Monday, August 31, 2015

With a Little Help From My Friends

It’s been a year since my husband, Kahuna Dave, and I opened our store, Alki Surf Shop, in West Seattle. The past 12 months have been filled with lots of laughter and learning, and we’ve met thousands of great people from nearby and all over the world. We’ve made new friends, rekindled past friendships, and love being a part of the Alki Beach community.

It feels like we’ve been on a business “graduate school” crash course. We're smarter store owners now, and continue to evolve. Among some of the things we've learned: How to create a positive experience for people who visit; how to identify products that make sense; and how to work more effectively with suppliers.

My husband's vision of "Hawaii-Beach-California" is fun, and comes through clearly in our store, from the fixtures to the colors and raffia and bamboo trim.

One of the things I made a conscious effort to do is to incorporate my friends in the creation of our unique space. We’re constantly hearing from visitors that they love our store. Maybe one of the reasons is, there is so much love that has gone into making it special.

So, this blog post is dedicated to the people who have been supportive to me in myriad ways, and given me all sorts of wonderful presents that are now part of Alki Surf Shop. I like knowing they are there with us every day. Without them, Alki Surf Shop would be a much less personal and less eclectic place.


My friend, Paula, has great taste. She’s given me a ton of wonderful things over the decades. Two I’ve incorporated into the shop include a narrow Italian dish, now filled with bracelets;

and a palm leaf dish, used to display some of our brass items

While I went through chemo in 2006, Mary, my bestie in the 7th grade and former roommate in college, gave me a basket she’d filled with indulgent lotions, fragrances and soaps. It’s now the home of our custom reversible Tyvek Alki Beach bags, popularized by Martha Stewart.

Suzanne, a close friend since the 1970s and fellow animal lover, gave me this dish a long time ago. We use it to keep change left for/by our new friends.

On our front counter you'll often see a pretty hand-made glass vase from good friend and fellow AirBNB host Jennifer. It works perfectly with a single bloom.

Jennifer also gave me this hand-made ceramic that holds pens for our customers to use. Alongside is an awesome Crane's note book from my friend, Lynne. We're using it as a guest book.

Charmaine, like Jennifer, goes back to what I call the “golden age” in Pioneer Square. Our husbands are close buddies, and she’s one of my favorites. This great  Chinese bowl came from one of her trips.

Three long-time friends are called the “Killer Bs,” and include Sue, MR and Lynne. Together we formed a PR firm that handled the public relations for the Washington State Centennial. In our store: a fused glass dish from Sue;  

a woven basket from Lynne; 

and a basket from MR’s recent trip to Africa.

 My family has also contributed time and treasures to Alki Surf Shop. My sister, Melissa, stocks us with Alki earrings and gave me a stand to display them; 

 Carol, my sister-in-law, bequeathed some Hawaiian things from her mom, Melba (long-time West Seattle resident), including two large Tiki masks that flank the main table legs; 

 a palm-leaf wall hanging;

and a portrait of Melba’s pug, by a Hawaiian artist.

Wendy and I have known each other longer than I’ve known my husband (37+ years). When she moved to Hawaii from 10 years on Alki, she left us her beautiful collection of sea glass.

Linda and I began as work colleagues in 2007, and have remained friends ever since. She's a well-known expert in the field of Internet safety and made it her mission to educate people. The carved Indonesian bowl she gave me is currently the home to our plumeria clips!

Cecile is a fascinating friend and former work colleague. When she moved from a Seattle bungalow to a cool floating home on Lake Union, she let go of some of her furnishings, including this cute table, now home to one of our most popular items — falsa blankets.

My friend Patt gave me this basket. The great shape and design make it perfect for almost anything. Right now it’s a nest for some shell coin purses.

I’ve known Nena for five years. She's a fellow shop owner and has mentored me during the past year. I’m currently using this cigar box as a platform for shark salt and pepper shakers, but it's one of those cool things you can use for anything.

Whether or not they know it, my friends have been with me on this journey. It feels great when I'm in the store surrounded by their presence. If you stop by, you'll get to "meet" them, too!

