For nearly 25 years, one local antique store has continued to grow. Today, sitting at over 11,000 square feet on the west side of Lansing, Mich., Little Red Schoolhouse Antiques and Crafts is stronger than ever thanks to its unique attention to detail and commitment to providing quality. When co-owners Ann Hackler and Penni Raffler opened the doors to their shop in 1993 at its original location, a vacant schoolhouse from which the shop’s name derives — they never expected it to grow into the massive, vintage craft and antique haven that it is today.
Here you’ll find some of the most unique items, ranging from the ever-popular antique storefront signs to today’s trending décor pieces, but you certainly won’t find junk. Typically, when we think of antique shops, we envision a scattering of booths crammed with items. What separates this business from its competitors is also the secret to their quarter century’s worth of success.
“The biggest secret to our success is our selection process for vendors,” explained Hackler. “Every new seller has to pass through a jury, which judges them on quality, marketability and selection so that we’re not doubling up on things that we’re already selling too much of. We want to keep that level of quality consistent to avoid looking like a flea market.”
While Hackler and Raffler are the brains behind the operation, they can’t take credit for everything. Vendors work collaboratively to ensure their individual success within the store, which collectively acts as quality control. This system is what helps define the shop, allowing items to flow and transition by section without a hiccup. Each item and space is unique, still acting cohesively to give customers a seamless experience as they walk through rows of eye-catching pieces.
“Every one of our vendors that has a space here essentially has their own business, and it’s important to them, just as much as this entire operation is important to us,” said Hackler. The hardest part is ensuring that everyone is successful and that we’re doing all we can to make sure they are. Not everyone is, but when they leave, it’s an opportunity for our store to learn what doesn’t sell and recreate itself.”
Little Red Schoolhouse’s years of expertise have culminated into good taste; there truly is something here for everyone, but keeping this statement factual requires a bit of risk and reward.
“We try to have a good selection of everything,” said Hackler. “Sometimes it’s just a gamble. We try to buy what we like and hope that they like it too. It’s challenging because with the Internet, everyone’s able to pull out their phone and quickly see what items are selling for on eBay. So, we do our research to try to see what’s selling and keep our prices a bit lower than what’s available online.”
An integral aspect of Little Red Schoolhouse is its ability to evolve. As time passes, styles change, items fluctuate in value and meeting the desires of customers becomes more difficult. However, the contrast in vendors and their focus allow the shop to stay current, and that same tactic will push them into the future.
“Our constant goal is to always be up-to-date with trends,” said Hackler. “They’re always changing, and we want to make sure we’re bringing in items that reflect that. Our long-term goal is to eventually take the shop online, because that’s ultimately where everything is headed, and we recognize that. However, we believe physically exploring antique shops is an experience and want to make sure we can always offer that.”
Vendors like Gary Eiseler, who operates Homeward Bound, have their fingers on the pulse and grasp at trending styles from the hottest home improvement, décor and antiquing programming on television such as HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”. Bringing stylish goods into the store allows customers to transform their homes with ease, removing the need to take on extensive Do-It-Yourself projects to make their renovation dreams a reality.
“I travel across the country several times a year seeking out the latest trends, which tends to be anything farmhouse, repurposed, shabby and the like. In my travels, I also try to find unique “Made in America” handcrafted items,” said Eiseler. “Most items in Homeward Bound are not seen anywhere locally and that gives me real satisfaction that customers feel they have something really unique.”
In the world of antiquing, the most powerful tool is self-awareness. Knowing the climate of trends, the desires of customers and the value that comes from quality are what makes Little Red Schoolhouse a time capsule that never grows old. Experience the world they’ve created for yourself at 5002 W. Saginaw Highway, next to the Lansing Mall.