Winter 2009
Resort Retail: Room to Grow By Sue Marquette Poremba

Help them treat themselves

Resort gift store retailers know: while on vacation, people are more likely to spend and indulge on themselves than they otherwise would.

Pamela Joy Ring will also attest to this. She is the owner of the Las Vegas-based The Ring Retail Advisory, LLC, an organization that specializes in advising retailers on improving operating efficiencies and retail performance. While this model works for resort retail, gift store retailers of all stripes can benefit from a focus on pushing small luxuries. Have customers see your products as an occasional treat they can buy for themselves.

Sales strategy

Nicole DeMore, resort shop manager at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club in San Diego, says the store had a very profitable summer in 2008. The store is located on the grounds of the resort and sells clothing and accessories in addition to other goods. “July was our highest revenue month in the shop ever in history, and August was a close second. So far this year, we’re running right on target,” DeMore says.

But DeMore admits that part of her strategy involves sales and markdowns to stimulate spending at her shop. “It’s necessary to meet the needs the economy is creating,” she says. “I have noticed that customers do appreciate and definitely do take advantage of discounts and deals, so we have used that knowledge,” she adds. DeMore points out that the store has offered coupons and hosted special sale events. The store’s largest sale was held over Labor Day Weekend last year and it was incredibly successful, DeMore reports. “All this information tells me that there is still a customer and that we just need to be creative to get them into shop and give them a reason to come in,” she says.

imageThe majority of DeMore’s shoppers are women. Because of that, the strong response to sales and special promotions isn’t surprising. According to Robbie Brown, a retail expert based in Chicago, women tend to be attracted not only to good value, but also to what appears to be a good bargain.

“If an item is on sale, it’s like catnip,” Brown says. Because sales bring shoppers into the store, Brown adds that it is important for shop owners and buyers to work closely with vendors to get good deals on merchandise that can be passed along to consumers.

“You have to preserve that margin of profit,” Brown adds. “That’s hard for a retailer to do if [she is] absorbing all the costs of a markdown.”

Tied to nature

imageAdrian Wigston, co-owner of wholesaler Coral Sunrise in Gulf Breeze, FL, believes many product trends point to an increased interest in “natural” products. “More and more companies are touting their organic materials such as organic cotton and fabrics for clothing, as well as renewable sources of wood like bamboo,” he says.

Coral Sunrise sells a diverse product line that includes surf jewelry, beads and shell jewelry, sterling silver, freshwater pearls and gemstones, sandals, and handbags made from natural fibers and materials such as Pandan leaf (Pandan is a tropical tree), rattan, seagrass, tree bark and coconut fiber.

Patricia Santanello, founder of Ancient Graffiti with product development offices in Middlebury, VT, has found that her customers too are looking for items with a “green aspect” to them. “They also want products with a good design, something that isn’t a throw-away item,” she adds.

Santanello has found that customers are interested in “back to nature” items, and currently, products from her stone line are selling extremely well, as are her wire art collection and outdoor line.

She adds that items made with brass also do well in resort stores.

She sells seashells

Marjorie Bloom, designer and owner of the Marjorie Bloom Collection in Naples, FL, says her company’s products, made with shells, do well in coastal resort stores. Bloom embellishes mirrors, various boxes, frames, furniture, lamps, sconces, evening bags, clutches and an extensive line of bath accessories with shells from around the world. “I often customize my products for customers who request various styles and color combinations,” she adds.

Regional representation

imageCatstudios in Petaluma, CA, designs and sells a geography collection of pillows, hand towels, glasses, totes, trays (eco-friendly bamboo) and T-shirts. Each of these has the name of a city or region and associated identifying landmarks. A beach collection is planned for this year. All products have a geography theme to them, says Helen Delgau, director of sales for the wholesaler. Catstudios carries 107 titles in its geography collection and many of them get very specific, like Aspen, Vail, Hamptons, and more.

Delgau also attests to the upsurge in green products. New 2009 eco-friendly products from the company include T-shirts made from organic cotton.

Delgau says Catstudio products that do well in resort gift shops are soft goods—ones that are easy to take along and pack in a suitcase. “The airlines, more than anything else, have greatly restricted the types of items people buy at resorts,” she says. Delgau also points out that while resort area gift stores stock the company’s products that are specific to the region they are located in, other gift shops around the country carry a wider range of the geography titles.

