Spring 2012
Sea Sells By Heather Johnson Durocher

It’s a shore thing. Your customers love the carefree and relaxing spirit that coastal products invoke. Even better, every gift shop can cash in—even if you’re not quite down by the bay.

Sand between your toes. A warm salty breeze tickling your sun-soaked skin and waves crashing onto the seashell-lined shoreline—who doesn’t love a vacation like this and wish it would last just a little bit longer?

It’s exactly these kinds of get-away-from-it-all moments that plenty of people want to not just experience, but also somehow take home with them. And they’re able to do this by purchasing products that evoke memories spent on the water.

From lamps, wall décor and tabletop accessories to totes, sea glass jewelry, seaweed soaps and seaside-inspired food items, coastal products are big sellers, in large part because of the soothing memories they trigger. “There are fabulous memories for everyone with nautical-inspired accessories,” says Beverly Stadler, an interior designer who operates Design Focus, an Orange County, CA-based custom residential and commercial design firm. “Who among us has not had a wonderful memory of our first beach trip, sand castle, sunset, vacation, day at the shore, or the beach? Nautical décor, art and accessories bring all those memories to life on a daily basis.”

Coastal collections

“People love to bring back a piece of Maine or New England if they can,” agrees Bernice Berger, owner of gift shop Once a Tree in Camden, ME, which carries a variety of coastal-themed gift items and home décor. One of the store’s top-selling items: “cairn” lamps by Jeff Henderson of Funky Rock Designs in Dover, NH. The stone-stacked bases of these lamps represent a popular practice in coastal and wooded towns, Berger says. The stones used for Funky Rock Designs’ products—including vases, sponge holders and bottle beverage dispensers—are all hand-picked by Henderson.

“A lot of it is coming off the New England seacoast,” he says. “I also get a lot of rocks from a quarry nearby.” It’s that kind of personal touch that makes coastal and nautical-themed products all the more special. In other words, “less commercial and touristy,” Berger says. Henderson finds his beach treasures during regular jaunts to the beach, often with his 11-year-old son Dante. His love of the shore is evident in his creations, says Jennifer Pillsworth, director of North Water Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard.

Like Henderson of Funky Rock Designs, Susan Robinson of Corona Del Mar, CA handpicks what eventually turns into shell and driftwood décor. “While combing the beach for sea glass, I stumble across a lot of driftwood. I’ve gotten great responses on some of my coral wall pieces and beautiful white and creamy shell mirrors,” says Robinson, whose business is named Susan Sells Seashells.

Shell candleholders and large shell mirrors are her specialties, with a top seller being a seaglass and driftwood cross. “They’re not only a religious piece, but a spiritual piece,” she says of the crosses that come in various sizes.

Going coastal

Whether you own a seaside shop or you’re located inland, you’re bound to have customers who will appreciate—and buy—products with a nautical theme, say those who create such products.

These shoppers are “people who travel, [go boating], have a coastal home—anyone who has fallen in love with a special place on the ocean,” says Heather Jernagan, owner of Not For Navigation, an Ipswich, MA manufacturer of bags, accessories and pillows that are custom-designed with any coastal location or topographic map.

“It is more relevant to coastal gift stores given its highly customized nature,” Jernagan says. “However, I believe there is a place for coastal products in land-locked areas. Non-coastal gift shops would do really well with best-selling products decorated with the most popular destinations, while coastal gift shops should invest quite a bit because it’s their location they want to promote and celebrate.” Jernagan’s handmade products come in a variety of styles and colors and feature “nautical charts.”

Laura Cleminson, founder of York, ME-based Hoist Away Bags, creates bags with a twist—they’re made from recycled sailcloth. What’s more, Cleminson, an avid sailor and rower herself, interviews the former owners of the sailcloth for stories, or “sail legacies,” that are then stitched on the inside of the bag. Hoist Away Bags’ products are water-resistant (in some cases, waterproof) and come in a few different styles.

Cleminson, who donates some of her company’s profits to learn-to-sail programs for kids, also creates lampshades using donated retired sailcloth. New this year is a limited edition line of lampshades made from an Olympic trials sail from the late 1990s.

Taste of the sea

Coastal products are not just limited to home décor and personal accessories of course. Blue Crab Bay Co. products reminds customers of the tastes they experienced while spending time on the coast. “Most familiar to people are our specialty foods,” says Amy Savona, marketing director for the Melfa, VA manufacturer. “We have coastal-themed snacks, dip kits, beverage mixers, soups, a line of seasonings, crab meat. Everything is packaged in a nautical theme and based on the taste and tradition of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Blue Crab Bay Co.’s bloody Mary mixer, called Stingray, is a popular product, Savona says. Other top sellers include ocean clam juice and horseradish sauce, and sea salt nuts. The company also offers a line of hand-painted stoneware featuring its signature blue crab motif, as well as a line of handmade glycerin seaweed soaps.

Whether it’s something to taste and savor, or it’s an item for the home, coastal gifts and décor definitely leave a lasting impression. “I think everybody loves the beach, to be able to have a little of that even if you live in North Dakota,” says Townsend, of Seaside Designs.

Nautical and coastal-themed items represent a style that has continual appeal, says Beverly Stadler, interior designer. “It’s a timeless look that works as well with contemporary décor as it does with traditional, country cottage, lakefront, beachfront, or just a theme for a guest room or den,” she says. “So there is appeal for everyone.”

Mouse over images below to view.

Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com

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