Dinkytown’s Hemporium finds its niche

Stacy Jo

Nearing the end of the crucial first year of operation, Christopher Repinski has done what many before him have failed to do: keep a small storefront alive in the notoriously difficult retail sales industry.
With just $6,000 to contribute toward his inventory and retail space, Repinski opened Hemporium in Dinkytown this past January. The store sells products made of hemp, a natural fiber of the cannabis sativa plant.
While long-term financial stability is far from assured, the Hemporium’s longevity, even at 11 months, places it in an elite category.
Tom Culley, author of “Beating the Odds in Small Business,” said that “if you’ve survived between one and two years, you’re probably safe.” Seventy percent of small businesses fail in that critical time frame.
In a business’ early years, owners must concentrate more on just keeping afloat than on raking in huge profits, Culley said.
Entrepreneurs often set out with unrealistic expectations for their businesses and are usually disappointed with their less-than-remarkable profits. But just breaking even within the first few years, Culley said, is a success in itself.
With the interests of his customers in mind, Repinski tailors his inventory to what sells most consistently; he said hemp clothing and body care items seem to be the top picks of his patrons. He expects people will demand a greater range of products as they learn more about hemp.
Although Repinski has carved a niche for himself in the local retail market, he foresees that when hemp merchandise increases in popularity, he’ll lose his niche to new competitors.
“Hemp has made great strides in the last couple of years,” Repinski said. If larger businesses tap into the market, Repinski said his business might falter.
Culley said the primary edge that large businesses have over smaller ones is that they already have an organizational structure intact.
Larger companies have the buying power to purchase and sell products at prices lower than storefronts like Hemporium are capable of matching. What might save Repinski and his hemp venture is his proximity to the University; students, he said, are more in tune with his merchandise.
In tune or not, students are willing to pay the price for hemp clothing, which remains costly since the fiber must be imported from China, Hungary, Nepal, and other countries.
If other businesses move in and offer lower prices, Culley said, Hemporium must distinguish itself as a retailer that is specialized and unique, not just another clothing store.