The Shopkeeper Chronicles: Monsoon Market

The Shopkeeper Chronicles: Monsoon Market

Nov 20, 2023

Shops around the corner Monsoon market interview
Shops around the corner Monsoon market interview

Monsoon Market is an indie shop located in Phoenix, Arizona. This eclectic market was founded by Koral and Michela in 2021. In just two years, Monsoon Market has made a name for itself as one of the coolest stores in Phoenix to discover new and exciting brands. Whether it’s at Monsoon’s drag show or another event, you’re bound to snack on or drink something you haven’t ever before!

Michela and Koral share their story about founding Monsoon Market and discuss the ins-and-outs of running an indie market. 

How did you come up with the concept for Monsoon Market? 

Michela: I had a cocktail truck at the local farmers market during the pandemic. I saw firsthand how people wanted to come out and support local businesses and their need and desire for discovery. I was thinking about creating a "local-pantry neighborhood market concept" and told Koral about it. We spoke about it briefly, but the idea fell asleep, and we resumed our normal lives. About six months later, Koral called me up and said she drove by an empty building and it would be perfect for the store. Over the next few months, we started meeting for beers once a week to solidify the plans.

Koral: During these meetings we started dreaming about what a place full of our favorite things would have: fresh flowers, local fresh bread, and all the farmers market staples. We were also very inspired by all the emerging snack and beverage brands. We kept seeing them on Instagram and wondered why we couldn't find any of these brands in Phoenix. We wanted to create a store with a mix of local, Phoenix brands and the hard- to-find food & bev brands.

Monsoon Market is super unique. How did you furnish the space?

Koral: We are self-funded, so we thrifted furniture. We hunted on Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and Craigslist every day. My favorite story is how we repainted the walls. We went to Lowe’s to buy paint and decided we weren’t going to pay $300 for it. We went to Habitat for Humanity, bought paint for $60, and repainted the walls. We did have some money in TI (Tenant Improvement allowance), which was a huge help.  It's funny because many people who walk into Monsoon think it was "designed" and ask us who designed it. That’s so not the case! 

Michela and Koral at their shop, shot on film

What advice do you have for people considering opening a store? 

Koral:  You don't need to hire someone for everything. When it came to our logo and branding, we had a few consultations with agencies but eventually realized it didn’t make sense to pay thousands of dollars for a standard brand package when people didn’t even know our store yet. We worked with a then-local illustrator, Jordan Bartin, to make our logo. We are constantly tweaking and building our brand; it's never going to be perfect from the beginning. 

What should it feel like shopping at Monsoon Market?  

Koral: When people walk into the store, we want them to feel cool and every customer interaction to feel comfortable. To us, cool means comfortable.

Michela: Compared to other big cities like NY or LA, Phoenix is very much still defining itself. It feels like a young city. Monsoon Market is a new concept that’s helping to define this new definition of Phoenix. The way someone feels when they shop at Monsoon Market is how we want living in Phoenix to feel.

Who is Monsoon Market? 

Koral: We very much approach Monsoon Market as a person: a teenage girl, as we like to say, who is evolving and changing all the time. She's telling us who she wants to be, what she wants to look like, and how she wants to interact with our community. We’re guidelines for keeping it on track and pushing it in a certain direction, but you always need to be open-minded with your business.


How do you figure out what products to sell? 

Michela: In the beginning, it was cold emailing and requesting samples. 

At this point, we're lucky enough to receive many vendor requests each week so now it's a process of evaluating the vendor/brand. We want to be on the look out for brands trying to break into the Phoenix market and new brands that aren't represented at a large-scale. If a brand is in Target, Whole Foods, and Sprouts, then Monsoon is probably not the right fit. We also look at packaging. We want the packaging to be eye catching. Of course, the product also needs to taste good. We usually do some sampling with the team, which is really fun. We've been making TikTok content out of it. 

Koral: The market fridges have become a little competitive! In order to welcome someone new, we got to kick someone out. We have to dwindle down flavors. It really makes us ask: how many CBD beverages do we need in a cold case? How many versions of Tepache do we need? In our opinion, there's a good answer to that for each category. We have to make that call about what people really want to see in the fridges and what brands fit well with us. 

Are there any brands you betted on early on that are now big? 

Koral: Courtside. We were with them on day one! They actually asked us to be a part of their very first launch. We were one of the only, if not the only, retailer that had Courtside the day they officially launched online. Courtside’s founder, Austin, has family in Phoenix and they came into the store on Courtside's launch day. It’s such a cool experience to turn people onto brands like Courtside then see the brands grow and stocked in other stores across Phoenix. We're just so grateful and appreciative that these brands trust us to rep them. 

How do you manage your relationships with vendors? 

Koral: Managing and fostering those relationships is really important to us. We're not a store that just orders everything on Faire. We think Faire is an awesome and convenient platform, but we order a lot of stuff directly from brands. The smaller brands we work with don’t want to sacrifice margin to Faire. We also work with brands that are old school that want us to mail a check. As the owners of business and buyers for the shop, we manage a lot of one-to-one relationships . 

Will you open up a second location? 

Michela: Koral always equates it to an Italian Deli. People keep asking if Monsoon is going to expand to a second location. Koral always says, “Well no one's favorite Italian deli is more than one location.” 

How is foot-traffic currently coming in? 

Koral: It currently comes from our social media presence. People are finding us on TikTok and Instagram UGC. We’re one of those shops that people share across socials.  

How can brands help support the stores they are in?

Michela: Brands shouting out where the products are and linking to Monsoon is super helpful to get people connected with us and hopefully in the door. Brands like Graza do this, and we’ve had people mention they came in because of looking at the stockist page. 

Koral:  I know getting into big accounts is a huge accomplishment, but if your brand cares about being seen in indie shops, supporting indie shops with marketing money makes a difference. For example, we had a meeting with Mark from Ghia (Head of Sales) and it was such an incredible conversation. We appreciated him taking the time to sit down with us and ask: “What can we do to support Ghia sales at Monsoon?” Ghia is one of our best brands and we’ve had them since the day we’ve opened. Ghia can support us by sending out a regional email blast telling people where they can find Ghia in Phoenix. Other ways brands can support us is by doing a content exchange, sponsoring our wine club, or sponsoring events. The brand needs to be willing to be a part of something that’s a more localized, intimate event that this one community will see you, the brand, as the star of. For example, we had Gigantic Candy Bars reach out to us to be a part of our Halloween party. 

Michela: We don’t even carry Gigantic right now, but the best case scenario is everybody's going to love Gigantic and ask if we carry it. Then we're going to have to buy it!