Unique Markets

LOS ANGELES Unique Markets, the well-curated bazaar of goods from local businesses, is eyeing scale with the launch of a franchising program.

The pop-up marketplace, which began and made a name for itself in Los Angeles and has since had iterations in cities such as San Francisco, New York, Austin, Tex., and Washington, D.C., is now offering franchising of Unique Markets both here in the States and abroad. An international deal would mark the first time Unique goes overseas.

It’s a major milestone for founder and chief executive officer Sonja Rasula, the HGTV star who has been running the business and a corporate team of seven for a decade now. The market has crafted a branding of its own that takes the neighborhood craft bazaars and elevates them with trendy assortments of everything from apparel and jewelry to home decor and stationery from local businesses.

“I’ve seen the amazing, positive impact that it’s had in Los Angeles and other cities that we’ve grown to and so I really wanted to make an even larger impact, not just in local communities but really in the American local economy and in general,” Rasula said of the decision to start franchising.

The company, since its start, said it has worked with more than 10,000 small business owners and reported more than $25 million in sales across that same time period.

The timing of the franchise program comes with the growing interest in entrepreneurship taking hold across generations and tools, such as social media, helping companies grow.

“Ten years ago, Etsy was just getting started. Instagram did not exist. The world was different and so the level of professionalism and entrepreneurship back then compared to now is incredibly different and has been really exciting to witness,” Rasula said. “Ten years ago, even five or six years ago, a lot of the small business owners would consider what they were doing a side hustle. But now, in 2019, I’ve really seen a difference in the attitudes of entrepreneurs themselves. There’s been an acceptance of entrepreneurship and an excitement around it over the last few years. These small jewelry designers, their attitude used to be ‘Oh, I have a jewelry line, but I sell on the side.’ Their attitude now is ‘I’m a jewelry designer. I’m a badass and I’m ready to take on the world.’”

Rasula added the surge in empowerment more specifically around female entrepreneurship is also a trend that’s taken hold more recently that didn’t necessarily exist when Unique Markets first launched. More than 70 percent of the market’s sellers are women currently.

The idea originally was to grow Unique Markets by using the in-house team to bring it to different cities, which the company has done. The challenge in doing that, Rasula said, has been the resources required to pull off each of those shows.

“The one thing that I realized was that I was only one person and that it was going to be challenging to really grow and have that amazing, positive impact that I envisioned,” she said.

About two-and-a-half years ago Rasula began researching franchising. She also saw the movie the “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton, which further pushed her into the idea.

No franchise deals have been struck but Rasula said people have over the years consistently emailed about starting a Unique in their own cities in the U.S. and outside of the country. Popular inquiries have typically come from places such as San Francisco, New York, Portland, Ore., and Miami.

“Each city has their own vibe, which is the fun part,” Rasula said. “In general, we curate very specifically and we look for specific aesthetics and types of products and price points.…But the fun thing is, yes, in Seattle there’s going to be more designers doing outerwear for instance as opposed to in Los Angeles we’ll probably have a lot more business owners in the swimwear design field. So, from city to city, there’s definitely something that makes everything unique.”

Costs for franchisees will range from roughly $60,000 to $100,000. However, pricing is all based on each deal and territory involved. The plan is to have one market and one owner per city, Rasula said. Franchisees, before starting their market, would come to Los Angeles for a five-day intensive training on best practices, running a business, public relations and social media among other aspects for launching their own Unique Markets.

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