If you're going to be in the area, give a call at 206.403.1901. If I'm there, it will be fun to see you!



My relationship with Verizon enabled me to acquire some fantastic technology that has supported our store, including a Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet, Nokia Lumia Icon, Belkin Netcam, and Canary. We frequently receive comments about our UE Boom speaker that powers the music for our store, and I wouldn’t be able to shoot such high-quality images for Instagram without the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

Photos in this post were shot using the Galaxy Note 4.
Lead image: What you see as you walk into Alki Surf Shop (featuring our #Verizon #Belkin HD Netcam on the top shelf, to the right)

Alki Surf Shop on Twitter:
#vzwbuzz brought to you by The Online Mom

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Life's a Beach - on Alki in Seattle

It’s been said, “Life’s a beach,” and in our case, it’s true!

Eleven months ago, my husband, “Kahuna Dave” and I launched our store, Alki Surf Shop. on Alki Beach in West Seattle.

It’s took extraordinary effort and thinking to create such a unique place. It’s not just the fact that the “physical plant” is fun and adorable, but we go further to make sure our customers have a positive experience in every way we can. As Kahuna Dave says, Alki Beach is Seattle’s playground, and when you’re there, you’re having fun.

Starting with the music we pipe out onto the sidewalk, we actually see people outside on the side walk dancing before they enter our store. We have an incredible UE Boom bluetooth speaker, which acts like a pied piper, drawing them up into our space. And when a customer leaves, we often give them something extra to remember.

Our stock-in-trade is genuine Alki-branded tees, hoodies, and tank tops, but we sell all manner of beach essentials: sunglasses, sunscreen, towels, mats, beach blankets, chairs, umbrellas, flip flops, beach toys and more. 

We carry a variety of beached-themed home and fashion accessories, as well as cards, kites, bags, sarongs, hats and jewelry. We also have snacks and have a glass fridge filled with Seattle’s own Jones Soda, water and other cold and refreshing drinks. 

Earrings made for Alki Surf Shop
 Flags, hats and pirate stuff for our Mateys
What is a beach store without Aloha Shirts flown in from Hawaii?

Some of the most interesting people find their way into our place. Recently we were swarmed with mermaids, pirates, television reporters (as customers!), a brand-new Seattle Seahawk, and players for the Seattle Reign.

The first annual Mermaid Parade took place in May
Craig and Julianne ready for the Pirate Pub Crawl in June
 Kahuna Dave with KING-TV reporter Linda Brill, and James Lalonde
 Mark Glowinski, rookie offensive guard for the Seattle Seahawks and his wife, Lisa!

We meet pilots, realtors, soldiers, students, sailors, doctors, nurses, chemists, software engineers, librarians, bartenders, project managers, artists, business owners, athletes, media people, hairdressers, advertising professionals, friends from social media, photographers, plumbers, surfers, and energetic kids of all ages.

We’ve had customers visit from just about every state of the U.S., and from countries stretching around the world, including Austria, S. Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, S. Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Italy, France, England, Australia, Dominican Republic, Guam, Virgin Islands, Philippines, Holland, Germany, Belgium, New Zealand, Kuwait, Peru, Iceland and Singapore. I know there are others—but it’s hard to remember them all!

Where else in Seattle can you cross paths with so many varied and fascinating people on a daily basis? 

Alki Surf Shop is located at the center of the universe, and I invite you to join the party when you visit Seattle. I try to work at the store weekend afternoons, but if you're going to be there another day, give me a heads up, I’ll try to meet you there.  

It’s possible people might arrive at Alki Beach in a bad mood, but they most certainly are smiling by the time they leave. The magic continues to amaze and entertain all who enter Alki Surf Shop. 


Huge thanks to Verizon for their support. Our Belkin HD Netcam maintains a watchful eye over our store; we have been fortunate to have a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Nokia Lumia Icon to shoot photos of our products, our customers and our amazing beach community; and our UE Boom bluetooth speaker — admired by customers and surrounding businesses for the amazing sound quality. Special thanks to Monica Vila @TheOnlineMom.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Message from My Mom

My sister, Melissa, has been on a mission to clean out our childhood home. During the course of unearthing some truly terrible pottery by yours truly, she came across a variety of artifacts as well as some notes written by our mom.

