“I couldn’t love a job more,” effuses Carol Swain, co-owner with Kay King of The Little Gallery on Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Virginia (www.thelittlegallerysml.com). Celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, the award-winning gallery, chosen by Southern Living magazine as “a favorite place to shop,” clearly deserves its accolades.
When Carol and husband Ken, a former New Jersey Chief of Police, retired to charming rural Moneta, they clearly saw its potential. “I wanted to start a business,” Carol explains. “I saw Smith Mountain Lake was coming alive. It was expanding. Every year it’s gotten better.”
The Little Gallery is well-known for jewelry. “We sold mostly paintings at first,” Carol reveals. “Over the years, we’ve become recognized for jewelry. In the recent economy, we saw jewelry was selling at least as well as our other offerings,” including sculpture, glass and ceramic art.
On a typical balmy summer day, clients browsing the marina where the gallery’s located drop by with their families, dressed in shorts and eating ice cream cones. The warm atmosphere entices new clients and keeps the gallery’s devoted clientele returning. “We have a very loyal clientele. They tell us ‘When we come to the lake, we have to come to the gallery.’”
“We’re right on the water. Men who probably wouldn’t normally browse a jewelry store come in from boating with their wives. Once they’re in, they’re intrigued. They like discovering our unique offerings. For jewelry over a certain price point, the men have to be involved. Women also suggest, ‘I want jewelry from the Little Gallery rather than a traditional jewelry store.’ They’re seeking something unique. They already have their diamond pendant and gold hoops. They want to branch out. Each piece is handcrafted, not mass-produced. It’s distinctive. It adds appeal.
“Also, we’re very approachable. We want people to feel comfortable, not intimidated as they might be in a more formal setting. We offer coffee and cookies and encourage customers to try on pieces, even if they’re ‘just looking.’ You can never tell. One local resident came in, dressed very casually in overalls. While browsing, two paintings caught his eye. He asked us to wrap them up for him. They were $10,000 each.”
“The market in Moneta’s been great.” Carol describes small-town Moneta as a melting-pot of local residents and out-of-towners vacationing at the scenic resort. Many customers have second homes here. “The gallery’s mailing list of 5000 includes best-selling authors, actresses and well-known politicians from Washington, DC. Our clients are not elaborate spenders. They’re careful buyers. But if it’s quality, they’re willing to spend.”
Carol and Kay entice their customers with frequent trunk shows, including three since last summer with Mia Katrin for JEWEL COUTURE LLC. The first show was so successful, follow-ups were soon scheduled. Another is planned for Mother’s Day.
“I knew right away these collections would sell here,” Carol explains. “It’s just what our clients are looking for.” Carol touts the advantages of designer trunk shows. “When designers show their collections, they know their inventory so well; they make it come alive to the customers. They tell each unique piece’s story. It’s invaluable to have the staff listen to the designer so they can imbibe the presentation and own it. It’s a great learning curve.”
What’s the Little Gallery’s key to success? “We like people. Our customers are our friends. It’s not what they spend. If they’re a customer, we’re happy to have them.” The genuine warmth radiating from The Little Gallery draws in clients and keeps them returning. It’s an idyllic formula.