Commercial Currents: Island store owner brings in tourism dollars

Stephenie MacLagan
Posted 2016-07-26

Making the most of conserved lands

Kendra Chubbuck of Shore Shop Gifts on Isle au Haut is an entrepreneur who knows the value that conserved lands can bring to local businesses. On the doorstep of a beautiful section of Acadia National Park, her store focuses on providing high-quality, Maine-made products to the varied tourists that come through the island. The following interview gives insight into her winning strategy:

Q: Isle au Haut is incredibly beautiful. What brought you out to the island as a permanent year-round resident?
A: I’ve been coming out here all my life. When I was 5 or 6 years old, I just knew I would live out here. The beauty and quietness; it’s my heritage. Head Harbor is where I grew up with my mom, grandmother and great-grandmother. John DeWitt [also co-owner of the store] and I knew each other for years. He’s very shy, but finally got up the courage to ask me to have a picnic with him. It wasn’t long before we were married and opening the gift shop. It’s been really wonderful!

Q: Some of our readers might not know this, but about half the island is part of Acadia National Park, and four surrounding islands are part of the Maine Island Trail. How many visitors do you get over the course of the season?
A: Between 4,000-6,000 visitors a year come the island. People come from all over the world. I have maps hanging outside the shop where visitors can see where they come from. To get a colored dot on either the U.S. or World map, visitors sign a guest book. We get visitors using kayaks, schooners, and yachts, in addition to those coming by the mail boats. I also get a lot of repeat customers, especially those who rent on a weekly basis. I’m starting to carry more household items, like kitchen utensils and towels.

Q: When starting the business, did you see the conserved lands as a challenge or bonus?
A: Tourism is a big part of Maine, and is very important for my business. I’m open May-October, so the tourists are my customers. For a long time, residents didn’t like tourism on the island. I think we’re changing. We’ve got to have economic development out here for the community to survive. The money that is made in the gift shop, pretty much stays on the island. It’s important for tourists to come and see small islands like this, and the Park. It’s a challenge in that some visitors come unprepared to hike and wearing flip flops, or they don’t know that their trash has to be carried off-island with them.

Q: Can you describe how you’ve used the National Park to your advantage?
A: It’s just so beautiful here. Who wouldn’t want to come and see this rocky coast? I just love sitting outside the shop, gazing at the boats in the thoroughfare. Lots of visitors will linger there too, enjoying the view. I have great postcards of the island and park, and John drew this awesome map of the island that we sell. I try to share the beauty of the island on our website.

Q: Many business owners encourage customers to “come again, soon!” What hooks do you use to entice visitors to return to Isle au Haut?
A: I give visitors my business card, encouraging them to email or call with any questions or advice about exploring the island. I tell them how much I enjoyed talking to them. Customers will even send me gifts or thank you notes. I have young children who make me nice cards and painted rocks while they’re here.

Q: What advice do you have for other businesses that face very seasonal tourism?
A: It’s hard work, but don’t give up! It’s not a 40-hour a week job; I’m constantly trying so hard to figure out what the customer will buy. It’s really important to have a bookkeeper and accountant. Put them in your business plan. I knew my business would be seasonal, but the business plan helped me process what would work and what wouldn’t work—think through everything.

I think customer service is a key ingredient. First impressions are really important. If you look the part of being the owner, it shows you’re taking pride in your business and how you look. Tourists are so appreciative just that I’m open and I’m smiling. I always start with a spiel introducing myself and telling them all about the gift shop’s unique focus. I also end telling them that I live here and offer to answer their questions. Some people don’t come out with money, because they don’t know there’s anything out here. I let them take what they want, give them my business card, and they mail me a check—every time!

Check out Shore Shop Gifts online, or better yet, in person!

Resources for Small Businesses

Boost your customer service skills:

  • Take an online 1 hour training for certification by the Center for Tourism Research and Outreach.
  • Watch this 30 minute video training by the Small Business Administration.
  • Review this 1 hour webinar on incorporating your story and education into the products or services you sell, by SCORE.

Learn more about how your business can capitalize on Maine’s thriving tourism industry:

  • To connect your fishing or aquaculture business to tourism, check out this series of factsheets by Maine Sea Grant.
  • To learn how to help customers find you, read this article by Tourism Currents.

What We Do

In addition to supporting diverse island and coastal businesses, the Island Institute’s Economic Development program works with communities and individuals to identify new ways of making a living while preserving an identity tied to the surrounding natural resources. To learn more about our community economic development efforts, contact Stephenie.

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