We lost our mom to cancer eight years ago. She entered Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, and about a week later, she died.

It was just like our mom to be selfless, and not trouble us to care for her over the course of a long, drawn-out illness. I think we all expected her to get well. She had celebrated her 88th birthday that year — a special year in Japanese culture. My brother Dave, and his wife Carol, treated everyone to a limousine and dinner at Canlis for a very special celebration. It was truly amazing.

Quite a few years earlier, I had an idea of asking my mom to write a family history. After looking at a number of books on the subject, which made the process look daunting, I found a format (it was the dot-matrix days) printed it out and gave it to her, hoping she would answer the questions, but to my knowledge, she never did. 

Original dot-matrix document 

Having moved to Seattle from Colorado where she and my were dad married, and since we lived far from her parents and siblings and our cousins, we didn’t know very much about her side of the family. 

She didn’t talk very much about her life when she was growing up. So there were huge gaps in our understanding. Finding the notes so many years after her death is like having a conversation and finding out answers to questions we thought would never be answered.

Her notes were filled with wonderful vignettes of her days growing up, and also some sad things we didn't know about. But mostly it was so amazing to have a chance to hear from her, so unexpectedly.

I wish I could thank her for this gift and to say thanks for her many sacrifices. After our parents divorced, she raised my sister, brother and me at a time when being a divorced Japanese woman was almost unheard of. Yet she endured and met all the challenges presented to her and lived a strong, ethical and inspiring life. She provided us with an amazing example to follow.


This post is in honor of our mom’s 97th birthday, with thanks to Melissa for finding the treasures.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Brand Building Versus Customer Service

What's more important? Building a brand, or serving your customers?

Happy buyers are essential to making your business succeed. Without customer service, it doesn’t matter if you’ve created a great brand. Ignoring buyers or potential customers is counter-productive to the ultimate goal of attaining success. 

That being said, a strong brand identity is like a way-finding system for your customers, so it’s very important, too. It signals what you do, how you position yourself and lets your customers understand how you fit into the marketplace, and how it relates to them. Customers encounter your brand and should quickly understand a brand’s personality and position among competitors and decide whether there is a good fit.

That’s how the Graham Cracker Cookie Crumbles

Some of you know, my husband, David Horsfall, and I opened Alki Surf Shop in Seattle seven months ago. It may be February, and so what if Boston is buried in 100 inches of snow (@chillie31512)? The weather in Seattle has been balmy, and Alki Surf Shop is gearing up for spring and summer!

One of the things I’ve learned about retail stores like ours — there is a need to continually integrate new, fun and useful merchandise, as well as give each of our customers as positive an experience as possible. 

We installed a new section of slat wall, which is a display system that will allow us to add food items this summer. One of the things we have been researching is ingredients for S’mores

In the spirit of due diligence, we’ve been reading reviews by consumers concerning their feelings about certain brands of marshmallows and graham crackers. A brand I’ve never heard of landed on my radar, so I sent a query asking about where I might be able to find their goods to try them, and what it would entail to open an account (minimum opening orders, terms, etc.) if it looked like something we want to pursue.

Here is their reply:

Granted, Alki Surf Shop is not going to move the dial even an iota in terms of product orders, but it struck me as a bit lame, similar to when an intern will post something silly on behalf of a national brand on Twitter. 

May I help you?

For whatever reason, this phrase seems to have fallen out of favor. Some companies seem to have erected walls between themselves and their customers. When is the last time you were able to reach someone at Google or Twitter, for example?

Also this week—we ordered a large batch of hoodies to take to our screen printer. When attempting to contact the supplier to confirm the order was ready for us in Will Call, we weren’t able to reach them. My husband, on a leap of faith and using the directions on their web site, drove there to pick them up. But the building wasn’t where it was supposed to be and they weren’t answering their phone. So a 40-minute drive from Seattle to Auburn was wasted.

