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!
Alki 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.
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 alkisurfshop.com:
“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: http://on.bubb.li/274389a3j16zhyk22uss6j0