Renee Linn is co-owner of Linn’s Farm Store and several other businesses in Cambria, California. Along with her husband John and son Aaron, the Linns manage a restaurant, café and shops often visited by tourists to the coastal destination. They sell DEMDACO gifts, and we were fortunate enough to learn more about the family operation from Renee (below):
Where are you located, and can you describe the area?
We are located in Cambria, California, a small town on the coast halfway between L.A. and San Francisco. It is a picturesque tourist serving town on the southern tip of the famous Big Sue Highway. Another popular tourist location is Hearst Castle which is just seven miles from us. Our population is no more than 7,000 people but that number swells with the influx of tourists.
How long have you been in business?
My husband and I moved to establish our small farm in 1977 (42 years ago) with our young family of three children. We moved from the city (Kansas City, Mo.) to the undeveloped country property outside of Cambria. We were farming pioneers to new crops in our area. We didn’t know a lot about farming, only what my husband learned from his college job running the greenhouse at the University of Kansas. We began our farm stand business in 1979.
How did you get into the gift business?
We got into the gift business as an adjunct to our farm stand. People were coming to our farm store to purchase fresh berries, preserves, and homemade pies. Yes, I was the pie maker. I wanted to have something else to sell to augment the ambiance of the farm. Our business has now grown to not only the original Farm Store, but also a busy restaurant in nearby Cambria where we serve “modern comfort food.” Over the years we added more retail businesses. Just up the street from our restaurant, we have another casual style cafe called “Easy as Pie Café,” as well as a gourmet kitchen shop “Linn’s Gourmet Goods,” and a lifestyle store called “A La Carte.” We now manage five retail locations.
What are your top selling DEMDACO products?
Each store has its own identity and therefore each has its own top sellers ranging from Kitchen Boas, mugs and kitchen serving pieces, Art Hearts, women’s outerwear and scarves, to Christmas decor. The mix of what I sell is constantly changing and I appreciate that DEMDACO offers fresh new pieces for my stores.
What are some top-selling gifts and popular trends in the industry and your store?
The top selling gifts for our stores are also constantly changing. I think in the past couple of years, the top sellers have been some of the women’s wraps, scarves, and lounge pants.
Why do you think DEMDACO products work in the mix of your inventory?
I think the DEMDACO products work for Linn’s because there is such a variety of products that fit the personality of each of my retail stores. The design and quality are always there. I have limited time as a buyer and merchandiser to spend on researching new companies. DEMDACO offers for me kind of a “one stop” shopping opportunity. When I sell a DEMDACO product, neither I nor my customer are compromised on shoddy merchandise.
What are the most popular reasons your customers buy gifts?
The underlying reason that my customers buy gifts are varied. Usually it is to take something home with them from their trip. That would be the motive of our tourist-based customers. However, they will pick up things for themselves along the road if the quality and appeal is there. Sometimes they forgot to bring sufficient warm clothes to our cool climate. Our locals (and this term is applied broadly, as we have in town locals, countywide locals, as well as out of town locals who visit Cambria regularly) know that Linn’s provides interesting merchandise to peruse and purchase. They come back to our store regularly for the experience of seeing new products and loading up on items they tell me they can’t find elsewhere.
Is there an underlying theme you try to convey through the products you sell?
Our underlying theme since we started business years ago has always been to feature goods that signify “the home.” Our food products are home style. It follows that the gifts we sell also reflect this time proven, popular theme.
How do you find out about new trends and products, and do you ever take big risks on new products?
I generally find new trends by my own awareness of the customers’ tastes. I was an Art major at the University of Kansas and my eye is always on style. My husband tells me I am trendy, ahead of the curve. From that perspective I have to realize that what has worked in the past is always morphing. DEMDACO supports this in the new product selections and their excellent (at least for me) sales representatives. I’m not always able to attend trade shows, so I am constantly looking and talking about trends with my rep. Her frequent visits help me with my buying and therefore selling.
What’s the best part of owning a gift shop?
The best part of owning gift shops, is the joy of bringing my vision to fruition. As mentioned, I have an artistic eye and I love to create beauty and ambiance to support my customer’s lifestyle.
What’s the key to running a successful gift shop?
The key to running a successful gift shop is multi-faceted. The mix of appealing product bought and displayed artfully is the most important. There needs to be enough variety in the product mix to inspire the buyer. Customers are often dreaming, in a different space, while on vacation. They will buy things out of the ordinary. My personnel are also key in helping the customers. I value good employees highly and am always keeping them informed of new products, teaching them about new products.
How do you get ready for a new year in retail? Do you research products and attend gift shows?
To get ready for the coming year, I take stock of what has sold for us in the previous year as well as what has not sold. I look at the demographic of our shoppers. I look at the upcoming happening of the year. Yes, even politics. Are customers going to be positive? Are they going to have disposable income? As I mentioned, I can’t always attend the trade shows, so I rely on quality products that I know will sell from my past history. DEMDACO provides a beautiful, well-designed catalog to assist me in my shopping.
More information about Linns:
You can find more information at www.linnsfruitbin.com. We ship our homestyle products nationwide. No, we haven’t included gifts on our website. For that, you get to visit our Cambria stores.