Earth and Sea

Three "sisters in spirit" discover the elements of success—and win the COVR Retailer of the Year award for 2010.
by : 

Jayne Denker

September 1, 2010
Earth and Sea

Close to the very center of the state of Texas sits a veritable vortex of elemental energy, conjured by a team of women who call their shop Sisters of the Earth and Sea.

“I’m ‘sea,’ ” says Joyce Burns, one of the owners. “Laurie Roach is ‘earth,’ and Amber Signs, our newest sister as of March 2009, is ‘fire.’ And,” Burns adds with a laugh, “we have enough air—sometimes hot air!—among the three of us to cover the fourth element.”

The three sisters-in-spirit (none is related by blood) have seen a good deal of success in the nearly six years they’ve been in business, yet they were bowled over by the news that they were selected as the COVR Retailer of the Year for 2010. “I just remember my sisters saying, ‘Joyce, you need to breathe,’” Burns says.

It was one more feather in the cap of the Sisters of the Earth and Sea shop, which Burns and Roach opened on October 23, 2004 (“selected astrologically,” Burns notes), in Harker Heights, Texas, once an “arty” bedroom community of Killeen, five miles away, now a growing town in its own right, and 10 miles from Ft. Hood.

“Laurie pushed me into this!” Burns laughs. She and Roach used to travel all the way to Austin to do their “metaphysical shopping,” as Burns puts it, when they realized that there was a market for a New Age store closer to their homes. “Laurie had an online store and a background in real estate, so she knew about retail and how to choose a good brick-and-mortar location.”

Burns says they were “flying by the seat of [their] pants,” but they knew what they wanted—a light, bright store where they could sell gemstones, incense, candles, and other magical and spiritual items. With little competition—one other New Age store had been in the area about 10 years before—Sisters of the Earth and Sea opened under the low-key description “eclectic novelties and gifts” in a strip mall off the East Grand Central Texas Expressway. And it’s been doing well ever since.

Customers are friends

It helps, Roach says, when you’re surrounded by friends—and they count as friends the customers who like to spend time drinking tea at the small tables at the front of the shop “just because they like the energy of the place,” as Burns says; the clients they serve with classes, healings, and readings; the local authors, for whom the sisters sponsor several book signings a year; and the local artists whose products they carry.

The sisters sell items made by about 20 local artists, some on consignment and some purchased outright, including candles, dreamcatchers, jewelry, soaps, stained glass, oil and bath products (made by Rosa, a certified massage therapist who works out of the store), and made-to-order wooden staffs.

They also carry products made by Signs, under her business name Waife Woodworks. Signs does freehand woodburning on items such as boxes, clocks, spirit boards, and portable altars. “No stencils or stamping,” she says. “My fiancé does the artwork, drawing the design on the wood, and I burn it in.” Signs also takes custom orders (anything but demonic images, she says).

In fact, Signs first met Burns and Roach when she approached them about carrying her items on consignment. “If it weren’t for them,” Signs says, “Waife Woodworks wouldn’t exist. They encouraged me, befriended me, taught me to open up. And then they said, ‘Oh, by the way, you work here now.’”

Signs became the third partner even though she had “no money, but a lot of time,” and the pair of sisters became a trio. (The sisters also have a “silent partner” in investor Tom Hoffman.)

Other products in stock come from several wholesalers, including Azure Green and the Gemstone Factory, and the store’s stock varies widely depending on what the sisters can afford from month to month, because they pay cash for their orders. “We have no credit cards,” Roach explains. “We buy monthly with what we’ve got left after paying the bills.”

They used to carry a greater number of books than they do now, but with a Barnes and Noble across the street, Roach says, “we had to take a different route. We let the book count go down a lot. Times change, and we change with them.”

Supporting the troops

Some books that customers can get at Sisters of the Earth and Sea that likely wouldn’t be found at the local big-box store are on the subject of Pagans and Wiccans in the military. With Ft. Hood so close by, and with all the sisters’ close ties to the military, supporting the troops is much more than a bumper-sticker slogan to them.

“My husband is active military,” Roach says. “Joyce’s husband is retired military. Amber’s fiancé was in the service and is now disabled, as is Rosa. We love and support our military.”

Ft. Hood is home to Open Circle, the largest Pagan military organization and the one that pushed for Wicca to become a recognized religion, so the store is a go-to place for their ritual supplies and spiritual support. “Military Pagans like to come into our store and be able to talk, be accepted somewhere,” Roach says.

And the sisters’ Crystal Vision Ministry, in addition to offering weddings and handfastings, drum circles on every full moon between April and September, house cleansings, and energy work, also provides counseling, which helps a lot of military personnel when they come back from Iraq. Roach says, “We help them with marital counseling and readjusting to being back home.”

The shop also offers free shipping to APOs, whether the orders come through the shop or the website, www.sistersofearthandsea.com. The online store is “starting to pick up,” Burns says, but it’s secondary to the brick-and-mortar location for sales, and the sisters are fine with that.

“People tend to look up items online and then buy them in the store. If we don’t have it in the store—we have some items both online and in stock, but there isn’t much crossover—our customers might wait until we get it in, or order it online. We drop-ship online orders, because our 850 sq. ft. space doesn’t give us much room for inventory.”

One thing they don’t sell online, Burns says, is stones. “We want customers to choose them properly—come in and touch them, in order to select the right ones for them.”

Drum circles and dancing cats

Roach updates the website with an irreverent style (“I’m the weird one, putting up smiley faces and dancing cats”), and she anticipates a site redesign when their contract with provider Just Host runs out. The sisters also have a presence on MySpace and Facebook (as Sis Earth Sea), which another friend, a local college student, updates in her spare time, accepting merchandise in trade.

While online sales are doing fine, the sisters find it’s more important that the website act as another way to foster community—to be a place where their customers/friends can read about the latest store news, check the schedule for the popular drum circle, find out about the classes the sisters offer, and schedule readings and healings.

Burns does tarot readings and natal charts, Roach does past-life regressions and angel readings, and Signs does reiki, crystal oracle readings, and aura cleansings. “People can schedule services anytime our meditation room is free,” Burns says. “We are the only ones who work at the store, and we each have a different day off during the week, but we’ll come in to do a reading or healing if it’s an emergency.”

Classes cover a variety of esoteric topics and are taught by all the sisters together. Burns says, “We all have something to say!”

Indeed, the sisters spend most of their time together. When they’re not working in the shop, leading a community event, or teaching, they’re “always in and out of one another’s houses,” Roach says. “We invade Joyce’s place most of the time and then leave her the mess to clean up.”

Roach adds, “When it’s time for the drum circle, our husbands refer to it as ‘going out to howl at the moon again.’”

But, they say, it never seems like they’re spending too much time together—not in the least. Signs says, “We’ve been a godsend to each other. We’re sisters in the true sense of the word.”

The interplay of the elements and their dedication to the central Texas community keep them going. “We’re not getting rich,” Roach says, “but we’re meeting spiritual needs.”

Jayne Denker is an editor-at-large for New Age Retailer. She lives in a small village in western New York with her husband and son. Visit her at www.dragon-droppings.com or her blog, http://dragondroppings.wordpress.com.