“Sometimes, I feel like I’m in a Nancy Drew mystery. I just wish I had her little roadster.”

Pam Hammond, owner of Paddington Station, the “eclectic emporium” in Ashland Oregon, certainly seems like she could be a grown-up version of the clever, perky girl sleuth, solving one challenging dilemma after another.

Throughout my many years of visiting Ashland, I always make it a point to stop at one (or all) of Pam’s stores because I can always find something surprising and delightful. That’s why I wanted to share Pam’s story as part of the “Amex Welcomed” program with @americanexpress.

Retail is so interesting right now because all the rules are changed. How we were doing business five years, ten years ago is so different from now. But that’s what keeps us motivated, excited, and so far, successful.”

And successful Hammond is. Since 1993, when Pam and her then-husband Don (still her business partner and friend), opened their gift and kitchen shop on Main Street in the charming college and tourist town of Ashland (home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), they’ve expanded to three stores. They’re now even experimenting with “pop-up” stores.

“I’ve always loved retail. I went to college to be a flute major but junior year in college, I realized I didn’t want to be poor my whole life, do the whole starving artist thing,” Pam recalled. “I was living in Los Angeles, but I moved to New York City and got an associate degree in fashion merchandising, then moved back home. I worked in department stores for about 11 years.”

“After I had my daughter—she was about three years old—I was going to NYC about once a month. One time, my daughter curled up into the suitcase to go with me since I was gone so much. That was a wake-up call.  My husband, Don, and I decided to get out of LA and find a better place to live.”

“We thought we’d run a B&B and I went to Ashland, Oregon.” After showing Pam a number of B&Bs, the realtor showed Pam a struggling gift store housed in a beautiful historic building on Main Street that was for sale.

“I bought it without Don even seeing it. We were the third owners. Sales had gone down about 75%, and it was about to go out of business. This was 1993. We had the gift shop on the main floor, a restaurant in the basement and a sandwich shop on the mezzanine. I had two part-time employees. My husband didn’t move up because we still needed his income in LA.”

Over the years, Pam changed the product mix, finding more interesting and “eclectic” gifts and clothes, adding kitchen wares and books, and eliminating the restaurant and sandwich shop. More importantly, they were willing to try new things, change with the times, and become more an integral part of the Ashland community.

Today, Paddington Station consists of three stores, has 35 employees, and Pam says they’ll reach $4 million in sales in the next 18 months. Sixty percent of their sales come from locals—not tourists—demonstrating the loyalty they’ve built up with local shoppers.

How do Pam’s three stores—Paddington Station, Paddington Jewel Box, and Inspired by Oregon—thrive in today’s retail environment with so much competition, especially from online and discount retailers?

“We’re a family business. We want people to feel like we’re part of the community. We want to delight our customers. It’s making sure that on hot days we have ice water. That we’re greeting them.” They offer complimentary gift wrap. Two percent of their preferred sales go to local non-profits, “So customers know ‘if I shop here, I’m supporting my community.’ I think my customer understands they need to support the community if they want us to still be here. That’s an extension of the shop local movement.”

“We will always surprise you with what’s in the store,” Pam says, explaining that of course having the right merchandise at a competitive price is critical. “You can always expect to buy a spatula, a birthday card, a toy. But it will surprise you. It will be a new type of spatula, the best $20 kid’s birthday gift. You can always expect something new.”

That means she’ll sometimes have products that don’t sell well. “I believe in mark downs if it’s not the right product. Mark downs are not the sign of failure—if you don’t have mark downs, you’re not trying enough.”

Part of making sure she delights customers extends to payment methods too. Though there’s been an explosion of new merchants who accept American Express Cards—over one million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2016—Pam accepted American Express cards from the day she started her business. “I want to make my customer’s life happy. I’ll accept whatever card they want. Checks are antique; 86% of my sales are done on a card.”

Small Business Saturday has also been wonderful. It’s created a platform for something that didn’t exist before. It’s like Black Friday, CyberMonday. It’s something people come in the store and ask about Small Business Saturday specials and events.”

What does the future hold for Pam? What a lot of small business owners dream of—to hand the baton to the next generation. “I hope to retire in five years. My daughter, Kelly, who’s 30 years old, just got her Masters degree in Business, and her dream is to take over the family business. My son, Nick, also works here.” Kelly is the daughter who crawled into Pam’s suitcase those many years ago and put this retail adventure in motion.

Now, Pam is experimenting with trying “pop-up” stores: short-term stores in highly-trafficked areas, such as a music festival.

“It’s like Ariel in the Little Mermaid,” said Pam, “I want to be where the people are.”

“This post is sponsored by American Express, but all opinions are my own.”

 Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017