Island Shopping Adventures
Sandals Resorts International offers world-class retail at 30 sun-kissed locations
All-inclusive luxury resorts have been popular for decades, as singles, couples and families flock to pristine beachfront properties to kick back and relax. Whereas many resort shops once stocked mostly camera batteries, sunscreen and souvenir T-shirts, today’s high-end vacation spots feature shopping experiences” — complete with special events, interactive promotions and one-of-a kind merchandise.
Sandals Resorts International (SRI) owns some of the most popular destination properties in the world, including Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts and Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts. Based in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and founded by Gordon “Butch” Stewart in 1981, SRI operates gift shops and specialty retail stores in 30 locations in five countries.
On islands like Turks and Caicos, Antigua, the Bahamas and Jamaica, resort guests expect the best, and SRI’s mission is to deliver it, said Gail Bell, Group Manager of Retail Operations.
Exceeding High Expectations
Shops range in size from 100 square feet (for a mobile beach kiosk) to 5,000 square feet. In May, SRI opened its new Key West Village with plans to add up to six shopping outlets later this year.
“In everything we do, we gives guests more than they expect,” said Bell, who is based in Montego Bay and has been with the company for about 10 years. “In the retail department, we ensure that when we’re purchasing, we’re always thinking of how we’re going to best our guests’ demands. We focus on value, whether it’s the look and feel of the store, the quality of our displays or our customer service. Every single thing is integral in creating the right atmosphere.”
SRI offers up items at many price points, from inexpensive key chains and shot glasses up to couture evening purses and art.
“We try to ensure that not only do we have internationally made items, but also things that are unique to every single island that we operate on; we support our communities by doing that, which is also part of our mission,” she said. “We look for things you’re not going to get on a cruise ship or at a public market.”
Bell is especially excited about the upscale artisans and craftspeople whose work is showcased in many SRI boutiques.
“Our stores are not just convenience stores or boutiques; we also have gallery-quality merchandise,” Bell said. “In Ocho Rios, Jamaica, we have a very well-known carver, Winston Joseph, whose carvings are displayed in our national gallery; we carry his work in our properties.
“We also have Headley Frazer Ceramics,” she continued. “His work is extraordinarily colorful and vibrant, and typical of what our guests would see in Jamaica: market women or baskets of fruit, or a coconut man on the side of the road. His glazes are very vibrant and beautiful.”
Designer clothing, jewelry and skincare products are very popular at SRI shops, Bell noted.
“Sandals has been carrying the Meling line from Trinidad; she’s one of the Caribbean’s couture superstars,” Bell said. “We have a skincare line out of the Bahamas called Paris-Bahamas; it’s a line of skincare and fragrances that’s made from Bahamian seagrapes.”
SRI also does well with the culinary sea salts and spa products from the Bahamas-based Exuma Salt Company. And speaking of salt, the resort shop’s food and beverage sections are packed with Caribbean delicacies that are always a hit with guests.
“We’re trying to make shopping as interesting as possible,” Bell said. For example, Sandals has a line of lifestyle products — Lively Up — that we developed, and right now it’s mostly in food and beverage categories. We sell 100 percent Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, as well as five sauces and marinades.”
Create a Scene
Resort staff drives sales by creating interactive shopping events. Mobile kiosks constantly rotate merchandise to keep offering guests exciting on-the-spot deals of the day.
“Our chefs do poolside cooking demonstrations where the guests cook and taste a local dish,” Bell said. “We also do daily tastings in our gift shops, such as one in Jamaica for the Walkerswood line of gourmet condiments.”
Rum and Cigar nights, featuring local cigar rollers who come in to teach guests how to roll their own authentic Cuban cigars, are another way to spark sales.
“Guests absolutely love that, especially the rum-flavored cigars,” Bell said.
In its children’s store, Confetti, products are tied to the Sandals Foundation, which supports education, the environment and the communities. Special products developed for that brand include plush animals like Tikki the Turtle; a significant portion of the sales gets reinvested into the Foundation.
“We also sell handmade dolls created by students at the deaf school in St-Lucia, and we also carry hand-painted wooden shelf-sitters made in Haiti, which are very decorative for children’s room,” Bell said.
Other items for kids include fish, crabs and geckos from Haiti that are made either of recycled oil drums or out of papier maché.
Bell noted that every SRI store has a distinctive look and décor.
“We’re not a cookie-cutter operation. You’re not going to see the same things or have the same retail experience at Beaches Turks and Caicos as you will at Beaches Negril or Sandals St-Lucia,” she said. “Each of our properties is unique, and each store has been built out accordingly. In Turks and Caicos, for example, our Confetti store is all about excitement. It’s trendy, and it’s where we showcase all our Sesame Street characters, because Beaches has partnered with Sesame Street. You can meet Cookie Monster or Elmo while you’re shopping.”
Some stores are more traditionally done up to reflect the Caribbean, with mahogany fixtures, while others are brighter with display systems that include everything from slat walls to sleek nesting tables with stainless steel legs.
“It’s a mix: we use trunks, local baskets mixed in with international baskets for display and merchandising, and we have local and imported wooden boxes for our jewelry,” Bell said. “We try to use as much as we can from our environment, so that you know that you’re in the Bahamas or in Jamaica.”
To make shopping even easier, SRI shopkeepers are on the job from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. or later. The company recently introduced Pocket Money Wrist Bands, available in different denominations, for hassle-free cashless shopping. And if a guest is reluctant to leave their prime poolside retreat, Bell’s team is ready to take the merchandise to the customer.
“We have a lot of outdoor events and kiosk programs to reach our guests,” she said. “We also reward our customers, by providing gifts for them and incentive programs.”
Bell, who has a fashion merchandising background, is proud that SRI is strongly focused on product development.
“That’s where my passion is,” she said. “If you don’t have an eye for color and how things are going to look in the store, you can’t be as successful. Whenever I see a new product, I envision how we can merchandize it, how we can tell a story on the floor, so that the customer says, ‘Wow!'”
By Wendy Helfenbaum
Special to Museums & More