Summer is a time for vacations. But Fred Hakimeh, owner of Outrageous Gallery, combined pleasure with business last month when he drove 4,500 miles and visited six states to find a new city where he can reside and expand his retail jewelry store.
Hakimeh calls Scottsdale, AZ, home. For nearly 20 years he has been able to conduct a lucrative living in a store where fine jewelry is sold alongside fine art. The combined product offerings have sold well, with Hakimeh targeting the seasonal shoppers who winter in the Grand Canyon State.
But in recent years the winter season’s tourists and snowbirds haven’t been shopping that much. “It used to be that I could sell jewelry and paintings in the winter and lived on those earnings throughout the rest of the year,” says Hakimeh. “But for the last year or two things have slowed down about 50 to 60 percent and the current economy may make things worse during the upcoming winter.”
Hard times often force retailers to take a hard look at their business, and Hakimeh is no exception. In addition to finding a more vibrant retail market, he also wants to change from a seasonal retailer to a year-round retailer. With this goal in mind, his journey began.
After leaving Scottsdale in mid-July, Hakimeh’s first stop was neighboring Utah. His road trip didn’t get off to an auspicious start as Salt Lake City “didn’t work for me.” Tourist destinations with a stronger pull such as resort towns are more of what Hakimeh had in mind, so it was off to Park City, Utah.
Known mainly for golfing in the warm weather months and skiing in the winter, Park City was a better tourist destination town for Hakimeh given his many years of catering to tourists in Scottsdale. The only downside was an already crowded retail sector with shops offering a similar mix of products.
The odyssey continued northbound as Hakimeh headed for Wyoming with the town of Jackson Hole on his dashboard. Although he found it to be a “nice little town,” it was “a little too Western for a contemporary shop. And, ski season is the big tourist draw for Jackson Hole and it’s my understanding it is on the decline.”
Encountering another bump in his road trip, Hakimeh took a turn westward to explore retail possibilities in Idaho. The “Gem State” nickname proved to be a good omen. Idaho had three possibilities for Hakimeh, starting with Boise (the state’s largest city which is also its capital city), the resort town of Sun Valley and Ketchum, the hometown of Ernest Hemingway.
Boise and Sun Valley weren’t good matches for Hakimeh, but Ketchum proved to be a “clean town with good business.” The only drawback was rent was a little on the expensive side for such a small city.
Heading north once again, Hakimeh set his sights in Montana. The resort town of White Fish was his only stop in the Treasure State. Again, the town was a bit on the Western side for Hakimeh and “many of the retail stores have small items … I didn’t see much potential for larger, more important purchases.”
Hakimeh’s journey wasn’t bearing much in the way of possible new relocation possibilities until he returned to Idaho. The Gem State has many treasures. Topping the list is Coeur d’Alene, a once small town that has grown tremendously in recent years thanks to a tourism boom. Hakimeh heard about the quaint but bourgeoning town from a customer.
With its huge lake (25 miles long) and majestic mountains as a backdrop, Coeur d’Alene is a picturesque town with an abundance of small town charm that has attracted big buck retailers. Hakimeh finally hit pay dirt.
After several discussions with business owners and members of the local Chamber of Commerce, Hakimeh was convinced that Coeur d’Alene was the first town to make his short list. Grand scenery, a thriving retail environment and an active community calendar full of events and attractions made the Idaho town an easy top pick.
From Idaho’s panhandle in the north, Hakimeh traveled a short distance west to Spokane, WA. Although Hakimeh didn’t have any strong feelings about Spokane either way, he quickly discovered that many people from there drove 30 miles to spend their money in Coeur d’Alene – another “pro” in the Coeur d’Alene list.
Hakimeh then headed to Oregon with his first stop in Portland, where a friend set up shop years ago. Encouraged by the strong arts community and steady business, Portland made Hakimeh’s “yes” list.
With time running out, Hakimeh made two additional stops in Oregon, one in Ashland and the other in Cannon Beach. He spent a night in Ashland and liked the small town’s vibrant creative community, with its six-month long Shakespeare Festival. But many of the artists Hakimeh sells were already being sold by existing shops. That left Cannon Beach.
Similar to Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene, Cannon Beach is blessed with much natural beauty. Coastlines and mountains make it an attractive destination. The many “village type” stores and the beauty of the town placed Cannon Beach on Hakimeh’s number two spot after Coeur d’Alene.
The final stop on his journey was Cambia, CA. Home to the Hearst Castle, the California city had many pros to it, with its coastlines, parks, quaint lighthouses and distinctive shops, but once again merchants in the area had a similar mix of merchandise of jewelry and art.
Hakimeh returned to Scottsdale in late July with Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Cannon Beach, Oregon, as his top two choices for a possible relocation. In looking back on the two-week journey, Hakimeh had much information to share with his family regarding relocation options. Although Hakimeh’s journey got off to a bumpy start, the final stages of his search for a new place to sell fine jewelry and fine art offered the retailer some encouragement in uncertain economic times.
One thing Hakimeh does know for sure at this stage of his retailing career, staying in Scottsdale isn’t advancing his business as sales continue to decline. The 4,500 mile road trip may or may not result in a move to Idaho or Oregon. But at least he took the time to get away from his store, think about his business model and give serious thought as to where he could prosper, not when.
This proactive approach may not be for everyone, but Hakimeh isn’t the only retail jeweler to step away from his store to think of ways to improve on a business model with the eventual goal of being a better retailer. And, at the very least, lots of drive time gave Hakimeh plenty of time to think about what’s on the road ahead.