“Retail Raves” asks one retailer to specify a product that’s making a difference in his or her business. All professionals featured in this column are selected at random.
Anyone who knows me can attest to how much I enjoy designing spaces. I do it at my home, and I’ve done it countless times at my store, Environments by Arkansas Pools & Spas.
Since my husband, John, and I purchased the business from his stepfather in 1973, we have rearranged and remodeled it more times than I can recall, knocking down countless walls, expanding spaces, building a new warehouse, and completely changing our aesthetics — and product mix — inside and out.
Every few years, I do what I do best, and remodel the store to create a new environment for our Environments.
The business itself has probably morphed as many times as our aesthetic. Initially, we built pools and sold a few chemicals from our Jonesboro, Ark., storefront. In 1981, I began working at the store, and not long afterwards we added retail items to our inventory. A few years later, while attending a BioGuard seminar, I visited an Idea Store. It was there that I was inspired to make the first of many alterations that would ultimately lead to increased sales of more than just chemicals.
In the late ’90s we added accessories to our line. We started out slowly, with some toys, placemats and other tabletop items. By 1996, we stopped building pools and shifted our focus to helping people obtain the perfect outdoor and indoor environments, like the ones we have re-created in our store. This shift has really helped our business. We grow a little bit every year despite the recession.
Our customers run the gamut ranging from those who can buy everything we offer to those who are on a strict budget. But all respond to our store with enthusiasm. Many of them come in to get chemicals for aboveground pools, or to buy a new one altogether, but all of them tell me how much they enjoy walking around to check out our unique displays.
This season, two of our new eye-catching additions featured a lot of color, thanks to retro-style patio chairs, made by Texas-based Torrans Manufacturing Co., and hats and visors by San Diego Hat Co. My friend owned one of the hats and suggested I add them to our collection. And I simply like the way the chairs look and how they are constructed.
Both new items are fun to exhibit because they have a lot of character and are different from many of the other products in our showroom, yet still fit in scattered amongst the pool toys, hot sauces, grill accessories and chalk board patio clocks.
We arranged the visors and hats — which are priced from $15 to $40 — on a tall, wooden mermaid that we thought would look appealing and attract attention. We keep it in several different locations, but always near the front within four or five feet of the checkout counter. Just like the store itself, we never leave something in one place for too long, because then people expect it to be there. By moving the display, customers notice the merchandise more, since it seems like we have altered our inventory. Whenever I do this, a returning customer asks, “When did you get that?” And I say, “Hmm. Four years ago!”
Everyone really loves trying on the hats. We even hung a mirror across the hall from the display, and people just stand there and gaze at themselves. This is a common reaction. In general, hats really catch the eye, especially if you display them right. You can’t just have them in a box sitting there. This is the first year we sold San Diego Hat Co. products, and the response was great. They are comfortable and come in an array of shades and styles. People like them because of the many options, and because they all feature a large brim that effectively shields the face and neck from the sun.
Nestled neatly and strategically near a wall of pool chemicals, the retro-style chairs have sold equally as well. The most popular model, Bel Aire, has a price tag of $99.99 and is available in an assortment of bright colors. Though the company offers other designs from small tables to double gliders, customers seem to like the single chair best. It makes for a great display, and when I sell one, it’s a bonus.
Our customers come from Northeast Arkansas and some of southeast Missouri. We live in a rural area and grow a lot of rice around here, which causes us to have a lot of mosquitoes, so we can’t spend much time sitting outside in the evenings. As a result, we’re a very seasonal store. People also close their pools at the end of August because they quit thinking summer and start thinking about school.
Though it’s rare for consumers to purchase things out of season, one thing we are selling more of each year are fireplaces. In 2000, when it was a good time to expand, we added them to our inventory. Now we have 11 or 12 working units on the floor with decorations all around them. At first, we didn’t sell very many. But after three or four years they caught on, and now we are seeing that business extend year round.