Consumer frustration was the inspiration for one of the North Shore’s newest businesses, and the biggest beneficiaries may be the people who live here.
When Lake Forest resident was shopping for his young children two years ago, he became discouraged going from one store to another to find what he needed for Emma, now 5, and Tyler, now 4.
The answer for Christensen turned into , Deerfield’s newest retail establishment. The 135,000 square foot store carries everything a parent could want for children from birth through age seven.
“There was a void to be filled in the children’s segment of retailing,” Christensen said. “There is no enterprise in the world of shopping for everything children. We are a one-stop destination whether you need a specialty store or a boutique.”
Relax, Look for Items
The store is more than merchandise. There is a 1,600 square foot section devoted to the registry. In some stores this may be a desk or two, but at Wonder! it is a corral of counters equipped with computers. The counters surround a lounge where people can relax and select the items they want for a new child.
“This is experiential retailing,” Christensen said. “We want everyone to be able to relax and feel comfortable.”
Joe Milano of Deerfield, Wonder!’s chief merchandising officer, was quick to point out the breadth of the store’s goods whether a person is shopping for a crib, a stroller or toys.
“You can find all the basics but you can also find that cool wooden toy you can’t find anywhere else,” Milano said.
Test-run that Stroller
Milano pointed to a pair of cribs. One is made of Lucite and sells for $3,500 while the other costs $399. There is also a $4,000 handmade stroller as well as a collection for a few hundred dollars. “Everyone has a different perception of value,” Milano said.
Wonder!’s management team has given both kids and their parents an opportunity to try some of the merchandise before deciding to buy it. There is a 60-yard rubber track surrounded by a permanent tire display where a prospective buyer can ride a scooter or bicycle.
“We want children to be able to try it out," Christensen said. "We do the same thing with doll houses. This is a unique element of what we offer.”
The same theme carries through in the furniture department. There are 26 cubicles designed to look like a different nursery or the room of a young child.
“We carry everything you need so you can get a feel of how the nursery will look in your home,” Milano said. “We sell everything on display.”
The Wonder! Team
As a career venture capitalist, Christensen knew how to assemble the finances but he needed talented people with knowledge of how to put a store together.
Milano handles the merchandising. He not only knows how to merchandise a store, but knows something about selling goods online. He has worked for Amazon.com. Keith Davy of Libertyville also has an Amazon.com background. He is the chief technology officer.
Bill Colaianni of Lake Forest came to the company from Wal-Mart where he was chief marketing and merchandising officer for Central America. He is the president and chief executive officer of Wonder!
Milano and Colaianni have an ownership stake along with Christensen in the privately held company.
In addition to concentrating on the store, Christensen and his team are building an e-commerce business with Shopwonder.com. The two will complement each other as they try to achieve their goal of becoming a national chain.
“We hope to have 19 brick and mortar stores in five years,” Christensen said. "We’ll concentrate on larger markets like Denver, Dallas and Los Angeles (in addition to the Chicago area).”