The way Angel Brown Touwsma says it, the Touwsmas—mother Gayle, son David and daughter-in-law Angel—always wanted to open a set of gift shops in the Atlanta area. But settling on a perfect name was the hard part. It was a few years ago—specifically on Angel’s birthday—that they threw a few names around.
“We thought we wanted some kind of color in there, so David’s mom got a few names from Crayola.com, and we had three options to choose from. David vetoed any ‘girlie’ colors and we were left with lime,” Angel says. The three figured that Lime was too short a name, but Limetree was just perfect. An interesting aside: Gayle and David share the same birthstone: peridot. It’s color? Lime.
The first Limetree location opened Oct. 1, 2004. Angel says the family is lucky to have the perfect combination of expertise to manage retail. Gayle worked for 20 years in retail. She knows customer service and the nitty-gritty of store management very well. David is very good at the software and marketing end of things. Angel brought her event management and marketing experience to the table.
“I jokingly say that I love to go shopping, so I also do most of the buying for the stores,” Angel says. Having the three working together is a huge advantage, she says. “We know we have each other. If things get overwhelming, one of us will help the other out. We brainstorm together, have breakfast meetings; it keeps things going smoothly.”
Since their first opening in 2004, the Touwsmas have expanded into more locations: The second, in Decatur, GA, opened on Cinco de Mayo: May 5, 2006. Their latest gift shop opened in Norcross, GA, in October; and a new addition, the baby store Lil’ Squeeze, was born Nov. 2. Lil’ Squeeze is housed in the Norcross gift store.
A fourth store is being planned for early spring. Interestingly, Angel and David are expecting a “little squeeze” of their own, a baby girl, in January.
For the Touwsmas, it wasn’t a case of the first store’s success spurring more growth. Angel says that when they started, they were quite sure they would have more than one location. “But we also know that we never want to get to the point where we lose sight of the customer,” she says.
The Touwsmas are well aware that in a city with easy access to wholesalers, competition is stiff. “Yes, we have the Atlanta gift mart here, and we definitely take advantage of it, and we also go to a diverse variety of shows,” Angel says. Trips to Paris and China to buy new and interesting products are also in the cards. She says Limetree has an interesting and diverse product mix because the family travels far and wide to offer the best selections. The stores stock such lines as Christopher Radko ornaments, Vera Bradley bags and accessories, Jon Hart leather luggage and accessories, Stephanie Johnson bags, Wilton Armetale cookware. But merchandise mix is not the only reason customers visit their stores.
Angel, with her event management background, plans the right parties and events to bring customers to the stores over and over again. The Gallery, an art-framing store within the Decatur location, offers art shows and classes for children. Recently, Limetree hosted a children’s sing-along, so the parents could shop while their children were being watched. “We often tie in discounts with our events as an additional draw,” Angel says. Here’s proof: During “Girls Night Out,” women grabbed two of their friends, and each received 30 percent off all purchases. “In the Kitchen with Limetree” recently featured cooking demonstrations and trunk shows from Wilton Armetale, Bella Cucina Artful Food and Caldrea Household Cleaners. Purchases from these vendor lines were 30 percent off.
Angel says Limetree is committed to the communities in which it does business. Besides affiliations with junior sports leagues and other community organizations, Limetree raises awareness about other issues. On Election Day, people wearing “I voted” stickers got 30 percent off any one product. Limetree also hosted a “happy hour” recently, where 10 percent of all sales went to the foundation Cure Autism Now.
While women shop Limetree often, Angel says the stores actively try to reach every kind of customer. When men come in greater numbers, just before Christmas or Valentine’s Day, they often take advantage of the “personal shopper” service that the store provides, where staff recommends an ideal item and gift-wraps the purchase. “The guys really appreciate that,” Angel says. Limetree also attracts the college crowd by placing ads in college magazines that offer a certain percentage off with college ID. “Our price points are also across a wide range, so we are attractive to many people,” Angel says.
When customers do come, they are treated to pretty much the same merchandise mix in the different stores (except at Lil’ Squeeze). “Since the demographics each store serves is [only] very slightly different, it is easier to have the same merchandise in the stores. That way if you run out of stock in one store, transfer is easier and it’s easier to manage inventory,” Angel says.
While having many locations has been largely an advantage for the Touwsmas, there have also been challenges. Warehouse space, as well as trying to figure out how to distribute products to each store efficiently, have each been trying. “We are working on a warehouse space and investing in a truck that can transport items back and forth. Rent and cost of gas are also challenges,” Angel says.
But the biggest challenge has been making time to be in front of the customer. “We each schedule our hours so we spend some time on the shop floor,” she says. “You can never forget or get away from that. Little tiny things, like maybe writing a thank you note or making a special order, make a difference.”
Angel Touwsma says the key to success lies in being creative. “You have to think outside the four walls of your store, about your customer, and come up with unique ideas that will set you apart from the competition. You have to give [customers] a reason to come to your store,” she says.
The folks at Limetree, Angel says, also believe in passion, motivation and delivering their best to the customer. Their mission statement says it best: “At Limetree we promise to offer the magic of birthday candles, the kindness of the winter holidays, the excitement of the New Year’s Eve countdown, the thrill of a surprise party, butterflies on Valentine’s Day, fireworks on the Fourth of July, the bliss of a wedding and the wonder of a new baby, all wrapped up in one perfect gift experience.”