On any given day, a person might park at the corner of Ann Street and North Curry Street close to downtown Carson City, Nev., rush into a small shop in a quaint, historic 1863 house, take a deep breath, and say, “I just needed a Purple Avocado moment.”
This happens so often that Sue Jones, co-owner with her husband, Stan, of the shop with the unusual name, knows exactly what the customer means. In response she’ll offer a friendly welcome, a chat, and of course, a unique shopping experience.
Not quite your average gift shop, The Purple Avocado is as unusual as its name. Jones calls her store, which has been thriving for the past 11 years, “a gift shop with heartfelt purpose—whimsical, with an inspirational feel.” It walks the line between a traditional body-mind-spirit shop and a regular gift shop so successfully the Joneses always have a steady stream of customers looking for the perfect inspirational gift, book, CD, or piece of jewelry. Or they just want to spend time there, absorbing the feel-good vibe.
And that’s exactly what Jones intended 12 years ago, when she “literally woke up with the idea.” A middle- and high-school math teacher, Jones had no plans to quit teaching, but she had been considering making some changes in her life. She woke up one morning with the realization that she wanted to open a gift shop, and her husband provided the name: “purple” for a high vibration, “avocado” because it made for an unusual juxtaposition, and that’s what they wanted their shop to be—high vibration and unexpected. And, as Stan said, the name was “better than ‘Sue’s Gifts.’”
Jones and her husband took a year to flesh out the idea and create a business plan. She is a huge proponent of spending time working on the financial details before starting a business. “The creative part is fun, but you have to have a business plan,” she says, or things will go south pretty quickly.
The last piece of the puzzle proved to be the hardest to figure out: a location. The Joneses had considered renting retail space in a local mall, but they knew that type of location wasn’t quite right for the feel of the store. Instead of stressing about it, they put their plans on hold, intending to wait until they were hit by divine inspiration about a location.
Three days later, Stan noticed a house available to lease, one block off the main road in downtown Carson City. “It was by itself, with lots of on-street parking, centrally located close to downtown, and no mall restrictions,” Jones says. Best of all, “it was on the corner of Ann Street, which was my mother’s name. I knew she sent this place to me.”
The Joneses opened The Purple Avocado in July 2001, and the store has been a success ever since.
Packed floor to ceiling, wall to wall, the 1,000-square-foot, three-room store is stocked with approximately 150 lines, which makes the annual hand-count inventory a month-long adventure. But Jones knows exactly what she’s got, where everything is, and where it should be moved if it’s not selling.
Bestsellers include suncatchers, wind chimes, figurines, items with inspirational sayings, angels, fairies, anything with a sun and/or star motif, jewelry from Silver Forest, inspirational books, soft rock and relaxing CDs, and greeting cards from Leanin’ Tree, Sybil Shane, and Great Cosmic Happy-Ass Card Company. Prices range from $150 for higher-end wall art down to inexpensive angel coins (also a perpetual bestseller), but most items are close to $20.
Jones also makes sure she has running themes in her shop; in addition to angels and fairies, she looks for products with the sayings “Live, Love, Laugh” or “Dream,” “Believe,” and “Gratitude.”
Basically, anything that would make a customer feel good has a place on The Purple Avocado’s shelves. “We don’t just want to make money; we want to make a difference,” Jones says. “People have fun here—or they have a good cry. Some customers will come in, read just the right quote that touches them, and burst into tears … but they’re good tears.”
While Jones finds the bulk of her inventory at gift shows and in magazines and catalogs, she also carries products by local artisans: body products by Earth Goddess, beaded jewelry, and a “Basket of Blessings” perpetual calendar are a few. She finds some artists at local craft fairs; others offer their goods as they’re “passing through.”
“Local products make up about 10 percent of our inventory,” Jones says. “I wish it were higher, but it’s difficult to carry local products because of the quantity and the mark-up—it’s a hard price line to balance.”
Change it up
The secret to The Purple Avocado’s success, Jones says, is to always keep an eye out for new products and change the inventory often … but don’t change too much. Jones is always aware of what her customers favor, and she makes sure to keep the very popular lines in stock at all times. What she will change, however, is the specific items she orders, to keep her stock fresh.