Eventually I called customer service for their parent company who was able to get through to the facility. The rep told me, “Oh, they are really busy and don’t have any customer service reps, so they don’t answer their phone!”

When a business lists a telephone number, but has absolutely no intention of answering the phone, why bother listing it? 

On the second attempt, David discovered a glitch in the directions  and was able to pick up the hoodies. He asked why they continue to post the wrong directions on their web site, and an employee replied, “One of the guys put it up there, and we heard about the mistake.  I guess he never got around to fixing it.” 

If you build it, will they come?

Without brand development, your customers might never find you in the first place. Good customer service provides your clients with positive experiences that can carry over to continuing relationships and result in word-of-mouth recommendations. Branding and customer service are essentially two sides of the same coin. When one side is missing, the currency is worthless.

Have you had any exceptionally good or bad experiences with a business? What are they and how have they affected your relationship with them? I would love to hear about your experiences.

Follow Alki Surf Shop on Twitter: @alkisurfshop
Follow Terri Nakamura on Twitter: @terrinakamura
Shop at our online store:
Friend us on Facebook: Alki Surf Shop
Follow us on GooglePlus: Alki Surf Shop

Alki Surf Shop is located on Seattle's best beach. 2622 Alki Avenue SW, Seattle, 98116
Phone: 206.403.1901

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Beauty of Rejection

Rejection sounds negative, but it can play a positive role in choices we make. It can force us to pivot in a new direction and help us develop skills to adapt and succeed. By changing our focus to something we hadn’t planned, rejection can lead us to a better outcome than if we’d simply been handed the thing we wanted. 

In pursuit of happiness?

Last fall I learned of a great job with one of my local design clients. They were looking for a communications director who could write, work well with others, and organize the department. Plus it was a bonus if they had design and social media skills. I’d had my business for a long time and, thinking I might be an ideal candidate, I vigorously pursued it.

Five months of meetings and interviews led me to become one of two finalists. The search culminated when I had a 9-hour successive interview with about 40 people. After ruminating three weeks, they emailed to say neither of us were chosen, and they were going to start the search anew. What a drag!

During the course of the search, the client found itself in a controversial situation. It caused their focus to shift from finding a communications director to needing someone with crisis management experience. Suddenly, what appeared to be a great fit was beyond my range of experience. 

Meanwhile, on another channel…

Around the same time, my husband, former ad creative David Horsfall, started a successful online store, Alki Surf Shop. Based on the site’s success, he felt the next logical move was to open a brick and mortar retail store on Alki Beach in West Seattle. I was apprehensive, but after looking at a number of possibilities to buy or rent, he found the perfect location. So, in the spring of 2014 we put the wheels in motion.

Just as my client needed to change directions because of their crisis, I shifted gears to concentrate on our new endeavor. And as with all projects I take on, I poured my heart into it. Skills I’d acquired from running a successful design practice were used to establish our retail store. I knew how to organize the pieces into a manageable framework including sourcing products, working with vendors, negotiating terms, procuring estimates, tracking inventory and ensuring quality along every point. 

David is a creative visionary and happens to have terrific abilities in all things related to building rehab. (We've restored five houses including our house on AirBNB.) Our combined expertise encompassed top-notch graphic design, writing, advertising, social media and marketing skills. This meant we were able to redesign and rebuild the space, deploying design, advertising and other marketing essentials that ordinary businesses have to hire out. Our skills saved us many tens of thousands of dollars in start-up costs.

Overcoming obstacles teaches us to be nimble.

Thanks to the opportunity created by losing out on the job, I was able to work with David and my family to build a viable and enchanting new business. In July of 2014, we opened Alki Surf Shop’s “flagship” store. 

Launching into the unknown can be daunting as well as exhilarating. That's the beauty of rejection.

Sometimes, it provides you with the push you need to move forward.

