“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 a grown-up version of the clever, perky girl sleuth, faced with one challenging dilemma after another. Today’s biggest mystery for small business owners like Hammond, especially small retailers? Surviving against aggressive online sellers, especially Amazon.
“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, in spite of fierce online competition. Since 1993, when Hammond and her then-husband Don (still her business partner) opened their gift and kitchen shop, they’ve expanded to three 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,” Hammond recalled. So she got a degree in fashion merchandising and moved back home to Los Angeles.
“After I had my daughter—she was about three years old—I was going to New York City 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.”
“We thought we’d run a B&B, and I went to Ashland, Oregon.” A realtor there showed Pam a struggling gift store housed in a beautiful historic building on Main Street that was for sale.
“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.”
How does Hammond manage to thrive in today’s retail environment with so much competition?
Here are six keys to Hammond’s—and other small brick-and-mortar retailers’—success:
- Change your product mix. Hammond found more interesting and “eclectic” gifts and clothes, added kitchen wares and books, and eliminated the restaurant and sandwich shop. Identify items that sell better in a physical setting and have decent profit margins.
- Delight your customers. Hammond goes the extra step. Her stores offer complimentary gift wrap, have ice water on hot days, and she makes sure every customer is greeted warmly. Customers should feel a special connection with a local retailer to keep them coming back.
- Try new things. “We will always surprise you with what’s in the store,” Hammond says. “You can always expect to buy a spatula, a birthday card, a toy. But it will…be a new type of spatula, the best $20 kid’s birthday gift. You can always expect something new.”
- Change with the times. Hammond has started experimenting with ‘pop-up’ stores in high traffic areas, such as community events. And she keeps up with technology, social media marketing, and more.
- Be willing to fail. “I believe in mark downs if it’s not the right product,” said Hammond. “Mark downs are not the sign of failure—if you don’t have mark downs, you’re not trying enough.”
- Build relationships. Hammond, her employees, and her business are an integral part of the Ashland community. She’s active in the local Chamber of Commerce, various non-profit organizations, and two percent of their preferred sales go to local non-profits.
Today, Hammond has three stores (Paddington Station, Paddington Jewel Box, and Inspired by Oregon), has 35 employees, and will 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.
“We’re a family business. We want people to feel like we’re part of the community…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.”
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on November 1, 2017