Alki Surf Shop Turns 4!

Alki Beach-June 2015-© Terri Nakamura (2).jpg

Next month will mark the four-year anniversary of a small journey my husband, David Horsfall, and I started in 2014. Alki Surf Shop began as an online store that became a brick and mortar reality once we were able to locate retail space on Alki (pronounced ALK-eye) Beach. Retail spaces are rare, and it was through a chance conversation that we learned of an imminent storefront space opening up. Tucked around the corner from Homefront, the most popular ice cream store on the beach, it’s not the easiest place to find, but people find us, and somehow we’ve become a destination of sorts. We’ve cultivated a loyal base of customers—many of whom have become our friends. Our fans and supporters want us to succeed, and they bring in friends and family whenever they have visitors, from everywhere.

It’s been an amazing learning experience, and I can say with certainty we are doing most everything more intelligently than when we started (there is always room for improvement, though). Along the way we have met thousands of people from all around the world and have 4 volumes of guest books to prove it. Packed on every page are drawings, messages of goodwill, and touching expressions of friendship spanning every continent and country, often written in the language of the visitor.

In the store’s nascency, I brought in a Nokia* tablet to use, but eventually we needed full-powered computer and replaced the tablet with a 21’ iMac. Our music continues to be piped out onto the sidewalk with a UE Boom* that it has been in use nearly every day for the past 3 and a half years and is still going strong! We have a WeMo* camera for security, and our Verizon service has even rescued us when our credit card terminal service was down by enabling us to use Square to process transactions. This is all to say, for a very low tech-looking, laid-back beach store, we depend on technology to keep the wheels turning each day.

It’s gratifying that beside that fact that we offer a valuable service, our business provides so much joy to our visitors. Most people enjoy the friendly vibe where we take time to learn where people are from and what brings them to Alki. Each day we have customers hug us as they’re leaving. How many businesses can say that? And many exchange a conspiratorial wink with us when they introduce new people to our store. They whisper, “Are you going to do the ‘horn,’” which is actually the blowing of a conch shell and shouting of “mahalo” as customers depart.

Seafair Pirates © 2015 Terri Nakamura.jpg

We’re in the midst of our busy summer season and look forward to some fun upcoming 2018 events:

Beside the special events above, on an everyday basis there are things happening — Saturday salsa dancing, volleyball tournaments, beach parties at the fire pits, paddle boarding, bicycle rentals, and happy people everywhere.

Looking out at the view from our store and seeing the Olympic mountains and Puget Sound, we are reminded that life is better on a beach.


 

We’re grateful to our real-life and social media friends from Twitter and IG who have visited Alki Surf Shop. If you’ve visited the store please let me know so I can add your moniker here!

@queenhorsfall @jackandpele @muz4now @lorimcneeartist @jenniferannegood @nixkuroi @felicelam @blueweed_songs @becauseuarehere @savvyangie @kurt.nac @Joe996s @sheelala @lemness @wasian206 @dougplummer @michipeterson @lindacriddle @kennapete @lindafreeman_ @jshuey @thidekow @ryankanemagic @vickiehorsfall @freshprinceofmi @crimsonlotustea @x2tap @jrome2032 @hollymariephotos @slydehandboards @feliciakayne @artistpoint @mikedadams206 @horsfallscott @georgesta3000 @PutBarber @lupdesign @lindabrill


More about Terri:

Visit her store Alki Surf Shop
Terri Nakamura Design
Terri Nakamura on Twitter
Alki Surf Shop on Twitter
The Horsfall House on AirBNB
More by Terri Nakamura

*Verizon generously provided us with technology used at our store.

 

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Shopping for a Living

Skybridge cropped

How do products end up in stores?

For nearly 20 years I created product labels and packaging. One of my clients, John Matthys, was a great mentor and friend. One of the things he championed was real-life market testing.

What is market testing?

The traditional way to test customer response was with focus groups.

Focus group testing enlists qualified participants who meet certain demographic criteria (age, gender, income levels, etc.). They’re assembled to view and respond to visual, conceptual, or theoretical goods or situations. Clients and research analysts often will watch through a two-way mirror, while participants offer feedback that helps companies anticipate how their products or services will perform.

It’s very expensive.

John realized the huge amount of money his company was paying to conduct focus groups exceeded the cost of actually producing products and placing them onto store shelves. What better feedback is there than getting real-life responses from his actual customers? So that’s what he did.

Market research and intuition

At our store, Alki Surf Shop, my husband, David Horsfall, and I have employed John’s strategy with many of our products. In addition, we also pay attention to trends, and stock inventory compatible with our store’s retro-modern brand and encompassing “Seattle, surf culture, beach and fun.”

Recently I spent four days at the Seattle Gift Show (pictured above). Shows like the Seattle Gift Show are for retail stores and businesses that sell merchandise to consumers. They are not open to the general public. There is an eclectic group in attendance. It’s akin to belonging to a special club where the members have something special in common: they’re all kind of crazy. I say that because retail is not for weenies. There are many easier ways to make money, but they’re maybe not as much fun.

Seen at the Seattle Gift Show

Tiny sample of things we saw at the Seattle Gift Show while shopping for Alki Surf Shop

I personally don’t enjoy shopping for sport. So if I find something I like, I’ll buy 2, 3, or even 9 of the same exact thing.

But the gift show isn’t like shopping for yourself. It’s more like you’re shopping to buy something for a friend, but you don’t know who the friend is, and you don’t know what the friend likes.

So you end up choosing things that you like, or imagine THEY would like. It’s a bit like mind reading. David often says I’m prescient. However, when it comes to buying for retail, it’s a semi-informed roll of the dice.

Shopping to buy for a store is hard work. We have ideas of what we might want, then search through myriad vendors and options. We compare sources, prices, quality and terms. Then if we decide to sell an item, we order it, price it, add it to our inventory, merchandise it, and track its sales.

Our real-life business education

As retail storeowners, we meet many nice, friendly people from all over the world. The flip side is, we devote so much time to nurturing this thing we’ve birthed, it leaves us with just a fraction of the free time we once had. That means we are spending much of our time with strangers, rather than family or friends.

That being said, we’re fortunate to have friends who are also fellow store and restaurant owners. They understand the relentless work it takes to make a business like ours succeed. They’ve shared their experiences to help us avoid mistakes, and generously given us great advice and support.

There’s a widely quoted statistic attributed to Bloomberg, that says eight out of 10 entrepreneurs who launch businesses fail within the first 18 months. Having recently passed that milestone, and seeing our sales increasing year-over-year, David and I feel slightly more confident about what we’re doing.

It’s a continual learning experience that’s both challenging and fun.

See how it all comes together

We’re gearing up for spring and summer and hope you’ll stop by if you’re in the area. We’ll have new items from the Seattle Gift Show on our shelves, and you’ll have the opportunity to be part of our real-life market testing.

There won’t be any two-way mirrors or research analysts. But you will be greeted with a friendly “Aloha!”


Postscript

This blog post went through seven revisions and was written entirely on a Motorola Droid Turbo 2 provided to me by Verizon Wireless.

It was fun writing in a café with only the Droid, a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, while curious onlookers stole glances!

Droid cropped

Working at Teavana in Seattle’s University Village, home to a Verizon Smart Store Plus

You can learn more about the Droid Turbo 2, the smartphone with the unbreakable screen, by visiting Verizon Wireless.


Disclosure: As a member of a great group of Verizon influencers, I’m invited to share my honest thoughts on cool products to use and test. No additional compensation is provided, nor are favorable comments promised. All opinions are my own.

All Photos @ Terri Nakamura 2016

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