Summer 2011
Green in Winter Park By Becky Tyre

Savvy marketing and a great eco-conscious product mix make for a standout green store in Winter Park, FL.

Earth Inspired Living in Winter Park, FL

Owners: Linda and Allan Semmler

Product mix is designed "to enlighten, entertain and surprise—all made from recycled, reclaimed, organic and sustainable materials."


Popular Products: Resource Revival; Escama Studio; Beatriz Ball

Believing in the values of a green lifestyle, Linda and Allan Semmler wanted to open a store that would be the go-to place for eco-friendly and unique products. In January 2009, the husband-wife team started Earth Inspired Living in Winter Park, FL, a store that by all measures is just that.

The gift and home accessories store stocks a diverse product mix—all made from recycled, reclaimed, organic and sustainable materials.

Location demographics

Winter Park was founded as a resort destination by wealthy northern industrialists and chartered in 1887. It is home to Rollins College, the oldest college in Florida.

Often called “Little Europe,” Winter Park is a year-round destination for locals and bustles with activity during the winter tourist season. Park Avenue, where Earth Inspired Living is located, is home to a mix of sidewalk cafés, art galleries, museums, independent shops and nationally known stores such as Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma. The quaint brick street is named for the park that borders several blocks of the dining and shopping district. This park hosts numerous concerts and art festivals that bring additional visitors to the area—and traffic to the store.

With a diverse customer base of locals, students and visitors, Earth Inspired Living has a little something green for everyone.

What qualifies as a green product?

There are numerous ways to describe green products—recycled, sustainable, recyclable, organic, non-toxic, reusable, made from renewable resources, reclaimed. In its broadest definition, a “green” product is one that is environmentally friendly. The narrowest definition would include only products that serve to reduce any negative impact on the planet in every possible way. At Earth Inspired Living, all products are made from recycled, reclaimed, sustainable materials or they serve as a replacement for other non-green products. For instance, the store sells reusable pouches that replace plastic sandwich bags and reusable take-out cups instead of disposable ones.

Linda Semmler researches every vendor and before ordering, she asks what the product is made of and where it is manufactured. She also reads the literature, labels and claims very closely. She relies on established relationships with sales representatives, so that the reps only present products that are appropriate for her shop.

Green products diversity

Being located near a college, Linda Semmler realizes the need to have gifts that students will buy for each other. She also stocks items that parents can buy for students during visits. Fun, functional products like those made by Resource Revival, from recycled bicycle parts, are popular with the college set. Also popular is Strung Up Jewelry, a handcrafted jewelry collection made using recycled guitar strings; and purses, bags and accessories from Escama Studio, a company based in San Francisco and Brazil. Escama makes fairly traded fashion accessories using crochet and recycled aluminum pull-tabs. The artists work in co-operatives located in Brazil.

Semmler also stocks products from local green artists. Catering to tourists, the most popular souvenir items are the hand-carved, reclaimed wooden bowls from a central Florida artist, Donald Thompkins. No two are alike and the ones made from orange wood are the best sellers. Other local finds are the jewelry, flowers and wreaths made from recycled plastic bottles by Green Art Studios.

Local customers buy a mix of personal products and gifts. A corner of the store is devoted to baby and children’s gifts. Swaddling blankets made from bamboo fiber and organic cotton kimonos qualify as baby shower gifts for eco-conscious moms to be. The store also has a nice selection of green toys for all ages.

European soaps from Pre’ de Provence are among the store’s top selling items. Caldrea cleaners, soaps, detergents and sink sets also sell well. These earth-friendly household products come in popular fragrances made with essential oils. Just inside the door, customers can’t miss the large display of tabletop fireplaces, perfect for entertaining indoors and out. These have been so popular that Semmler had to find additional suppliers to keep up with the demand for the glass, wood and ceramic clean-burning firepots from Real Flame, Napa Home and Marshall Gardens. Handmade, 100% recycled aluminum platters and bowls from Beatriz Ball are ideal for wedding gifts, as are wine servers crafted from recycled glass.

Marketing green

Being green as a retailer, goes beyond the products the store sells.

All fixtures in the shop are made from recycled wood products. Earth Inspired Living collects plastic bottles for Winter Park artists by providing a large brown bag along the sidewalk by the store’s doorway. Shoppers strolling by and picnickers from the park fill this bag on a regular basis.

The Semmlers worked together with several neighboring businesses to bring cardboard recycling to the area and now have a recycling bin located behind the store.

As a director of the Park Avenue Area Association, Linda Semmler is in charge of its “sustainability” program, which includes recycling and greening efforts. In conjunction with this association, the Parks and Recreation department and the Keep Winter Park Beautiful organization, the City Council recently approved the placement of 10 recycling bins for guests on Park Avenue. The bins will be in place later this year. Semmler credits her community involvement in helping this project come to fruition. Much of Semmler’s marketing is done in conjunction with the merchant association as it sponsors many events that bring foot traffic to the store.

The Semmlers also reach out to area schools resulting in field trips to the store. Students leave with a better understanding of how even small lifestyle changes can make a difference. The kids also love the fun things in the store, like Rover and Rascal, two 17″ floppy-eared pups made entirely from recycled newspaper.

Through the store’s website and social media marketing tools such as Facebook and Twitter, the Semmlers share eco-friendly tips. A recent post suggested “10 fun family ideas for Earth Day.”

Each year, Rollins College hosts an Earth Day event just a few blocks from the Semmlers’ store. Local stores and organizations set up informational booths and activities to promote this year’s theme, A Billion Acts of Green. Earth Inspired Living was one of the sponsors and exhibited at the event. The global initiative is designed to promote the idea that real change occurs when millions of people commit to it with their actions. Participants are encouraged to go online and pledge to conserve energy through small acts, like turning off the water when brushing their teeth and eating more locally grown food. A billion web pledges are expected by Earth Day 2012.

Events like these attract customers to Earth Inspired Living. The store also benefits weekly from the crowd at the well-known Saturday morning Farmer’s Market just a few blocks away.

Semmler credits product knowledge, staff training and clear, consistent marketing messages as reasons for success. Semmler prints hang tags—on 100% recycled paper of course—for most products in the shop. Each tag has a description that explains whether an item is made from recycled or sustainable materials or what benefit the product holds for the environment. Through these tags, a customer might learn that the fashionable purse she is considering is made from used tarps in Brazil.

That’s exactly what Semmler strives for—stylishly designed products with a strong commitment to preserving the environment. After all, the store’s tagline says it best: encouraging a balance of design and purpose.

Becky Tyre

Becky Tyre is the senior trends editor for GIFT SHOP Magazine and the owner of the Retail Details blog.

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