The Dose Market was a monthly retail event that drew a huge crowd to Chicago’s River East Arts Center for every single installment. It was filled with locally-made clothes, jewelry, art and much more; served food from a huge selection of vendors and offered up tons of libations. In short, it was the perfect way to spend one Sunday a month. But then the River East Arts Center closed and the market was, for a few months, without a home. Sunday September 21 marked the return of Dose, albeit in a different space (find it at 401 N. Morgan from here on out), a different lineup and a completely revamped schedule. I chatted with the founder of the market, April Francis, about what we can expect this time around and how one woman managed to create what has become one of the most important and influential players in Chicago’s retail scene. Read on for more info.
STATEMENT/scene: Walk me through your background a little bit. What were you doing before you started Dose?
April Francis: Well it goes back a little bit. I started a business called Haute Closet out of college. It was a wardrobe styling service and a blog. I met all these people in Chicago who were making things, business owners and then started working in sales and marketing at a company called Black/Francis – we did PR for people like Samantha Sleeper and Rag & Bone. We ended up dissolving and someone was like ‘you should do a market at the River East Arts Center.’ I looked back at my work history and my experience and I had had 10 years of experience at markets, art fairs, trade shows. I’d been on multiple sides of that kind of thing. I went to the space, fell in love with and wrote the buiness plan right away. I knew it was going to be a market featuring people who made excellent things.
SS: Being that this wasn’t the first venture you started, what did you do differently with Dose than you’d ever done before?
AF: That’s a great question. The previous ventures, I’d written a big plan and then I jut started executing all the tasks that needed to be done. I can’t really say I did anything out of the norm. I wrote the business plan for Dose in Novemeber 2010 and the first market launched in June 2011.
SS: Did it take off immediately or did it take a little while for people to understand what the concept was?
AF: Dose was extremely well-recieved. November-June was all prep so with the first one, a lot of people came out and there was an incredible lineup of Dosers. There was an incredible team in place and I think people really liked Dose at the onset. That was awesome.
SS: You moved Dose to a new location. What was the biggest thing you looked for when trying to find the right place?
AF: Light. Lots of natural light. It’s just so important for me to see beautiful things showcased in a beautiful way. That was the whole idea behind Dose. Unlike a street fairer something, it was about creating a beautiful space with beautiful fixtures. The River East Arts Center was flooded with lights and it creates a great marketplace feeling. I was just looking for a big space. It was unfortunate when River East closed.
SS: What do you look for in a Doser?
AF: I look for people who are truly excited about what they’re doing, who produce their products in a really exceptional way. Those are the criteria: A great energy for doing what they’re doing and also just producing a great product.
SS: You guys have a very local focus. Do you ever see it expanding beyond Chicago?
AF: You know, I created Dose for Chicago. I really did. We didn’t have anything like it and i thought it was necessary. There were so many people producing so many things and they needed a place to showcase their work. I’ve never been serious about moving to a different city.
SS: How did you go about creating a concept that really didn’t exist here up until Dose’s release? Where did you find inspiration?
AF: It was truly that moment when I was told I should do a market at River East. It just clocked and I knew that’s what I was going to do.
SS: What’s the most rewarding thing about having something of your own that you started from the ground up by yourself?
AF: It’s rewarding in so many ways. It can be really difficult. Frankly, I don’t have any other way. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial.
SS: Other than the obvious location change, what’s going to set the new Dose Market apart from what people are used to experiencing?
AF: I think we’re doing the same thing. Ultimately Dose is about showcasing people who are doing great things. We’re staying true to that. I’m not doing Dose monthly anymore. We’re doing this Dose and then the Holi-Dose in December.
SS: What made you decide to change the schedule?
AF: I was in a car accident at the end of last year. It just took me out and I couldn’t work. It just gave me time to reprioritize and think about it and based on what people want right now I think doing it quarterly just makes the most sense.
SS: Finally, what’s your advice for someone who wants to start a business that’s completely unlike anything else out there?
AF: I would say communication is so important. Clearly communicating your message with words and images is so key.