museums&MORE Spring 2013
The Rose Garden Store

Where everything’s coming up roses

Upon setting foot in the Rose Garden Store in Portland, Ore., guests are greeted by the scent of roses and offered a sample of hot Rose Tea, their No. 1 best-selling item. In the background local music can be heard — currently it’s Pink Martini, an international and local favorite—and a beautiful penny smashing machine featuring a huge photograph of roses invites each guest in from the garden.

But it’s not just an ordinary garden. It’s the International Rose Test Garden, the oldest continuously operating garden in the United States and home to more than 9,500 rose bushes of 600 varieties.

Located in the Portland West Hills, the garden offers panoramic views of downtown Portland and as many as four snowcapped mountains can be seen on clear days. In addition to these amenities, the garden is also home to The Rose Garden Store, Portland’s very own rose-themed specialty shop.

For decades visitors asked the garden staff where they could purchase a memento to take home with them so they could remember their visit to the garden,” said Lilia Villaseñor, store manager and buyer. “In response, Portland Parks and Recreation built the Rose Garden Store to be run by the Portland Rose Festival Foundation.”

The small 400-square-foot store opened in May of 2000 and serves as the Garden’s Visitor Information Center while offering a wide variety of rose items to visitors, with all proceeds from the Rose Garden Store going to help support Portland’s public rose gardens.

“We try and sell a memory,” Villaseñor said. “We appeal to all the senses so that items purchased in the store will always reflect the time spent at our beautiful location.”

Flower Power
Weather permitting, the store actually starts outside where they have managed to increase their footprint by introducing a couple of wrought iron carts featuring seasonal items—hats when the sun is bright and umbrellas when necessary— all featuring roses, of course.

“Ninety percent of the merchandise is rose-themed, with 10 percent related to general garden, bugs, birds and other critters found in our garden,” Villaseñor said. “Because of our limited size, we take advantage of our vertical space and hang garden flags, umbrellas and bird houses from the ceiling.”

Top-selling items include jewelry, especially fashion rose rings available in a decorative candy dish at the register; locally made soaps and lotions, because the scent draws guests to it; and hats, because they are beautiful and they scream to be tried on.

But their top-selling item is the aforementioned Rose Tea, something Villaseñor describes as being “different and delicious.”

“We offer samples of the Rose Tea every day, which I believe results in higher sales,” Villaseñor said. “We stock it in different areas of the store — alongside the tea samples, with the china and also in the food section. Recognizing that not everyone wants 25 tea bags, we started bundling three tea bags and selling them for $1 at the register—a great impulse item.”

In addition to the Rose Tea, they also carry a (herbal) Rose Hip tea and a loose Rose Tea from a Portland company and Villaseñor is currently working with a local tea master to come up with their own tea blend. Rose Hip honey, jelly and syrup that they merchandise with their tea accessories that include teapots, cups/saucers, sugar tongs, spoons, children’s tea sets and various other accessories that come and go are also available.

“With my bread and butter items such as the Rose Tea and Oregon Rain skin care products, customers expect these to always be in stock always available,” Villaseñor said. “But as much as 50 percent of my merchandise changes from year to year, following fashion trends in jewelry and home décor. I have been known to buy out an item that works in my store but I know will be available for only a season.”

Kitchen items that do well include rose-shaped stacking bowl sets, trivets, colanders, tea towels, salt and pepper shakers and spoon rests. Framed watercolor prints by local artists sell well, and they also have had success with small rugs, table runners, table linens, vases, small lamps and wall art — all with roses.

When it comes to apparel, scarves and hats continue to be popular, with hats being a top category. They offer foam visors, baseball caps, fashion caps, serious sun shading hats and visors and beautiful floral hats perfect for garden parties.

“We also carry fleece for those chilly days,” she added. “They’re nicer than sweatshirts but at a comparable price.”

Villaseñor said she’s always trying to find more items that appeal to younger customers, as roses “tend to remind everyone of their grandmother.” Luckily, vintage jewelry features many roses, as does tattoo art, and both have done well in the store. Children’s offerings include little Dover Rose Sticker and Tattoo books, plush bears wearing rose tutus, garden critters (bees, butterflies), bird whistles and tea sets. Villaseñor said introducing bugs in the mix has allowed for growth in merchandise for boys and not so girly girls.

It’s A Gift
The Portland Rose Festival starts Memorial Day weekend and runs for two weeks, bringing thousand of tourists into town, many of who find their way to the gardens and to the store. The festival produces a limited number of souvenir pins, posters and T-shirts that are always popular items, but because their season comes in such a rush and leaves almost as quickly, preparation is key.

“Our store is jam-packed when the rush starts the last week in May and I have many sleepless nights wondering if I have over-bought, and yet in October we have to spread the merchandise out to make the store look full,” Villaseñor said. “I place many orders in December and January to guarantee delivery by April. My tea order has quantity and ship dates for the whole year and my hat order has already been scheduled.”

The size of the store makes moving around difficult, and given that their storage is the size of a walk-in closet and at the back of the store while the cash wrap is at the front, they try to keep sufficient stock out and are constantly restocking.

They’re also constantly trying to get more locals to think of the store as a shopping destination. Though not far from downtown, they are pretty remote and isolated from any shopping district.

“While we get dog walkers and runners all year round, most are not shopping,” Villaseñor said. “We engage locals in conversation whenever possible and let them know that our store supports the garden and encourage them to think about us when shopping for gifts.”

And speaking of gifts, Villaseñor feels each day she comes to the store is just that.

“I love arriving at the garden everyday and given that I am surrounded by it, I am very aware of the changing of the seasons,” she said. “The physical beauty is probably my favorite part; to be constantly reminded of how lucky I am to live here is a gift.”

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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