Follow Alki Surf Shop on Twitter: @alkisurfshop
Follow Terri Nakamura on Twitter: @terrinakamura
Shop at our online store:
Friend us on Facebook: Alki Surf Shop
Follow us on GooglePlus: Alki Surf Shop

Alki Surf Shop is located on Seattle's best beach. 2622 Alki Avenue SW, Seattle, 98116
Phone: 206.403.1901

Photo by Patryk Sobczak

Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Experiment in DISconnection

Why We Need to Digital Detox

Our Irrepressible Need to Be Connected

From the moment we adopted the smart phone—a tiny, life-altering portable computer—the need to stay connected intensified.

Our devices provided us with instant connectivity. And with the introduction of social media, the time we spent connecting practically doubled as we kept up with daily news of not just real life, but also virtual friends.

It’s extraordinary how technology enables us to have our family and friends as close as our pockets. But our devices can be like a spoiled pet—needy and demanding.

Digital Day-cation

In September I posted a tweet about Jake Knapp's year, free of digital distraction from the iPhone.

A Twitter friend, Adrian Lee, saw it and tweeted me to say he was going to give it a try for 24 hours. I didn’t think about it too much until he wrote about it

He did it!  I was so impressed! 

Social media relationships, as those in real life, thrive when you are present and wither when you are gone. I wanted to give it a shot but felt anxious about it. It sounds lame, but I wondered if I could I last for 24 hours? And I wondered if there would there be any negative fallout? 

Obviously I’d never find out unless I tried.

Entering  the No-Phone-Zone

Following Adrian’s lead, I chose a day to turn off my phone, and leave it off. It’s a lot harder to back out of something when someone is expecting you to follow through, so I told a few people about my plan ahead of time.

Turning off the phone was not a big deal. But leaving it off, turned out to be fascinating for me.

Almost immediately I felt like I was given a “get out of jail free” card. Feelings of freedom and happiness enveloped me like a warm hug. I wasn’t enslaved to answer text notifications or phone calls, or subconsciously “tune in” to the hums, lights and beeps emitted by my phone. 

Turning off my iPhone felt like time traveling back to a simpler time. I realized how much we have given up by partitioning our brains to constantly pay attention to our devices. 

Not only could I do it — it was one of the most blissful days I’d enjoyed in years.

And as for negative consequences — there was one: I missed my friends on Twitter. I almost always answer every tweet directed to me, and I think people have come to expect that of me. And I regret, I didn’t. But did the world blow up? No.

Digital Detox—a Virtual Gift

Afterward, a friend, Chiaki Fujita, and I tweeted about it. Chiaki and I have a lot in common. We like talking about our families, and love some of the same authors, films, books, cooking and music. (We also love the HBO show, House of Cards!) Following Adrian’s and my experiences, Chiaki also took a digital break. And since that first time, we’ve both revisited it again. I’m writing this blog post on my fourth “digital day-cation.”

From a single tweet, at least three people came to experience a day free of digital distractions. 

Participating in digital detox puts you back in touch with the real people in your life. It demonstrates how being tethered to your device is self-regulated. By encouraging others to take a break, you give a gift that costs nothing, but has great value.

What Did I Learn?

I learned it’s important to give time back to yourself. I learned the social media world keeps revolving no matter what. I learned it’s okay to eschew “good manners” temporarily—most people can forgive you for that.

When you have a business as I do, it’s necessary to be consistently and reliably available to clients and colleagues. I knew if something important happened, they always had ways to reach me. And I learned, in spite of how important we think it is to maintain a daily presence on social media, it isn’t.

Holidays are stressful. This season, give yourself a gift of peace by taking a “Digital Detox” day.  And let me know how it went!


My recent digital day-cation was spent two hours away from Seattle, near Mount Rainier. I came back to find a notice from Fedex, alerting me of the arrival of a new Verizon Samsung Galaxy Note 4 to test. And so it began again.

For an insightful journey exploring our connections with one another, please enjoy watching a wonderful TED talk by Sherry Turkle, called "Connected, but Alone." She discusses how technology has altered the connections we have with one another. You might find it resonates with you, as much as it did with me.


Illustrations by © Whitney Sherman, licensed to Terri Nakamura 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Riding the Wave into Retail

How the heck did we make this dream happen?

