As seen in Waterfront Living
Heather MacConnell, owner of Artisan Spirit, shared the story of her New Jersey-based business in this Q&A.
Describe your store and local community:
Heather MacConnell: A shop by the sea featuring local and U.S.-made artisan goods, fair trade collections and inspired goods from women owned companies.
We’re located in Spring Lake, New Jersey, on the central New Jersey shoreline, in Monmouth County. Spring Lake is known for it’s gorgeous homes with wrap-around porches, beautiful non-commercial two-mile boardwalk and pristine beaches. It’s a bedroom community of New York City, and one of the Jersey Shore’s most affluent towns.
What type of merchandise do you sell?
HM: Bath and body, gifts, home décor and jewelry.
Merchandise specific to coastal/lake living:
HM: We feature local artisans who are inspired by their coastal location. This includes Gyotaku fish print art from (sometimes) locally caught fish, pottery in neutral and coastal hues, reclaimed wood art from hurricane damage salvage and jewelry using gemstones in blue and green hues like aquamarine, chalcedony and Peruvian opal. We have a proprietary candle line, Spring Lake Candle Co, which is our “give back” candle, sending a dollar from every candle sale to the local food bank, so they can turn it into three meals for the food insecure in our community. We round out our offerings with home goods that have a natural feel, like sisal placemats and olive wood items. And of course there’s barware and cocktail items, which make great gifts.
Most requested item in store right now?
HM: At this moment the local Gyotaku fish prints and locally made wave and surfboard style hanging racks are HOT, HOT, HOT!
What are some of your best-sellers in the coastal/lake category?
HM: Our artisan-made jewelry is always a big seller. (My jewelry line, My Girl is Water, is the top-seller in this category.) We also carry the coastal images from Karen Olney’s Sweet Gumball prints. Karen just partnered with Beach Haven, New Jersey artist Sandy Gingrass, and we are now selling both artists’ work regularly. We also carry a line of hand-painted wine glasses by Julie Pone’s Art Sea, and they are hot sellers. And of course, resin art is still very popular. Our resin artist, Andrew Samler, makes trays with what looks like the view of the ocean from above, and they are great sellers too.
Where do you source your product?
HM: Most of the coastal merchandise is from local makers. I usually hit up artists on Instagram when I sense a good fit.
We’d like to hear about any obstacles you have overcome and/or any major successes you have had with your business in the past year or two.
HM: We’ve had quite a growth spurt over the last couple of years, and I think continually showing up to do what we do best has been integral to that. We have a clearly defined concept of local, artisan-made, followed by U.S. artisan-made (which is almost entirely artists from other coastal states) and rounded out by the inclusion of fair trade goods. When our local shoppers want a gift that has a story or local relevance and not something that came off a conveyor belt, they come to us, knowing they are supporting not just one, but two small businesses. When they hand that gift bag to their recipient, it’s all around good-feels. That’s become more important to shoppers as the impact of shopping local has become more understood.
HM: I’m not sure I can offer any sage advice to other retailers, because I don’t come from a retail background, but I do come from a sales background, and understand the importance of great customer service. I have learned a lot from field research though, and what that means is shopping in other stores. Recently I stopped into a shop in another state that I follow on Instagram and couldn’t wait to see it. I got there 10 minutes before close to take a quick walk through this lovely little shop, and both the person at the front desk and the person in the back of the shop told me they were closing in 10 minutes. Their vibe was so uninviting, I couldn’t really enjoy the shop and wound up leaving in 5 minutes. So, I guess all I would say is always be accommodating. I could have been their biggest sale of the day.