Heather Thomas is the owner of The Gold Trout, which is located in Granville, New York. She runs the store, which stocks high-end gifts and home goods, and has been in business since 2012. She also runs a stationery design business and a consulting business for small business owners. She helps them develop their brands and visions and build their websites and e-commerce platforms. We sat down with Heather to ask her what she’s learned from being a store owner, and what she would recommend to others.
Abound: What type of customers typically shop in your store?
Heather: We’re in upstate New York, about an hour from Saratoga, right on the Vermont border. Because of our location, we get a lot of customers who are tourists looking for recreation, as well as a strong local following.
Abound: How did you decide to open a store?
Heather: Originally, I studied Government at St. Lawrence University. I lived in New York City for a number of years, working in finance. And then one day, I decided I didn’t want to live there anymore.
I moved and then, about two weeks later, I gave notice at my job. I got on the train to Albany and that was it. That was in 2011. Since then, my vision and store have grown in ways that I really couldn’t have imagined.
Abound: What are some things you’ve noticed?
Heather: It’s interesting as a small business person to watch the trends in Los Angeles and other big cities. I like understanding how that resonates with our local customers, as well as our audience who aren’t local and shop with us online.
Abound: How have you noticed the trends changing over the years?
Heather: I think stylistically, what’s hot right now is things with a 70s vibe. I’ve noticed that across branding, packaging, and how people are shooting their products. So that’s super interesting.
I personally love it. I feel like I finally arrived back home with this sort of aesthetic. I think that our younger followers really dig it too. And it’s nice to be able to offer these products.
Abound: So have you always thought about having a store? When you were back in finance was it on your mind?
Heather: I’m such a nerd. I used to play library, I wanted to make my own card catalog, put the things on the side of the book, and play that way.
I remember there was one conversation I had with a professor from the government department of my college where I told him that I wanted to help small businesses in my hometown. This was way before Google was focused at all on small businesses, and I really wanted to be able to help a lot of small businesses.
And now that’s literally what I do every day. I have this store, but I also have a marketing and design business. I’m wearing a lot of hats on a daily basis, really shifting from one to another. We work with clients all over the Northeast, helping them so that other people can have successful businesses. We love seeing people being able to quit their jobs and go live their best lives. A lot of people aren’t cut out to work in big corporations.
In huge companies like that, it’s easy to get lost. People will be able to see what’s not working around them, but when you’re working for a mega corporation many times there’s no way for you to influence decisions. That’s tough for many creatives.
So on the one hand, we’re offering products and services to our community. And on the other, we’re here to also be a resource to other businesses. It’s not easy work, but it’s definitely very meaningful. And yeah, that conversation I had walking down the streets of New York with this government professor keeps coming back to me. Because that’s what I ended up doing.
Abound: So do you consider your retail location part of your marketing business, or do you consider them separate?
Heather: It is the home to both. We have many different rooms in my store, we have an office where I do all the hard work, and one of them has become a playroom for my three-year-old.
Abound: What types of products do you sell at The Gold Trout?
Heather: Literally ask me if we have something and I bet we do. That’s the type of store it is, everything we have is super high-quality, much of it is handmade, and many of the companies we work with are women-owned.
We carry everything from vegan specialty chocolates and other specialty foods, to a kids section with books, toys, and every possible baby goop. We have natural rubber pacifiers and wraps for moms holding their babies. We have books and textiles home goods.
We do have a men’s section, although, I mean, ask any retailer, unless you’re a hardware store, men’s is a very interesting and difficult category. Just because men aren’t coming in looking for that next great thing. A man came in this morning and he was like ‘this is not my place, but I’m gonna send my wife in.’
Abound: When you get a new client, what stage of their business are they typically in? What are the things you usually do first?
Heather: The first thing we do totally varies depending on where the person is, but a lot of the time it’s someone at the very beginning of their journey. People won’t have a storefront, or even a name for their business. Sometimes they just know they want to start a business.
This past summer, I got on the phone with someone who’s a great client and I said ‘I want to have a life coaching business.’ We started popcorning ideas, and within a minute he had his business name. He was like ‘that’s it, that’s what I want, I don’t need to think about it.’ From there, we worked on branding, his website, and everything else he needed.
It’s really fun to get to help people. I like to describe myself as a creative doula, but that doesn’t always resonate with a lot of my audience because men aren’t looking for a doula.
Overall, we do a mix of things here at The Gold Trout, but supporting small businesses, focusing on our impact on the environment, and bringing more beauty to this world are the threads that are consistent throughout all of it.
Abound: So do you help with other brick and mortar retailers only, or all types of businesses?
Heather: All types of businesses. We have clients who are in the food business like markets, restaurants, and value-added makers. We help healers, musicians, textile designers, clothing designers, it’s just a very interesting blend.
It’s like dating you know. I’m not the best fit for everyone, but when it’s a good match it’s productive and rewarding for both of us.
Abound: How do you pick products that resonate with your store and customers? What’s your overall philosophy?
Heather: We focus on bringing in goods that are sustainable and healthy for people and families. We have a lot of things that are made by small companies. There is beauty in keeping things small. From a business standpoint, it’s often a more sustainable (i.e. long-lasting) approach to doing business.
Abound: What are your favorite and least favorite things about owning a store?
Heather: Mmmm… Christmas.
Abound: Is that for both?
Heather: Yes, haha, I think it is both.
Abound: That’s very funny. I can see that. What advice would you give someone who’s just starting a store?
Heather: Find a good business partner.
Abound: Do you have one?
Abound: Do you have any goals this year for what you’d like to achieve?
Heather: We need to buy better shelving. It’s a constant struggle with rotating merchandise through the seasons. It’s hard to have the right displays on hand all the time.