You can tell right away that the Green Monkey is not your typical gift shop. From the website to the storefront, to the products on the shelves, it’s proudly independent with a strong sense of humor and deep roots in its North Carolina community.
In many ways, the Green Monkey is a perfect reflection of Rusty Sutton, the shop’s owner for over a decade. “It’s a unique little place,” he says. “It’s a gift shop with a neighborhood bar inside. It’s very social, a place where people come to hang out, shop, and enjoy their favorite fine wine or craft beer. The best part is the people they meet and the friends they make here: it’s also a community hub.”
From flea market to retail shop
Sutton began his business with a modest tent at the local Raleigh Flea Market in 2007 and expanded to a brick and mortar store in 2013. Running the store became an all-consuming project, as Sutton’s life partner Drew Temple joined him and runs the enterprise alongside him as a business partner. From the beginning, Sutton says he envisioned the store as a place where visitors could both shop and socialize.
“One of the biggest things I tell other business owners is to be true to yourself, be true to your vision,” he says. “[The Green Monkey] space used to be an old, grungy convenience store. The person who loaned us the money [to open the store] suggested that we put a gift shop with a convenience store in the space, but that’s not really what I wanted. I wanted a wine bar or a coffee shop along with the gift shop because I always saw it as a very social place. I wanted to build a community hub.”
So far, he says, he’s realized that vision, though it took a little while to get there. “One of the biggest challenges we had was making sure we stuck to our vision,” he explains. “The first year, we didn’t stick to that vision and we almost went out of business. The moment we stood fast and said, ‘Okay, let’s do it our way. Let’s just do it the way we meant to do it,’ things turned around for us.”
How The Green Monkey uses Fundbox
As a retail owner, Sutton is in charge of planning and ordering inventory from numerous brands to stock his store. He learned about Fundbox from one of his brands (popular novelty apparel brand Gumball Poodle) while attending the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market at AmericasMart Atlanta, one of the nation’s biggest gift markets.
At the time, he says, he was shopping for inventory on a tightly limited budget. “We didn’t have business credit, we didn’t have anything,” he recalls. “They told us about Fundbox and how [retailers] could use it to get net-60 terms, so we signed up.”
From beginning to end, says Sutton, the experience with Fundbox was a pleasant surprise. “[Gumball Poodle] connected us with Fundbox and we were approved. It was just so easy. Now we can make orders and we have the option to pay them off in 60 days. … As a small business, it’s a great resource, [to] be able to pay it over time.”
That amount of flexibility is unusual to find, especially for a newer business like the Green Monkey. The extra time to pay also makes a big difference for Sutton when it comes to managing his cash flow, he says. “We put a lot of sweat equity into this business—still do to this day—and we needed some help with putting merchandise in here as we grew. We needed merchandise that would sell. Fundbox helped us when [we were new], when nobody wanted to give us net-30 days yet—Fundbox was giving us net-60.”
The value of net-60 terms
Since getting approved for net terms with Fundbox, Sutton now asks his brands if they accept Fundbox payments. For him, the 60-day payment cycle makes more sense, due to the nature of his shop.
“Net-60 is good cash flow,” he explains, “because you get your merchandise, you fill your floor up, and get to sell everything before payment is due. Our gift shop turns in 60 to 90 days. Sometimes, it can be slow. It’s not like a lot of higher-traffic stores, where everything is turning every 30 days. Fundbox has helped us a lot with the cash line.”
Not only has Fundbox helped Sutton’s cash flow management, but it’s also helped him think further ahead and take on bigger orders.
For example, a local kickball team wanted to buy 20 pairs of matching socks. They asked Sutton to order the items so they could send each player into the store to buy a pair.
Before Fundbox, says Sutton, this would have been an uncomfortably large order. “We’re small, we don’t do big orders,” he says. But in this case, “I said, ‘Sure,’ because I knew that I would have 60 days to pay for them because [the vendor] uses Fundbox, so I made the order. I got more socks and more merchandise in here. Fundbox does help me get merchandise faster sometimes because I don’t have to worry about it; I got 60 days to pay it.”
Another example is his recent experience ordering from the brand Twisted Wares. He started with a small order, which sold out quickly. “We went back this January and told them, Your stuff sold like crazy, we’re ready to go. They told me, they have Fundbox now. We went from a $300 order to a $1,000 order, because they use Fundbox. …We felt comfortable because we had that 60-day time frame to pay.”
Most importantly for the Green Monkey, Sutton says, using Fundbox is simple and transparent: “You’ve made it easy for us to grow our business.”
Attracting loyal fans through advocacy
After making the initial decision to market the store as a combination bar, beer and wine shop, and gift shop, Sutton says, the Green Monkey was better able to establish a reputation and find its people. In 2019, according to Sutton, the shop has experienced 42 percent growth over the previous year. Month over month growth has been consistently “double digits” for the last five years, he says.
The shop has become so popular it has even attracted its own brand of regulars, who Sutton calls “MonkeyFans.”
One way he’s been able to create such a loyal fanbase is his ongoing community involvement, he says. For example, he’s been a supporter of the first LGBT Center of Raleigh since it first opened ten years ago and began considering their first Pride festival.
This is a cause that means a lot to him, in part because of his own identity and background, says Sutton: “It was very important to me that the LGBT Center of Raleigh be there because growing up gay in the ’70s and ’80s in Eastern North Carolina…it wasn’t always friendly. I would have loved to have had a center that I could have gone to and asked questions: a safe place.”
Sutton’s community advocacy includes supporting organizations and local causes where he can with event space or donations. “We always like to give back,” he says, “I was one of the founding members of the first Out! Raleigh Festival in 2010. That has always helped my business and helped the Green Monkey get noticed. We always want to make sure, when we can, to give back to the LGBT Center so they give back to the community.”
Not only is the cause of supporting LGBT youth important to Sutton on a personal level, but he also says it’s good business. Social responsibility, he says, “is business smart, because nowadays, people want to support businesses that support their beliefs. They want to know that their money is being used for something that’s good. That’s one thing that has helped us grow.”
When it comes to creating loyal fans, Sutton says the key is to stay humble, authentic, and grateful.
“Live with gratitude,” says Sutton. “For every person that walks through that door, make them feel that you genuinely care that they’re there and that you understand they have a choice. They could have gone somewhere else, but they chose to come here, so every employee here is going to make sure they feel welcome and that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are appreciated. It’s not fake; it’s genuine, from the top down.”