Founder, Citizen Supply
Phil Sanders is what he calls “a third-culture kid,” meaning someone who grows up in one place—in his case, Kenya—and now lives in a different one. “The culture of Kenya is that you give your best to your guest, and everybody would serve everyone. It’s very family oriented,” says Sanders, founder of Citizen Supply in Ponce City Market, whose family moved to Atlanta in 2000. Those same traits of service and community can be seen in the entrepreneur’s businesses that champion artists and creatives.
Citizen Supply, a crafty-looking retail store selling artisan goods, was the result of Sanders’s previous business that he launched in 2014 and shuttered a year later. Foster ATL was a creative co-working space in Old Fourth Ward, a gathering place for freelancers, artists and entrepreneurs where the focus was equally on business success and community growth. The idea spawned from having many freelancers in his life— he, a photographer, and his wife, Anna, a graphic designer, included.
“While the business model was not sustainable, the intention was to support the 60 member creatives through a space where they could work, network and learn from each other and speakers,” Sanders explains.
One of Foster’s most successful programs was a pop-up market concept called “In Good Company,” where local artisans sold their well made, high-quality products. From this pop-up shop grew the East Atlanta resident’s next brilliant idea. “To affect artists in the sustainable way I wanted, I learned it was necessary to provide a space for them to first sell their stuff and make money before I created a space for them to produce their work in,” Sanders explains.
To empower “the makers,” Citizen Supply opened its doors in November 2015. The store now sells the work of 130 artisans from across the country, several of whom are former Foster ATL members. All of the wares come from either a local, sustainable, handmade or small-batch business. What’s more, he offers artisans a profit-sharing option that comes with regular sales analytics on their goods. “I want them to be in this with me,” he says of his artist partners. “And we want to make the barriers for entry for local folks easier [to overcome] and for the local economy to be strong.
“Opening Citizen Supply was one of the richest experiences of my life, but it was insane. I think that’s when I lost my hair,” he jokes.
Despite its success, with 14,000 people coming to the store every month, Sanders already has his eye on what’s next. This includes making sure that Citizen Supply is sustainable in the long-term. “Retail is a beast,” he admits. He is working on merging a piece of the Foster ATL concept into Citizen Supply in order to provide both a place to sell and a place to learn all under one roof. This activation side of things will begin with a monthly panel discussion where anyone can come have a beer and join the conversation about a certain topic, such as bicycling in Atlanta or what it’s like to be married and starting businesses. “I hope it’s a catalyst for growth—that’s the end goal. I always tell my staff, ‘What matters is that you grow.’”
It’s a big year of growth overall for Sanders. In addition to slowly nurturing Citizen Supply, he and his wife welcomed their second boy in May.
“There’s something amazing about loving what you’ve got, recognizing how blessed we are to be in charge of our time and having the options of doing things. When you get on that level, it makes any day-to-day problems seem a lot smaller,” he says. There’s that third-culture kid talking again.
STORY: Karina Antenucci
PHOTOS: Sara Hanna