The Tiny Timbers Resort Gift Shop aims to deliver a unique experience in every shopping trip.

July 3, 2024

Sometimes all it takes is a tiny little idea to change your life. For Cheryl and Brett McIntosh, a moment in 2016 led to the life-changing decision to purchase roughly 10 acres and build Tiny Timbers Resort in South Fork, Colorado. Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains and more than 2 million acres of national forest known for outdoor recreation, the resort offers a home base for vacationers looking to try on tiny living in cottages that average 170 square feet.

And in the thick of it stands the 1,600-square-foot Tiny Timbers Resort gift shop — a giant of sorts in a village that resembles the mushroom houses from Smurf village. Opened in 2020, the gift shop became the third building to grace the property in addition to the coffee shop and a log cabin.

“I’m more of the business person behind the scenes,” says Cheryl McIntosh. “But the gift shop was the place that I could meet with people … and I’ve had so many great conversations in there. It’s been a neat addition.”
Also in 2020, McIntosh brought in her right-hand woman, Drew Smith, as the operation’s business manager — a position that quickly morphed and has since been renamed resort manager. Together, the duo run the gift shop as well as the coffee shop, the lodging rentals and the newest addition — the spa, which offers facials, manicures, pedicures and massages.

“It’s been harder than I ever imagined, but more fulfilling than I ever imagined,” McIntosh notes. “What a journey it’s been, but we’re thrilled and it’s finally getting fun.”

From the ground up

The journey to build Tiny Timbers began in 2016 during a hypothetical Fourth of July conversation between the husband and wife about the desire to build a business in South Fork.

Customers love Tiny Timbers’ custom design mugs, patches and other name-dropped souvenirs.
Photos: Justin Treptow

“That was a Sunday,” McIntosh recalls. “Monday, we found the place. Saturday, we were walking it. By the next Saturday, we were under contract.”

After walking miles around the property and jumping through lots of hoops for approvals of every kind, the McIntoshes began their first project remodeling an on-site cabin that was built in 1933. With the coffee shop building already on-site, four tiny rental homes were added to the front of the property. Three larger, 800-square-foot cabins that were affectionately dubbed tiny-home mansions followed later.

But it still didn’t feel complete, McIntosh admits. “We called it a resort from day one and all we had was a coffee shop and a few tiny homes,” she explains. “And I was always aware that if I’m calling it a resort, I’ve got to turn it into a resort so we just kept adding things that made it feel more like a resort.”

And what a better add-on than a gift shop to spread the message that Tiny Timbers is a great source for specialty items?

“We added the retail and the spa and we’ve got a hot tub now,” McIntosh says. “So I’m satisfied it’s truly a resort now.”

Mapping out the gift shop

Before the laid-back resort lifestyle could be enjoyed, it had to be built from scratch, starting with the gift shop. The McIntoshes have used the same independent contractor to build their signature look for the resort and shop, all of which have a rustic “cozy cabin” feel.

The fixtures are a mix of old and new with a general store wall unit providing plenty of cubbies to fill, while antique hutches, tables and countertops provide the rustic edge that McIntosh envisioned.

Hats sell well at Tiny Timbers.

McIntosh, who still maintains her position as chief financial officer of a manufacturing company, says she had no experience in retail, but has an eye for “making things look pretty.”

One of the first items she purchased was a “prop” back end of a pickup truck for that signature piece.

“We have that against the wall, and we filled it full of flowers,” McIntosh explains. “The flowers don’t sell well at all, but I don’t care, because it creates a beautiful look to the shop the minute they walk in the door.”

Back to the drawing boards

When it came to the first go-round in buying merchandise, however, buying the right items didn’t come easy — something McIntosh and Smith still laugh about.

McIntosh notes that she tried to sell beautiful platters with no luck. Smith was hopeful pretty vases would be a hit. “Nobody bought the vases,” she says.

It was a first of many lessons in understanding their customers and the demographics for success, McIntosh notes. With a large local population of retired individuals and the remainder of visitors being travelers, McIntosh says she realizes how she missed the mark in identifying what would be good sellers.

“South Fork has a large retired community, and at that stage in life, you’re giving things away, you’re not buying things for your home,” she explains. “And then the people who are traveling, they may love the platter, but they’re thinking, ‘how do I get it back home?’”

Today, among their bestsellers are crocheted cotton potholders in “modern” colors like sage and rust, soy candles, napkins, charcuterie boards, cheese knife sets and cast-iron mouse card holders that help explain dishes and appetizers to party guests.

McIntosh notes that they are always trying to promote their gourmet coffee shop, so anything with a coffee scent or espresso beans are featured items. Their absolute bestselling item is a peppermint mocha-scented candle infused with actual espresso beans and peppermint chips.

“We rarely reorder items because really like to mix it up season after season,” McIntosh notes. “But that is a reorder item. We order it every holiday season, and we sell out.”

One-of-a-kind pieces

Smith notes that hats rank among the most popular souvenirs, especially those with the Tiny Timbers moniker.

“We’ve really put a lot into building our brand and it’s worked because people will come in and they want Tiny Timbers gear. They want our logo,” McIntosh explains. “They want anything with Tiny Timbers on it. And that just thrills me, the fact that we’ve built the brand to the point where people want to come in and they want Tiny Timbers swag.”

The 1,600-square-foot gift shop is giant compared with the 170-square-foot cottages at the Colorado resort.

Among the name-branded items are coffee mugs specially designed by Chad Soden of Lean Tree Pottery in Hickory, North Carolina, who also happens to be Brett McIntosh’s cousin. The couple approached him for a custom design and he delivered a mug with an antler handle and patch with the Tiny Timbers logo.

McIntosh and Smith also like to carry a lot of merchandise for the home. “We really focus on the home,” McIntosh adds. “But it’s got to be something you’re not going to find in the mall and something you’re not going to find at the souvenir shops.”

Rules to live by

McIntosh says there are two rules to follow when running a gift shop in a resort town: 1.) Understand your customer base; and 2.) Be open.

While it may be easy during the offseason to justify saving money by turning out the lights and asking guests to give a holler if they want to shop, it’s not something McIntosh recommends.

And another important ingredient — forming meaningful relationships with guests.

Through those conversations, Smith and McIntosh have laughed, cried, prayed and connected with customers from all walks of life.

“I love being able to help create a section of their home that they’re going to look at that’s going to make them feel happy or proud of the space that they’ve created,” Smith notes.

And it all starts with a tiny bit of inspiration from a gift shop whose owners dared to dream big.