In 2008, nine years after purchasing Shades Unlimited in Annapolis, MD, Linda Mann made a bold move. She opened another sunglasses store, right across the street from her first location. This one, Shades of the Bay, is larger and has a different vibe. And while the consumer base shifts throughout the year among tourists, boaters, and locals, one thing remains constant in the store: Allie, Linda’s 13-year-old beagle (and the Shades of the Bay mascot).
SUNGLASSES: How does Shades of the Bay differ from Shades Unlimited?
LINDA MANN: Shades of the Bay is 1,200 sq. ft., and very “boutiquey.” I think of it as having more of a Tommy Bahama style, and Shades Unlimited is very small and funky. I think of it as Jimmy Buffett. Shades of the Bay also carries sandals, so it’s not just sunglasses, while Shades Unlimited exclusively sells sunglasses and sunglass accessories.
SG: How do you approach customer service?
LM: I want my customers’ friends to say, “Where did you get those sunglasses? You look fabulous.” And not, “Where did you get those sunglasses? I can’t believe they let you walk out of the store with those, you look horrible.” One of the questions I ask when I interview potential employees is, “Let’s say a customer is looking at a pair of $300 Maui Jims and a pair of $200 Maui Jims, with the same quality lenses, but they look better in the $200 pair. Which pair do you try to sell them?” If they tell me the $300 one, I don’t like that. I also ask, “How do you like dogs?” If they don’t like dogs, they don’t get hired.
SG: How do you decide what else to carry at Shades of the Bay?
LM: I had a lot of extra space and I didn’t want it to just be sunglasses. I wanted to carry flip-flops. I figured I’d invest $5,000 or so, and bring in a few pairs of sandals and see what happened. Last year I sold over 4,000 pair of flip-flops and Sanuk Sidewalk Surfers. It was like, “I’m a sunglass store that’s turned into a flip-flop store!”
SG: Is social media an element of your business?
LM: We’ve had times where we say on Facebook, “OK, the first person who walks into the store and says they’re a fan on Facebook, we’ll give them a $25 gift certificate.” We also did a Living Social coupon, and that went really well. We got a lot of new customers from that, and some of our regulars also bought it.
SG: How is Allie, your beagle, involved with the shop?
LM: She lies in the front window and people walk by and talk to her. Sometimes, on a Saturday or a Sunday, she can get hundreds of pictures taken of her. If she’s not in the window, locals will come by and say, “Where’s Allie? How’s Allie doing?” We’ve done seven commercials and she is a ham. You put a camera in front of her and she just poses. She’ll lie in the window with sunglasses on.
SG: Does she have any sunwear preferences?
LM: Allie is very particular about the sunglasses she wears, and she will only wear Maui Jims. She’ll be squinting, lying in the window, and I’ll put her sunglasses on and she stops squinting. She wears them in the boat, in the convertible, and in the window. I trained her early.