When Ashley Moberg’s “happy place” was in danger of turning into a tragedy, her pivot to live video sales turned her customers into friends and led to a new home for her Real Deals home decor and clothing store.
“This place provides something for people more than just decor and clothing. A lot of us have become friends through this. There’s a lot of women that will come in and call it their happy place, which always touches my heart,” says Moberg from the backroom of her still-new northwest Rochester store.
“The name of the LLC for the store is ‘My Happy Place, LLC.’ So when people call it that as well, I love that,” she says. “You don’t have to buy something every time you come in here. You might be going through something in your life and it makes you feel better to get kind of lost in the cute decor and cute clothes. … Retail therapy is a real thing.”
Moberg’s journey—the one that has led her to build a new 7,000-square-foot store just less than five years after she introduced Rochester to Real Deals—started with a road trip to Iowa.
Her mother took her on that Iowa trip to visit a Real Deals store. Each home decor and clothing boutique is a locally owned franchise that chooses and buys its own products. However, each of the almost 70 locations all strive to create a fun place, where customers enjoy spending time.
“We were in just complete awe of these stores… We would literally load up a whole vehicle,” Moberg recalls. “Yeah. I would look at my husband and say, ‘I would love to open a store like that someday.”
It took three years of visiting Real Deals before the then-33-year-old Moberg decided to leave her stable job of 13 years at Mayo Clinic to jump into the world of retail.
“It was a huge, huge leap of faith to do something like this, but I just knew Rochester didn’t have anything like this,” says Moberg. “And I knew that the women of Rochester and the surrounding areas, once they got to know this store, would just keep coming.”
On Oct. 15, 2017, Ashley and husband Andrew Moberg opened the doors of their original Real Deals store at 525 Sixth Ave. NW in the former Trading Post tools warehouse. They had three employees on staff.
“The customer support there was great. We had a line down the block waiting to get in that grand opening week each day. I knew being in that spot was going to be semi-tricky, because of the location and lack of parking,” she says. “So I was doing everything I could to show people what we had in the store through advertising.”
That approach set a precedent that became a very important tool for Moberg and the Real Deals during the difficult times to come.
In the Real Deals second year on Sixth Avenue, construction tore up the street and limited access for about three months. That meant her customers had to walk at least a block through a construction zone.
Despite the obstacles, Moberg worked hard to keep the Real Deals momentum, which built up to a very busy 2019 fall/holiday season. She was just starting to relax a bit, when the COVID pandemic hit.
“I just felt like I got kicked in the gut twice,” she remembers with a wince. “I was just looking at a store full of merchandise and I had no way to sell it.”
With the store’s doors closed and her employees on furlough, Moberg racked her brain about what to do next.
“I just looked at my husband and said, ‘I am going to figure something out, because this store cannot die not only because we love it, but there’s so many people in Rochester that love it. I just can’t let these people down.’ I just felt such a responsibility to continue to bring this kind of fun and joy to everybody that walks in,” she says.
Her solution was to advertise specific products through various means, including advertising online through videos. Going beyond the clothing she had modeled and sold in the past, she added the extensive lines of home decor products to the videos.
The challenge was that Moberg did not want to ship the often large and fragile pieces of decor. That inspired her to take a page from the playbook of many area restaurants to offer curbside pickup of decor items purchased during the online sales.
The first video advertising event during the first week of the pandemic shut-down was a blind leap of faith. The Mobergs set their expectations low, with a goal of making five sales.
Her homebound customers responded by making 50 home decor purchases. A devoted community quickly started watching the Real Deals live-streams.
With the help of loyal friends and unpaid staff, she started shooting four to five live home decor videos a week. That meant working 18 hour days in the still-closed storefront.
“We were so blessed from the start. I didn’t know if it was going to bomb or if it was gonna be successful … I quickly found out that with each sale my relationship with the customers turned into friendship. We became kind of a family. We were all going through this COVID unknown together,” recalls Moberg.
The video advertising became so popular that even when Real Deals was able to open up again, the customers asked Moberg to keep them going. The sale had become something customers looked forward to each week.
The loyal community of customers viewing the sales did more than just help Real Deals survive the pandemic. The store was thriving by the time COVID became less of a daily threat and retail returned to somewhat normal.
Old challenges returned with that normality. The Sixth Avenue store had five parking spaces for customers plus whatever street parking might be available. That just wasn’t enough for a store that would ring up 200 customers within five hours on a Saturday.
Customers started telling the staff that when parking wasn’t available, they would just cancel their Real Deals shopping trip and go home.
Moberg says hearing that broke her heart. There was no way to know how many customers were turned away. Then the calendar showed that the Sixth Avenue store’s lease would be up for renewal soon.
Keeping in mind the lack of parking and other challenges at the original store, the Real Deals team started doing some calculations to see if building their own store from the ground up was possible. It all added up to another leap into the unknown for the Mobergs.
“Real Deals is a huge part of our family and we don’t want anything to happen to it for a really long time. So we decided to be crazy again and do it … build a new store,” she says.
They purchased open land on 19th Street Northwest, just west of Zen Fusion Hibachi & Lounge and in front of CineMagic Hollywood 12 Theatre. Today a white barn-like building stands on the site at 2050 Jordyn Road NW with a parking lot that Moberg describes as “huge.”
After all of the big changes starting with the 2017 to leave behind a stable job to open a store, the Mobergs now have a popular Rochester shopping destination built to their specifications.
The bustle of the store gearing up the holidays and managing a staff of 13 doesn’t leave much time for reflection on the past. However, when pressed, Moberg did talk about the journey of the past five years.
“I just always found a way to pivot and make it so that whatever challenge was upon us didn’t eat us alive… I’m a firm believer, at this point, that people recognize hard work when they see it. And they want to be a part of it. And they feel like they’re a part of that story,” she says. “All of my customers are a part of our success story. They’re the reason why we have a success story. They still talk about the COVID time when we were shut down. They were a part of all of it.”