The Next Big Thing
Entrepreneur Joanne Domeniconi ’81 has an eye for innovation.
Any fan of Fitbit, Food Should Taste Good, or SodaStream—among other familiar brands—should probably thank The Grommet and its co-founder and Chief Discovery Officer Joanne Domeniconi ’81. In the decade since she and CEO Jules Pieri launched their e-commerce platform, it has spread the word about 3,000 products.
“Our purpose is to shine a light on innovative, new-to-market consumer products, and help them get noticed by consumers,” says Domeniconi. That involves telling the stories behind products and highlighting how they complement a range of specific “Personal Values” (Made in the USA, Handcrafted, and Sustainable Living, among others).
“Given the opportunity, we believe consumers prefer to purchase products that align with their personal values,” says co-founder of The Grommet Joanne Domeniconi ’81.
“We needed a lens through which we would curate and select products to support on our platform, and we decided the lens was ‘purpose,’” says Domeniconi. “Given the opportunity, we believe consumers prefer to purchase products that align with their personal values.” The Grommet’s Citizen Commerce® concept promotes the idea.
The Grommet, now based in Somerville, Mass., debuted in October 2008—a week before financial markets crashed. “The first four years we struggled but grew slowly and incrementally,” says Domeniconi. “We saw the potential power of our platform—and so did other people.” By 2017, Ace Hardware had seen enough potential to buy a majority stake.
“Ace has 5,000 independently owned and operated stores functioning as a cooperative,” explains Domeniconi. “We make sure they have products that are distinctive.” Meanwhile, The Grommet continues running its own business.
Prior to The Grommet, Domeniconi was climbing the corporate ladder at Stride Rite, ultimately becoming vice president of product development for the Keds brand. But she became discouraged.
“The most innovative products weren’t often making it to consumers—there were a lot of forces against them. They were riskier for buyers choosing products for their stores, and less understood by consumers,” says Domeniconi. Frustration became inspiration, and she and Pieri (a Keds colleague) co-founded The Grommet.
Being an entrepreneur wasn’t part of Domeniconi’s original career plan. “My family owned a small business in Lynn, Massachusetts, and I saw all the wonders and the struggles. So when I left Simmons, my goal was to work for a big company.”
Domeniconi majored in retail merchandizing, minored in business management and worked her way through college. Morning and evening classes allowed her to spend middays selling shoes on commission at Jordan Marsh in downtown Boston. “I made a lot of money in those days—16 bucks an hour.”
Her post-graduation job as an assistant manager trainee at a Stride Rite store in Chestnut Hill, Mass., “wasn’t glamorous,” she says, “but thankfully, I moved quickly through the organization.” And on to The Grommet.
Photograph courtesy of The Grommet