“I carry magnets, mugs, and jewelry with quotes, so sometimes I’ll change which quotes I carry. Or I’ll change the styles of suncatchers, and I’ll always look for new designs to feature.”
Over the past 11 years, The Purple Avocado has grown steadily and changed often—but not dramatically. “I thought we had a lot of inventory when we first opened,” jokes Jones. “Now we have a lot of inventory!”
The tone of the store was initially more serious and focused solely on New Age products, but gradually she started adding “more whimsy and a much more eclectic selection of gifts.”
Because of Jones’ teaching background, the original plan was to feature regular classes in subjects such as feng shui and personal and spiritual growth. They did that for a while, and an astrologer did readings out of the store, but the growing number of customers made it difficult. “We just got too big,” Jones says. “There wasn’t enough privacy. We outgrew that and had to choose a focus, so we chose retail sales, not services.”
However, Jones says, they’re happy to recommend local teachers and practitioners, and they post flyers for classes and events. It’s an important part of being a member of the community, Jones explains. “I’m the treasurer for our downtown business organization, and Stan is vice president of our chamber of commerce and is on a lot of committees. The Carson City community is very important to us.”
Wine, cable TV, and a dog
The Nevada capital is home to approximately 55,000 people, and the shop also serves tourists and people passing through on their way to and from South Lake Tahoe and Reno. “The store is mostly aimed toward locals,” Jones says, “but we also get skiers, hikers, golfers—when they want to take a break from their sport, they drop in here.”
The Purple Avocado advertises in the local Sierra Scoop newspaper and the visitors center flyers, and it takes part in downtown events. The monthly Saturday afternoon Wine Walk regularly attracts about 200 customers to the approximately 30 participating shops and art galleries with wine, raffles, and horse and buggy rides.
The Joneses reserve the bulk of their advertising funds for TV ads. For $400 a month, Jones says, they get 250 spots that air on cable channels such as Bravo, the Food Network, and Lifetime.
“Newspaper ads don’t do the shop justice, and radio ads are too fast,” Jones says. “But the commercials let people see the wide array of our extraordinary inventory. People talk about the ads when they come in, so we know we’re attracting new customers.”
It doesn’t hurt that the commercials also feature the Joneses’ dog, Bella, who is, Jones says, “a customer magnet. She’s our greeter.”
Face to face and heart to heart
The Joneses used to send a printed newsletter to about 2,000 subscribers, but it became cost prohibitive. Instead, they sent out an e-mail flyer to advertise their Christmas open house last year, and they’re starting to experiment with Facebook and other social media.
They want to keep their online presence small, though, Jones says. Their website, www.thepurpleavocado.com, is solely for information and correspondence, providing their address, a map, photos of the shop and some featured products, and an e-mail address. Online sales aren’t a regular occurrence except for their annual anniversary sale and Christmas open house, but if someone contacts them through the site and asks to have an item mailed, Jones is happy to oblige.
For the most part, however, face to face—and heart to heart—is how the Joneses prefer to do business, giving angel coins to customers going through a rough time emotionally or physically, handing out promotional purple pens to new customers, and making people happy with their specially wrapped gifts. “People get excited at the sight of our famous purple bags!” Jones says.
Jones says she and her husband have accomplished the goal they set a dozen years ago, to provide their customers with an unusual shopping experience and establish personal relationships with their customers. “There are no grouchy customers,” she says. “Every day at The Purple Avocado is fun.”
Store name: The Purple Avocado
Location: 904 N. Curry St., Carson City, NV 89703; 775/883-6233
Owners: Sue and Stan Jones
Date opened: July 2001
Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Employees: 2 (owners), with seasonal gift-wrapping help
Square footage: 1,000 sq. ft.
Bestsellers: Kelly Rae Roberts collection, suncatchers, wind chimes, sun and star-themed products, angels, fairies, angel coins, jewelry
Favorite wholesalers: Kheops, Demdaco, Benjamin International, Krafts Factory, Giftcraft, Adagio, Silver Forest, Leanin’ Tree, Camille Beckman, Great Cosmic Happy-Ass Card Company
Inventory method: By hand
First published in Vol. 26 No. 1 of Retailing Insight. © 2012 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.