By Sara Karnish
Lake and mountain stores aren’t just for tourists. Michaela Copeland, owner of Lake Effect in Meredith, N.H., is just one retailer who said her shop draws visitors and year-round residents alike. As her 900-square-foot shop is situated near both lakes and mountains, Copeland strives to stock inventory reflecting both themes to appeal to a wide customer demographic. “Our home décor is geared toward our location,” she explained. “Images of the surrounding lakes and lake sayings like ‘Go Jump in the Lake’, ‘Lakeaholic’, ‘On Lake Time’, ‘Life is Better at the Lake’, et cetera are extremely popular.” Merchandise with these themes captures a certain state of mind and way of life. One-time visitors want to take home a memento of their stay, and year-round residents want to make it clear why they live near the lakes or mountains full-time. “Our primary demographic is homeowners—usually second homeowners. Tourists visit our shop, but they’re not our main revenue stream,” Copeland explained. Items with a local flair, whether made by an artist or crafter from the community or something that reflects a specific area, sell extremely well.
Shonda Jasper, owner of Jasper’s Emporium in Bayview, Idaho, said her locally-made décor and gift inventory are among the biggest sellers in her 187-square-foot shop. She said she buys from local artists and makes some of her items, adding “the tourists and locals both really like to have something made right here in Bayview.”
Michele Rucci, who co-owns Lake and Pine Co. with her husband Steven in Pewaukee, Wis., said she is noticing an uptick in sales of wood-block signs bearing motivational, inspirational, family-themed, and lake-related sayings. “People are really gravitating toward pieces that remind them of a good memory or things they’ve done outdoors,” she said. “We get locals who live in the same town—many live along the lake and come in to check out the new shop [Lake and Pine Co. opened in early August 2021]. Because we’re right across from a beach, we get more visitors who are coming from Milwaukee to the beach. And we have locals bringing out-of-town visitors [to our community]. We have had people come in from all over.”
Kerry Sloan, who co-owns Ranger Bob’s Trading Post with his wife Rachel in Gatlinburg, Tenn., said being in a tourist town, they “get every type of customer under the sun. Young and old, rich and not so rich. We try to have a little bit of everything to appeal to anyone who walks in the store.”
Even merchandise with subtle references to a lake or mountain sell well in these areas. Retailers also report strong sales for items with animal motifs representing lakes and mountains. Rucci said due to their location and her 1,084-square-foot shop’s appearance of a rustic lodge in northern Wisconsin, black bear-themed items do well. Copeland noted loons, deer, and bear-themed items are her best-selling animal motifs. Sloan said their location in the Smoky Mountains drives sales of items with a black bear motif. “We are also seeing a trend for Bigfoot items,” he noted. Jasper said, “I notice whales are quite popular here. We’re a mountain town on a lake. There are a few people who like the North Woods décor [rustic lodge], but I think most locals here lean toward the lake décor—a lot of blues and neutral colors.”
Whether a customer is buying for themselves or someone special, when it comes to gifts, practical and name-dropped items are always good choices. Jasper said because she does not sell the traditional name-dropped apparel or accessories, her artists will add “Bayview” to hand-made items as a reminder of where the gift was purchased. Copeland added a special touch to gifts. “We customize and personalize a lot of our giftware, which people love. We’ll take their address and mark it using mapping software, then we will add their name and the GPS coordinates for their location. They make great closing and housewarming gifts. People want things that are special and made just for them,” she explained. “For giftware, because we personalize items and can get most items in a week or so, we do a lot of closing gifts for local realtors and housewarming gifts for customers. Our biggest customer demographic is women aged 40-60. Most of our sales are from our women’s clothing—there aren’t a lot of clothing shops in our area. We offer relaxed quality clothing which can be easily worn while enjoying our area.” Food is another great gift because of its practicality and versatility. Rucci said at her store, pretzels, trail mix, and easy grab-and-go items fly off the shelves because “people take them out on their boats or to their cabins.”
Limited space for displaying items means some retailers are forced to be even more creative with merchandising stock. Rucci said despite her limited space, creating fun, eye-catching displays is very important to their brand. “For us, the whole foundation of our business is giving people the feeling of nostalgia—going up north and going camping on the lake. We try to tell stories with our displays. We do groupings [of merchandise]—1,000 square feet fills up quickly, so we have to be smart about how we use the space. We get in as much as we can without being crowded. We have a lake section, which could be anything from T-shirts to rugs with a lake motif to lake-scented candles, or an outdoor cabin camping section. That’s how we create our displays, by doing themes. Some people might come in and just want one thing—such as lake-themed items, so we’ll point them in that direction.”
Besides arranging attractive displays, providing stellar customer service is critical. It not only helps to drive sales, it goes a long way toward bringing in repeat business through relationship building. Simply greeting customers when they walk in sets the tone for their shopping experience. Sloan said they do their best to speak to customers when they come in, and try to provide people with quality products for a reasonable price. Copeland said she works on establishing relationships with her customers through regular contact.
“Customers are our main priority—we always receive great feedback because we keep our customers updated on their order via text or email. We also manage their expectations so they’re not disappointed. We also greet/welcome everyone who enters our shop and thank them for coming when they leave, even if they just walked through.” Rucci said at Lake and Pine, they want to get to know their customers, but understand it can take time. “We want to take the time to get to know those who want to get to know us,” Rucci said. “We’re not pushy—we don’t push sales on people, and we don’t want to encourage buying things they don’t really want. We want to be that friendly little store people know—I think that’s important to keep people coming back.”