---- — Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Ted LaMonica, owner of Wee Wooly Country Shop.
How long have you lived in the area?
Seventy-three years. I'm a native Oneontan.
Tell me about your business:
It is a small gift shop _ that happens to carry yarns. (I am not a yarn shop or a craft shop). I have a great variety of products, from custom-made braided rugs to Celtic sterling silver, to all kinds of pottery to reproduction tin signs. I carry Amish jams and jellies and honey. In collectibles, I carry Jim Shore figurines, (which are) one of the bestsellers. Jim Shore figurines include lots and lots of angels, Noah's ark, witches and every season has a series of figurines. (I have) lots of clocks, some stationary and cards, wrought iron _ key holders, napkin holders. I have a big selection of Folkmanis puppets. I have stone coasters and candles _ scented and beeswax. I have collectible prints by different artists. It's a slew of lots of things. I think I carry (merchandise) from about 59 different companies.
Describe a typical day in your business:
Right now it's pretty boring. Business is bad.
I'm open at 9:30 in the morning. I put a section of products outdoors. I have a section outside of the main shop as you're coming in, with humongous pottery shelves and areas where I bring out a lot of my products, which you look at before you ever come in through the door.
Then it's fairly quiet. When there are no customers I look at catalogs to try to find new products that customers might be interested in. I'm constantly asking people (for ideas). One of the main things I try to do in my store is (encourage customers to) compare prices. I do not mark my prices up like everybody else does. I try to make a fair profit without charging a lot, so I would hope that (customers) would compare prices.
How did you get started in this line of work?
It was in 1995 that I started here. My plant closed down in Vestal. I worked for Atlantic Design. So my wife suggested (because) I'd always talked about opening a gift shop (that) now then was the time to do it.
I live on Southside Drive. I found (another) house on Southside Drive. It was built to have a craft shop downstairs. I decided to give it a try with the idea that we would enlarge it. I just expanded it into the garage. And that's how Wee Wooly Country Shop came to be.
Where do you see this business in five years?
I'd like to see it producing but I really don't know. It's just a year-by-year thing. Just when you think you should quit you get a few new customers who really like the place, so you keep going. I enjoy the people. That's why I'm here. I would be happy if they just stopped in, looked around for a few minutes and just said hello. I would like that even more than making money. I'm bigger than what I look like. Stop and look and let me know what you feel.
What have you learned from your work?
What is the most challenging part of what you do?
What was and still is, is to try to find product that people really want and what they need. I'm constantly working on that.
The most enjoyable?
Meeting new people.
How do you define success for your business?
Success would be if I were able to make a profit. Most years I don't. It's like an expensive hobby.
What are some advantages as well as drawbacks of doing business in this area?
The only advantage I see is the local people are a lot friendlier and happier to do business (with) than maybe in a bigger area. Disadvantages are the economy and the job situation in this area. I'm off the beaten path. My (shop) is a little hard to find the first time.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
The best prices. I try to work with my customers. I will do layaways and gift certificates. I will do anything to try to accommodate them and help them out.
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?
Don't do it right now unless you've got something that people really need. Open a gift shop with a deli. There's really nothing here that people need. For a gift shop, find something people need with which to incorporate it. That will draw them.
This shop Talk interview was conducted by Shirley O'Shea. To have a business featured in Shop Talk, call Emily Popek at The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or email news@ thedailystar.com.