Winter 2009
Seasonal Stores, Year-Round Sales

Summer Sizzler at the Blue Beetle

Kris Kinsley Hancock
Photography by Kris Kinsley Hancock

There is a definite sense of history about Nantucket’s Blue Beetle. For one thing, owner Liz Hughes shares a kindred spirit with the whaling captains’ wives who ran shops on nearby Center Street while their husbands were away at sea during the whaling era. Hughes’ own husband has a sea captain’s license and his great, great, great-grandfather was a whaling captain. And like the ladies of “Petticoat Row” before her, Hughes sells wares from both here and afar. The result is a fun and whimsical boutique full of gifts perfect for pampering and creating smiles.

Previously in a quieter area of town, owner Liz Hughes is very pleased with the shop’s 2008 relocation to Main Street. In the new location in Nantucket’s historic downtown, foot traffic has increased considerably leading to more exposure and profitability.

Having worked in Nantucket for over 17 years in retail clothing and interior design, Hughes was motivated to start her own business, and opened Blue Beetle in 2004. The store’s name was inspired by her pale blue Volkswagen convertible. “Every time I put the top down it brings a smile to my face,” she explains. “That was the feeling I wanted to bring to the store. To sell items that would make someone smile.”

imageBlue Beetle has approximately 750 square feet of display space. Originally, the store sold a variety of items from jewelry, candles and picture frames to bed linens, pajamas and decorative pillows. The introduction of pajamas and loungewear was such a success that Hughes brought in even more clothing and accessory items. These days, Blue Beetle sells bed linens from Giuseppe Bellora and clothing by Elizabeth McKay, Lilla P and Claude Brown along with Rani Arabella’s cashmere sweaters. Hughes also stocks Nantucket souvenirs and Jan Sevadjian photo albums, stationery by Marty Kelly, Mistral personal care items and Roost home accessories.

The Blue Beetle is a seasonal gift shop. It opens on April 1 each year and remains open through Christmas. Store hours from mid-June through Labor Day are 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. During the shoulder season months of April through mid-June and September through December, the store closes between 5 and 6 P.M. (Shoulder season, a term used in the tourism business, is defined as the time just before and after the peak months).

Blue Beetle holds a large sale each December to reduce the amount of merchandise carried over till the following year. “I find that continually remerchandising the store throughout the year as well as during sales helps to move the goods,” Hughes says. Another way she moves merchandise is by donating some of it to community organizations for fund-raisers; she claims these donations as a tax deduction. “They go to help organizations in a community in which I have a business and live.

imageI feel that it is important to give back… it creates goodwill for my business,” Hughes says. Remaining items are repackaged or put away for the winter and brought out in the spring. “Interestingly, many times those items that did not seem to move one year will be the first to go in the spring,” Hughes adds.

Hughes employs four to six staff, increasing this number to eight in the peak summer months of July and August. Inventory shipments begin to arrive at the end of March. “The shoulder season is quiet enough that we can receive a constant flow of inventory, be able to mark it in and still help the customers,” Hughes says. Inventory stock is not computerized. Employees take care to keep track of the items that sell well so that timely reorders can be placed and items can be restocked when sold.

Looking to increase sales before June and after Labor Day, Hughes markets Blue Beetle via local print media, direct mail and the web. Her staff sends postcards before the holidays to promote gift ideas. Blue Beetle shopping bags have the store’s web address printed on them and employees are encouraged to mention visiting the website to customers. Orders can be placed via phone or online. In the future, Hughes hopes to bring more customized items into Blue Beetle as well as manufacture her own designs.

Reflecting on seasonal retailing, Hughes says that she works hard and long hours in the peak season and that allows her to “take a nice break in the winter.” Hughes hopes the growth of sales through her website and by potentially selling specialized products will offset the cost of staying closed for part of the year. Hughes emphasizes the importance of good financial planning as a recipe for overall success. It helps that Blue Beetle is located in an upscale tourist destination frequented by travelers from both the United States and abroad.

In 2008, Hughes noticed an increase of Canadians and Europeans in her shop. “[It was] more of a shift in the type of customer rather than a drop in the number,” Hughes says. Interestingly enough, the decreased value of the dollar also gained her the customers who usually vacation in Europe every year but decided to stay in the States instead.

Continuing to expand her customer base, Hughes’ good moves, market-awareness and community philanthropy fuel Blue Beetle as it successfully navigates the curves in the roads of seasonal retailing.

Liz Hughes, Owner
Nantucket, MA

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