A Small Business Branding Case Study

Yosemite Gifts by Athol Foden

In my book Brighter Branding: Best Practices for the Smaller Business I repeatedly emphasize how your brand is a promise of an experience and how it is the golden thread that runs through all your organization. Thereafter, the important implementation goal is consistency, consistency and consistency.

Not only in your marketing messages, but in everything you do and at every customer brand touch point. Of course, the best brand touch points are human to human, but this might also be the hardest place to implement your promise unless all your staff are properly branded too. Plus they need to buy into the importance of how they treat every prospect and customer.

I am therefore excited when I find a smaller business where the owner instinctively really drives a company in such a direction. Su Carney of Yosemite Gifts in the small town of Mariposa, California is one such person. Her store is more than another run of the mill retail gift and jewelry store on the way to or from photographing the wonders of one of our oldest national parks.

The main store is also a showcase for her own extensive collection of handmade jewelry. More than that, it is a ‘rock hounds’ delight. Her own passion and knowledge of many rare and unique gem stones is on full display. You can buy the stones loose. You can buy them in strands to take home and make your own designs. Or You can buy ready made and very colorful items to take your loved ones back home.

Since the store is an old converted bar from the gold rush days, it has a very unique feel to it. For some it may almost be overwhelming. Where do I start? I came for a curio but look what I found. A complete Indian totem pole and a wall full of dream catchers. Look at these stones here at waist level, or those big cathedral-like geodes standing on the floor.

What about all that carefully organized shiny and colorful jewelry behind glass? Wow. Hold the bus. I will be awhile.  In fact I now notice the main room leads to another and then another. Yes, there are simple local crafts, Tee shirts, tin signs and books for the kids too – at their eye level no less.

Often the experience is just beginning, because if you time it right this very friendly, smiling and energetic lady appears from behind the big counter and provides you a mini lesson you will never forget. She will talk to you about any of the stones on display. Explain where they come from in the world, how rare they are, what they stand for in different cultures, how to spell their unique names (as you notice the little signs next to them), as well as perhaps even a colorful story about how she came by her own supply of them.

At this stage you will also become distracted by seeing what jewelry Su herself is wearing. I have never seen her with less than two or three pieces on,  often substantial in size. Not only is she happy to discuss the stones in each, she will also tell you why she chose to wear those colors today and also how she made every piece.  If you are a regular visitor or browser you will notice she almost never wears the same pieces more than once every few months – or is it years?

The readers of the Mariposa Gazette recently nominated Su Carney business person of the year and well she deserves it. When her store is open and thriving, the whole little core downtown benefits. Unfortunately, old gold mining towns were not designed for tour busses, and Mariposa is a very touristy and seasonal town.

No problem, Su rents a little mobile shop, calls it  the Souvenir Shack and makes sure it still embodies her own business image, signage and decor. But the real smart move they have figured out is how to make the tour buses call them. Then they run over and open it to entertain tourists who have finished their Chinese dinner early. Works for the drivers and tour guides, works for the restaurant and it definitely does work for Yosemite Gifts!

By now I hope you understand how this brand is so much one of service and personality, as well as unique and original products. After all, the products are usually sold without even any specific store packaging. The business has been able to be bigger than its own store by adding the satellite shack, as well as by Su attending many fairs and tradeshows where once again she can work her own personal magic.

But how do you expand such a brand further? What do you do in the slower off season? Well come by the back of the store any Tuesday night and see all the busy local ladies, and a few men, industriously making their own jewelry and bead work. Yes, nothing like a class of loyal students to help spread your message wide and far (including this author!). These students don’t spend much on any given night, but it adds up and helps spread the word that this is a complete jewelry tools, stones, beads, wires and designs store. Many items are directly imported from overseas so they are often at pleasing wholesale prices.

 The challenge now is to expand the brand online. The brand is so much one of personal service that simply having a website that looks and feels like the store is not enough. As this part slowly expands, I notice their greatest joy is when online surfers finally pick up the phone and call them to discuss possibilities that are not listed. Then once again they can start to tell customers stories, and more importantly, ask them questions and personalize the results.

For a small store, that is a magic way to make the phone ring and to expand the brand. Same when customers come to town primarily to shop with them rather than first to visit Yosemite National Park. Give them a while and I bet their website www.yosemite-gifts.com will also become a complete immersion experience in itself.


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