciality skin-care/grooming-products boutique is now expanding into The Distillery District.
For over two years now, Jacob & Sebastian (622 Queen St. W.) has been catering to the personal grooming needs of west-enders. This weekend, owner Joel Dart opens the doors to his new, long-in-the-works Distillery District location at 27 Tank House Lane, just in time to take advantage of the area’s bustling Christmas Market.
How it all started: Before opening Jacob & Sebastian, Dart managed a jewelry store in the Distillery. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” he says. “And then I thought, ‘I’m doing this for someone else, so why not for myself?’”
With Jacob & Sebastian being Dart’s first entrepreneurial venture, he initially suffered from some unrealistic expectations. “I didn’t really know what to expect with a brand new, no-one’s-ever-heard-of-it-store,” he says. “At first I was devastated—I spent so much time getting the store ready, working such incredibly long hours, and then we opened the doors on that first day and five people came in. But it’s okay. It’s slow and steady and it worked out. It took a long time but, now, almost three years in, I feel like it’s probably exceeded my expectations.”
What’s in store: Dart eschews the more conventional routes to stocking his shop and instead relies on the relationships he’s built with his customers. “I don’t go to any trade shows or anything like that,” he says. “In the beginning, it was just about research, travel, and scouring the internet. Now it’s still that, but it’s also customers saying, ‘this is amazing, can you bring it in?’ and if I like it, then I usually do. Really, it’s been very organic and we’ve just allowed Queen West to decide what we sell.”
The price point can be a barrier for some customers, initially. “Things are a little more expensive, but there’s a reason why,” says Dart. “When customers realize why something’s a little more expensive—how much more concentrated it is, that they’ll have it three times as long as they would something that’s half the price—they usually get around it. Or even just after that first splurge, they understand and then they’re happy to pay a little more.”
Jacob & Sebastian’s most popular product line is a skin-care brand that falls in the middle of the shop’s price range. “Mario Badescu—it’s from New York and we’re one of the only stores in Toronto to carry it,” says Dart. “It’s a staple that I think reflects Queen West—it’s not super-crazy expensive, but it’s still really cool and niche. And it works, first and foremost—I’ve seen it make huge differences.”
Organic matters—maybe: With the extensive range of organic and natural products available at Jacob & Sebastian, one might think this sort of ethical, eco-conscious merchandising is a core philosophy. “Really it’s not, or at least it wasn’t meant to be,” says Dart. “There are just so many amazing organic and natural lines out there that I’m bringing more and more of them in all the time. At the same time though, the all-natural thing can be an iffy line. Vitamin C is all-natural, but in very high concentrations it can be toxic. So I’m kind of on the fence with that. I’ve done my research, I know what I like, and if a customer wants all-natural then I have some of the best in the world. But there’s really something for everyone, from organic and natural to totally dermatological.”
Educating the customer: Given the wealth of products available at the shop, some with very specific usages in mind, the customers at Jacob & Sebastian require a fair amount of guidance. “People are very serious about their skin,” says Dart. “It’s not really a store where someone can come in, grab a basket and shop as if they were at Shoppers Drug Mart. Everything—from soap to lip balm—needs more explanation.”
In this regard, extensive product knowledge is key. “At this point, I can usually, within a few questions, point someone in the right direction,” says Dart. “Not only do we do all the training and the product knowledge, read all the reviews and the blogs, but we try everything in the store, and I have tried everything.”
The eastward expansion: “The Distillery has always been in my foresight as an option for space,” Dart says. “Then this new condo was built, some amazing new spaces became available, and that’s how it came together.”
Things, however, didn’t come together as smoothly as Dart would have hoped. In fact, the new location will still be getting its finishing touches during its initial opening run. “Originally, the space was supposed to be open in the summer,” he says. “But I knew that it wouldn’t be, because with any new build there’s going to be numerous setbacks. So I was willing to just wait and see. I’m really in no hurry; with the other store, I’m busy enough. It just happened when it happened and I rolled with it.”
Stocking stuffers: While the gift basket is a staple of holiday-gift giving, Dart steers his customers clear of pre-made options and instead encourages them to mix-and-match. “People love to use their imaginations and make their own [baskets],” he says. “You go many different ways with that. We can create different themes—if someone wants to do a travel-inspired pack for someone going away, we’ll pull different things from all different lines and different countries. It becomes special, in the end—it’s really personal and unique.”