Local gift shops gearing up for the end of the year
While most large retailers look forward to and rely on extra profits from the holiday season, the end of the year can make or break a small business.
In 2010, American Express recognized a need to counter the huge sales going to retail chains on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and created Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to buying from small businesses. This year, Small Business Saturday falls on Nov. 26.
Whereas big-box retailers hire extra employees for the holidays, many small business owners pick up the increased workload on their own, including Mike Renner and Heather Ziegler, who own What The Rock?!, a 250-square-foot gift boutique in the Short North with an eccentric array of rock-and-roll-themed novelty items.
“Store hours are 1 to 7 p.m., but we’re usually working around the clock,” Renner said.
The story is the same for Josh and Niki Quinn, who own Tigertree, an apparel and gift shop in the Short North.
“At this point we’re always working, and even during any meal out with my wife and I, 99 percent of the conversation is work related,” Josh Quinn said.
Despite obstacles, What The Rock?! and Tigertree have both successfully sustained their stores for 10 years.
“We’ve seen a decade of consistent but slow growth, which I think serves us well because sometimes going slow is the best thing that you can do for your business,” Quinn said. “And I think Niki and I are both pretty resourceful. We’re good at learning on the fly.”
What The Rock?! brings in more than 25 percent of its business revenue from mid November through December, making it crucial to the business’ survival, Renner said. To make up for the dip in revenue during the remainder of the year, he and Ziegler sell their products and promote their store at various craft shows, music festivals and street fairs.
For Wholly Craft, a gift shop in Clintonville that sells handmade items from more than 400 vendors, the holidays constitute 35-40 percent of annual sales, said owner Olivera Bratich.
“We carry things all year round that are great to get for loved ones, but the holidays are the one time of year that you have to shop for 25 of your loved ones all at one time,” Bratich said. “So we spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we have a terrific selection from our crafters and designers.”
Wholly Crafts’ best-selling item is an Ohio-shaped cutting board, Bratich said, but the store is filled with miscellaneous merchandise, much of which is meant to be comical, like grenade-shaped hand soap and a coffee mug that reads, “Britney survived 2007. You can handle today.”
Similar off-the-wall items can be found at Tigertree, including unicorn or squirrel-shaped cookie cutters, paint-your-own-phone-case kits and earrings in the shape of tiny sriracha hot sauce bottles.
One of What The Rock?!’s best sellers is its line of whimsical baby onesies, Renner said. The onesies feature bands such as The Ramones, The Rolling Stones and Guns and Roses, and others have comical phrases such as ‘I still live with my parents.’
Also popular is the jewelry that Ziegler handcrafts, including guitar-pick earrings and “rock and rollsaries” (rosaries) picturing assorted music icons, such as John Lennon and Bob Marley.
“We find that at least 50 percent of people who come in during the holidays buying a gift also get something for themselves,” Renner said.
Regardless of the hard work, Renner, Bratich and Quinn all said they love what they do.
“We get to be our own bosses, and I get to deal with what I love — rock and roll,” Renner said.
“It’s a spread of ideas, a spread of aesthetics that I’m happy to be a part of,” Bratich said. “It’s been a great experience to sort of be invested in a community for so long and to see the growth and change in our customers.“
This story was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Big Book of Savings on Nov. 20, 2016.