If you're walking along Alki Avenue SW near 59th and see this sign, come up and say hi!

is Seattle’s favorite beach, and although thousands of visitors flock here each year,  branded items have been hard to find. We saw an opportunity to fill a need, and that's when we decided to move from online to brick and mortar.

Today Alki Surf Shop has a ton of Alki-branded merchandise (clothing, souvenirs, consumables), with more Genuine Alki shirts and hoodies than anywhere else on Earth. Due in part, to a little bit of luck.

In May of 2014, thanks, to our neighbor, Sandi Bender, we came upon a rare opportunity to rent a retail space right in the heart of Alki Beach. And so the birth of our store began.

We change up this display to show different merchandise. It must work because customers buy things right off the mannequin.

Neither David nor I have a lot of retail experience. I worked at several stores in high school and college. David was a copywriter for Nordstrom, and worked on many local and national advertising campaigns throughout his career in advertising.

As a graphic designer and ad guy, we have been tasked with positioning and branding for clients over the course of the past few decades, so we had the skills needed. Many people who start stores have to hire people like us. So that has been a big advantage.

But it took more than design and marketing skills to get started. We gutted the space and rebuilt it from the concrete up, redesigning the floor plan, designing and constructing all of the built-in fixtures, and completely envisioning and executing the interior design.

How did we know how to do this stuff? 

We’ve purchased and rebuilt four homes together. We learned by doing.

The store required hundreds of hours of work, with huge contributions of time and energy by my family. But the end result was worth it. Yesterday two former tattoo customers came in and exclaimed, “OMG — This was the tattoo shop? It looks so different! It’s beautiful!”

Having created a great selling space, we needed to establish wholesale accounts with suppliers and distributors, and order new merchandise. But in addition, we had to think about what we would need to function from a business communications standpoint.

We needed a bracelet display but the only ones we saw were boring or cheap. David made this out of bamboo and scrap wood left over from the store construction.

Shortly after we signed our lease in May, I flew to San Francisco for the Verizon Influencer’s Summit. In addition to a treasure trove of goodies, Verizon gave all of us a very generous gift – a Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet.

Staying connected

For our small store, the 2520 became a lifeline to the outside world. We are able to update our spreadsheets (stored in the cloud), stay in touch with suppliers and customers, and search for information on the web.

Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet — lifeline to the outside world

Here’s a recent example: We discovered people like to come in and simply hang out in our store, but there was nowhere for them to sit.  We have two barstools behind the counter, which we were offering to people, but what we really needed was a couple of “guest barstools.” We were able to comparison shop while taking care of business, finding the best local source. From our web searches, we were able to call and verify the chairs were in stock before picking them up.

Sunglasses have been a popular item here. Notice the #vzwbuzz sweatshirt,  and the 2520 in the background?

Technology is a beautiful thing. I just have to say to myself, “Ain’t life grand?”

We keep the 2520 here at the store, and I love that it has made it possible for me to write this post. Like the Lumia Icon smartphone, the tablet is also beautifully designed and has a terrific camera. I think the durable nylon folio case is one of the most elegant of any I’ve seen for a tablet, and it offers great functionality with a built-in keyboard and track pad. The nylon exterior offers a wonderful tactile experience and folds down to next to nothing. Mine is the best color: RED!

As our adventure here at Alki Surf Shop continues, we will keep learning. That’s one of the great things about turning your life upside down – it completely rearranges everything as you knew it, and forces you to see things through new eyes. It may be crazy, but it's the kind of insanity a person can easily learn to love.

On that note, it seems fitting to end with a quote from our website

“We, the people, prefer our toes in the sand, rather than our shoes in a cubicle. We stand in favor of surf, sand and sun. We think fish and chips are an essential food group. And we proudly show our style with Genuine Alki tops. 

Written on, and photos shot with the Nokia Lumia 2520 with thanks to Verizon Wireless.

Our sincere thanks to Momo Seattle, Nena Gifts Seattle, and Casita International  for generously sharing their experiences, advice and wisdom as we put our business together.

Story and Photos 
© 2014 Terri Nakamura

Click the link below to experience a 360° virtual tour of our store: