One Stop Shopping in Portlandia
When Presents of Mind in Portland, Ore., first opened its doors in 1989, the landscape of Hawthorne Boulevard was decidedly less trendy than it is today. But with only $10,000 and a desire to bring the best of the city’s gift selections to one location, original owner Cinnamon Chaser invested her dollars and foresight in an affordable storefront. Chaser’s daughter, Seasons Koll, operates the family business now and has watched it grow along with the vibrant neighborhood that surrounds it.
The building Presents of Mind occupies was originally divided into several smaller storefronts, so when it took over two spaces to create a 1,700-square-foot sales floor, this one-stop gift shop was left with a unique entrance. The small foyer greets shoppers with two open doorways and two avenues for exploring the store. Enter to the left and you’re welcomed by Portland-centric T-shirts and other conscious women’s clothing and accessories. Enter to the right and you’ll discover baby gear, books, and a veritable apothecary of understated scents and soaps.
Beyond both doors of the welcoming storefront, you’ll find an endless treasure-trove of card and gift items with a sentiment for every occasion. From local, letterpress greeting cards to porcelain teapots and everything in between, there is intentionally something for almost every buyer. We recently sat down with owner Seasons Koll, to learn more about this thriving independent pillar of the Portland shopping scene.
Maressa Giovannini: Why did your mother, Cinnamon Chaser, decide to open this shop?
Seasons Koll: She was really into gift wrap and cards. She always had a collection of cards, and she would travel around the city because one store had nice paper, one store had nice cards, and one store had good gifts. As a consumer, she noticed that was really not convenient. There was no one place to go. Having a store with the gift wrap and the cards and the gifts made a lot more sense. And that’s still what the store is 24 years later. The initial intention was to be one stop, to have all the neat, unique, mindful gifts without customers needing to go to separate stores.
Giovannini: What do you mean by mindful gifts?
Koll: Mindful as in conscious; obviously socially and environmentally conscious, but also conscious of your fellow human being. The act of giving somebody a card is definitely a sentimental, potentially emotional, personal thing. It’s something someone can end up saving her whole life. A lot of conscious effort goes into purchasing gifts and cards for another person, and that means being mindful about what we carry. We have a lot of local and environmentally friendly products, so mindful in that way, as well.
Giovannini: How are you mindful about what you carry?
Koll: We always carried local to some degree but when I took over, that was a big focus for me. So much so that I was trying to replace lines we had with local lines, when and if possible. We have products that are manufactured in this city, so price points don’t have to be too much different. It’s becoming easier to do that, especially because Portland has so many amazing crafters, designers, and builders. Even when the items are produced elsewhere, often the company is based here.
Our customers are sometimes our vendors. A lot of exchange is going on, with the money going back and forth but staying within our community. The economics of the money staying in our community just makes good business sense. Why would you want to have all your invoices and all the money you put out going away from your community? Even if the local vendors don’t directly come back and spend money at your store, the money they contribute to their community—which is your community—will inevitably trickle down to you. Whether their butcher shops with you or they themselves do, it’s still going to help you in the long run.
I’ll never commit to all local, because I want to have the best gift selection we can offer. For now, every category isn’t able to be produced locally at a price point that will work—or just isn’t produced, period.
Giovannini: Do local artists solicit you or do you find them?
Koll: It’s both. I get a ton of submissions, and I definitely scan each one to see if it’s something I really need. Otherwise, it goes in a folder I’ll go through, usually at the beginning of the year, to see if anything might fit in somewhere along the year. I also find artists at local craft shows. I get my employees handmade local gifts for Christmas, so I specifically go to craft shows to pick up gifts and will inevitably find one or two new vendors along the way. I was showing my own line, Seasons K. Designs, at Crafty Wonderland, for instance, and I found probably half a dozen new lines.
Giovannini: How else do you engage in local craft shows, such as Crafty Wonderland?
Koll: Our store sponsors the Crafty Wonderland event, mostly because we carry so many local vendors. A lot of the artists you find there we carry here in the store. If you like these people, you can find them all year round at our store. It’s good advertising for us in that way. We carry so many of the lines available at the local craft events that sometimes the people who put on the events promote us. People can’t always decide what to buy at a craft fair because it’s an in-the-moment kind of thing, so the artists can send them here—yet another benefit of carrying local. Hawthorne Boulevard does some group events we always sponsor, like the Hawthorne Street Fair and the Holiday Stroll, and we participate in Little Boxes, a city-wide Black Friday event. Basically, anything that’s geared toward small business and handmade, local stuff. If there is a good advertising opportunity or a way to sponsor it, we’ll do it.
Giovannini: It sounds like most of your advertising comes in the form of sponsorship. Do you also use more traditional forms of advertising?
Koll: I do a little bit of Portland Monthly magazine here and there because for a high-ticket advertisement, they are a lot better than the local weekly paper. They are both expensive, but Portland Monthly readers actually save and keep the magazine, so it makes more sense to spend the dollars there. Typically, I have limited dollars for advertising, so I’d rather do a sponsorship of something I think is good and get advertising with that.
Giovannini: What about online advertising? Do you feel social media is effective?
Koll: I do. We try to be visible in a lot of social media realms. I have a web person who writes blog posts about the holidays coming up, the events coming up, the products coming in, and the new lines we are finding. She will share her posts on Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook. I also send little birthday coupons to our Facebook friends every morning.
Giovannini: Do you notice that social media engages users?
Koll: I do. I have a photo album on Facebook that I update when we get new products. It’s a good group of photos, with little responses and questions about the products. It’s hard to always keep up, but when I do, there is good response—especially when we upload a great photo of something. I won’t update everything we get in, only if it will draw attention.
Giovannini: What is an example of a product that draws attention?
Koll: Recently, there was a kid’s hat with giraffe ears that got a lot attention. It was a great photo. That hat sold out immediately. If you look at the whole album, you get a good take on what kind of products we have in this store: the kid stuff, the adult stuff, the toys, and the shirts. Plenty of people think of us as just one place—people know us as the card store or the jewelry store or the toy store—but we’re actually all those in one store.
Giovannini: What do you want to be known as?
Koll: A gift store. I call Presents of Mind a “cards and gifts boutique” because we also have apparel and jewelry. If someone says “card and gift store,” I think of Hallmark. By calling it a cards and gifts boutique, it illustrates this other spectrum of items such as baby bags, dresses, and gold jewelry.
Giovannini: You have a really comprehensive selection of products. How do you effectively display all of them in a relatively small space?
Koll: We switched to glass display cases for the most part. You can see through everything. It’s a crowded store, and there’s no fully getting around that because we want the full product mix. We want a worthwhile display of journals, for example, and we want each category to be full. The glass makes it not feel as crowded or restrictive, so you can see the whole store wherever you are. It probably helps with theft as well because employees can see the customer on the other side of the display.
Giovannini: As the owner of a trend-driven business, would you say that eco-conscious products are the biggest trend right now or is there something else that’s driving what you carry in the store?
Koll: We are always looking at a lot of trends; we can’t just focus on one thing. We are focusing on the trends within jewelry, or within apparel. And there are trends within each category, as well as design trends—Native American or geometrics, for instance. The environmentally conscious trend makes it possible for us to find more companies to carry. It used to be really hard to find recycled gift wrap or recycled cards, but a lot of companies that stopped producing them have started again because of the environmental trend. It just makes it easier for us to be able to find and buy those products. One of our bigger gift wrap companies, half of their line is now recycled, where none of it was three years ago. That’s making it easier for us to be able to choose those products, which is nice.
Giovannini: What are some examples of the eco-conscious products you carry?
Koll: There’s a new line we picked up this last year called Pact. They use solar and wind power in their manufacturing. Clothing is unfortunately a pretty environmentally high-impact kind of product. It’s harder to get clothing companies like Pact that people want to spend the money on, but we’re starting to see a little bit more here and there. There’s a T-shirt company called Slow Loris we carry that’s from the Puget Sound area and their whole factory is solar power-driven. More and more, we’re seeing companies that are having as little impact in their production as they possibly can. We carry a lot of recycled materials as well.
Blue Q is a company that has pretty much all their stuff made in China, and you would think, “Oh, that’s terrible,” but they work directly with the factory in China. Everybody is paid well, they have vacation time, and they take care of them. On top of that, in the socially conscious realm, they hire women with developmental disabilities to package their products. It’s a reminder that not every one of those import companies is some unconscious company that doesn’t care where their products come from or how the factory employees are being treated or how eco-conscious the factory is.
Giovannini: How do you communicate those stories to your customers?
Koll: It comes down to me taking the time to individually educate my employees so they can educate the customer. Education happens when your customer is purchasing the item—especially an item from a company like Blue Q, where people fall in love with it, but then they see it’s made in China. It’s helpful to be able to tell them this is not one of those companies exploiting its workers or destroying the environment while making their product. They use natural ingredients in their bath products; they employ people with developmental disabilities; they visit their factory in China all the time and make sure everything is on the up and up. You can still get your friend a five-dollar, cute, funny gift and not feel like you’re part of the problem.
Giovannini: Do you have any final words of advice or inspiration for fellow store owners on how to achieve long-lasting success?
Koll: Create a business that is enough of a reflection of you that your store will always be able to have a consistently recognizable brand. If you fall too much for trends or too far from your own aesthetic, you risk being inconsistent. Consumers need to know who you are and you need to find and please the customers who resonate with what you’re doing. I would also say that finding good employees and taking care of them is crucial. Lastly, take a cue from our corporate retail competition and run an organized, well-oiled ship with set policies and procedures. Just because you own a small store, you still need to make these things a priority.
Conscious Gift-Giving in Portlandia
First published in Vol. 27 No. 2 of Retailing Insight. © 2013 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.