By Sara Hodon
A home’s exterior is just as important as the interior and can speak volumes about its residents, from colorful flowers in the garden to the porch furniture. And then there are the little details—small touches like windchimes, flags, and banners, which not only add a welcoming touch to an entryway or porch but serve as a reminder of a favorite family vacation destination. Seaside shop owners are in a particularly strong position for selling these popular mementos; their decorative nature, not to mention the melodic tones from the chimes, is often enough to entice customers to come into the store and make a purchase. “We display wind chimes in the windows and from the ceiling along with a standalone display,” said Chris Wolff, sales staff at Gulf Stream Gifts in Nags Head, N.C. “The light from the window makes them more noticeable.” Gulf Stream Gifts sells a range of beach souvenirs, gifts, and supplies, specializing in gold, sterling silver, and casual nautical jewelry, mermaid- and nautical-themed apparel, gifts, and décor, and essentials like sunglasses, towels, and sunblock.
“Our wind chimes are throughout the store so people can see them and hear them,” said Kim Glover, spokeswoman for A. Dodson’s in Suffolk, Va. “It’s important to experience the sound of a wind chime.” Erika Christian, owner of Seaside Flags and Gifts in Virginia Beach, Va., said their outdoor flag displays draw customers in. “People will always come in and ask, ‘What’s that flag you have outside?’” she said. Seaside Flags and Gifts occupies 1,300 square feet and carries a wide range of full-size and garden flags, as well as all of the necessary flag hardware including poles, stakes, and brackets; garden décor, and gifts such as dishware, nautical-themed items, and jewelry.
Once inside, retailers say, make it easy on the customer. “Display as many products as you can both indoors and outdoors, as long as it’s done in a neat and easy to access fashion,” said Justyna Kuzmicz, general manager of The Kite Loft in Ocean City, Md. “Follow current trends and popular designs depending on your area. Make sure that displayed products are as easy as possible for a customer to find when looking for one in a package. Hang chimes at eye level, but stagger them slightly so they don’t all hang at exactly the same height. It’s easier to see different chimes when they are hung at slightly different levels. Make sure chimes hang apart enough from each other for customers to chime one at a time, which allows a potential client to choose the melody they like the most.” The Kite Loft is a well-known shop with two locations in Ocean City, one on the historic boardwalk, that sells single line, stunt, and power kites, toys, garden décor, windsocks and wind twisters, apparel, and more in a 3,900-square-foot space.
Christian said that it’s important to hang flags and banners so customers can see the whole design. “The customers like to see them in their entirety. When they’re in a package you can’t always see all of the embellishments or wording. We’ve also strung flags across our ceiling and on the walls with clothesline. We have 20-foot high ceilings so it really catches peoples’ eye when they walk in and there’s a little breeze and the flags are flapping.”
Joseph Fala, owner of Windworks in Madeira Beach, Fla., stressed the importance of stocking a variety of products and designs that appeal to a wide customer demographic. He is seeing strong sales for flags with double appliqué and those made of burlap. Windworks is a 1,500-square-foot retail space that “specializes in things that fly, twirl, wave, and interact with the wind,” according to their website. They stock a huge assortment of kites, yard spinners, hammocks, garden flags, bird feeders, and garden décor, and one of the largest selections of wind chimes in Florida.
A store’s location often dictates the best-selling designs. For example, all of the seaside retailers interviewed said that coastal and beach-themed designs are among their biggest sellers, particularly for flags and banners. “Another theme that never gets old in this category is ‘It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere,’ ‘Wine a Little, You’ll Feel Better,’ and anything with colorful drinks. The pirate theme is also still a big seller, and owls—can’t forget owls!” Kuzmicz said. Christian said that besides the coastal appliqués, pineapples, monograms, and dog designs also sell well. “Monogram flags seem to have picked up again,” she said. “They were very popular when I opened in 2008 and seemed to slow down in the last few years. But they seem to be back!” Incorporate symbols of your location into as much merchandise as you can—such as seashells, lighthouses, mermaids, or beach scenes at seaside shops—as it both reflects your store’s brand and provides customers with countless options for souvenirs when they are ready to make a purchase for themselves or a gift for someone else. For flags and banners, Kuzmicz said that customers should be encouraged to handle the items so they can see and feel the difference between the various materials that were used to make them. “Take time to redo your displays a few times a year,” she added. “Don’t just ‘fill in the gaps’ when you sell some of your display pieces. Take the time to take everything down and start fresh. It will pay off in the long run. Make sure you carry a variety of interesting products, not just staples that can be found in every other store. Take time to display them properly and enjoy the customer’s reaction when they find the best souvenir or gift ever!” Display as many samples of the flag designs as space will allow, and be sure to have adequate inventory of each design available. “I have customers who like to match their garden flag with their full-sized flag on the house, so we always try to have a nice stock of matching flags,” Christian said. Glover said their store boosts sales with special offers: “We encourage flag sales by doing four for $40 and buy three get one free promotions.”
Windchimes, flags and banners make great gifts and souvenirs because they’re relatively hassle-free. “Flags are easy to pack, easy to store, and at a good price point. Windchimes remind us of sounds we’ve heard,” Glover said. Christian added: “They’re the perfect souvenir because they’ll remind you of your beach vacation every time you come home and see it by your front door or porch.” Ongoing competition from online outlets, even for niche décor items like windchimes, flags and banners, has made the brick-and-mortar shopping experience more difficult to maintain. Retailers said this just means there is an even stronger focus on excellent customer service. “We try to offer them a positive experience when they come to Windworks,” Fala said. “We try to offer a happy and fun experience when they pass through our shop. We try to pass along what we know about the chimes without being pushy. Customers can find things online today; we want them to come in and hopefully become a customer at Windworks.”