Fun and ski

imageIt’s not just the surf n’ turf goods that do well in resort area gift shops. Winter and mountain resort area gift shops including ones in Colorado, Vermont, Montana and other states, do brisk business in the cold winter months.

Wholesaler Creative Co-op based in Memphis, TN, wholesales home accents and other products in a wide variety of styles including lodge and coastal. Many of the lodge pieces are crafted to resemble natural elements. Lamps with antler-like bases and vases crafted to resemble natural birch wood trunks are among the many products on offer.

Big Sky Carvers out of Manhattan, MT, draws on nature to create woodcarvings and other home accents. An entire assortment of wood ducks—including the Hindley and Platte River collection—is one of the company’s many offerings. Bears, antlers, fish and other nature themes are prominent in Big Sky Carver’s home accents lineup.

Private label?

imageAncient Graffiti can provide custom products for any resort. Santanello says she’s produced all sorts of items for different resort shops. Sometimes the product sports the resort name or logo, but sometimes gift shops look for a symbol that represents the area they are located in. For example, in an area known for roadrunner birds, Santanello can create a customized thermometer with a roadrunner etching.

“For the Boulders Resort near Scottsdale, Arizona, we did a special tracking stick that included not only the resort’s logo, but tracks of the different species of animals found on the property,” Santanello adds. Ancient Graffiti can also create custom pieces to be hung on the shop walls and doors.

Customizing a product doesn’t always mean adding the resort logo, however. It can be a subtle change to a product line, such as the color scheme of stones in a jewelry set. A Touch of Santa Fe, a Gallup, NM, vendor catering to shops that specialize in Native American jewelry, creates and sells unique jewelry using stones both native to the United States and from around the world.

How do you customize jewelry? “With colors, stones, shapes,” Issam Dada, company owner, explains. Say your store gets a lot of traffic from leaf peepers in the fall. Stones that work fall colors in, would capture the setting and be a hit. Alternatively, if a resort is in an area known for its wildlife grazing nearby, jewelry featuring specific shapes (bears, buffalo etc.) would make a nice custom touch. This type of customization, Dada adds, comes from a lot of communication between his business and the individual stores in order to make the product truly representative of, yet unique to the resort area.

Dada’s products appear to be bucking one trend. Whereas other vendors say lower-priced merchandise sells best, Dada’s best-selling items right now are necklace sets and his high-end silver line. Yes, he admits, the customer might pay up to $1,500 for a necklace, but the necklace is often one-of-a-kind, signed by the artist, making it more attractive than paying the same amount of money on a piece found in any mall jewelry store.

Shopping for the essentials

imageSometimes, vacationers are looking to stock up on things they forgot at home when they stop at the resort gift shop.

“Nobody goes on vacation planning to buy sunglasses,” says Bud Doyle, national sales representative of Mountain Shades, based in Wheat Ridge, CO. “We earn our living from people who leave their sunglasses on the plane or the kitchen counter.”

Doyle’s company sells sunglasses that retail at a moderate price: $10-$12 for children’s, $15-$30 for adults. “People are more price conscious today,” he says, something Doyle is seeing not only from the people wearing the sunglasses but also from his accounts. Storeowners have put limits on how much they’ll spend on a pair of sunglasses because the customers have determined the limits of what they’ll pay.

For Mountain Shades, the importance is making sure even the lower priced options are a quality product. Customers will remember poor quality, Doyle stresses.

Driving traffic

imageOne issue everyone has to face these days is the economy and the reality that a few travelers are choosing “staycations” rather than going to resorts. While the vendors stress that having good quality products will still move their items off the shelf, part of the issue is getting customers to the store. But Rick Segel, retail expert and author of Retail Business Kit for Dummies, believes that resort stores can build a healthy clientele by keeping in touch with former customers.

“In resort shops, you might see people once a year or once in a lifetime,” he says. “You want to capture their information and use tools like Internet marketing to continue to reach out to them. It enables the shop to build a community.” Having a website allows customers the opportunity to “return” to buy souvenir T-shirts or the piece of local artwork that didn’t fit in the luggage.

“Shopping at a resort gift shop is more than an extension of a vacation,” Segel says. “It’s a lifestyle.”

Sue Marquette Poremba

Sue Marquette Poremba is a freelance writer based in State College, PA. She specializes in technology, engineering, energy, and IT security topics. She has also published over a dozen essays and is the author of a book about the Philadelphia Phillies.

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