An interview with Lisa Young, owner of award-winning Doodlet’s in downtown Santa Fe
Story by Tina Manzer, photos by Wendy McEarhern from Parasol Productions
You are a merchant through and through …
Yes. I have always thought of myself as a retail brat.
My parents owned a large and eclectic specialty store in Texas called Arnold’s of Dallas. I started working there on Saturdays when I was in third grade, pricing merchandise in our warehouse. Over the years I worked my way up to the cash register and the sales floor. I became a buyer and merchandise manager when I graduated from college.
When I was growing up, our family would occasionally travel to Santa Fe and I loved going into Doodlet’s. I found it a place of discovery filled with whimsy and joy.
It was a tiny shop that was opened in 1955 by a very creative German immigrant woman and her 17 year-old daughter – her nickname was Doodlet. They made and sold Christmas trees and wreaths filled with miniature treasures. When Stanley Marcus discovered them, he brought them into his Dallas store, Neiman Marcus. Other products were also one-of-a-kind and handmade; purchased directly from Germany and other countries around the world.
My dream was to own a shop like Doodlet’s.
One day it occurred to me that instead of opening a store like it, perhaps I could one day take over Doodlet’s. After many years, a call from Doodlet, and a bit of synchronicity, it happened in June 2010.
How does today’s version compare to the original?
The big differences between then and now are things like websites, social media, and systems to help manage transactions, inventory and buying. Today, with such a global market to choose from, products from everywhere are attainable by most any retailer. Stores have to differentiate to stand out. One way Doodlet’s does that is by supporting makers, sewers, recycle artists, candy makers, authors, miniaturists, and more from our area. More than 100 local people create products for us.
Our customers are all ages, all sexes, all nationalities. In today’s culture, folks crave laughter and find joy in the unexpected. To wander through the shop and to be able to laugh out loud with abandon is something most people don’t get to experience too often, but it happens here. Doodlet’s tag line is “happiness essentials.”
Please describe your mix.
In addition to locally-made items, we have a Christmas section that is up year-round. We also sell toys – a category that’s about 30 percent of our business. Another 30 percent is home wares and folk art. The rest is cards, books, novelties, miniatures, apparel/jewelry/accessories and “seasonal.” The percentages vary depending on the day or time of year.
How many SKUs is that?
Right now, we have about 15,000 SKUs and more than 50,000 units.
What are your bestsellers?
Hmmm … currently they’re Robot Flyers, Celebrity Prayer Candles (especially Tom Petty and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and blind boxes from Clever Idiots. Perennial bestsellers include locally-made flour-sack tea towels, anything small like marbles, World’s Smallest anything, and pocket charms. Of course, everyone loves the flying, screaming monkeys!
What are the advantages of such diversity?
Perhaps that we don’t have all our eggs in one basket, that we are not dependent upon one particular category, and that we can shift our focus and dollars from one category to another with relative ease.
And the disadvantages?
It comes with a unique set of difficulties. For instance, we use a POS system to keep track of our inventory and sales, but close to one-third of our products are too tiny to hold a price label with a barcode. They cannot be scanned at the register!
We are told we receive more freight on a daily basis throughout the year than any other downtown Santa Fe merchant. What could become chaos needs to be organized and under control. Managing it and getting it all processed takes lots of people. There are 10 employees, including me.
At the same time, we want our customers to have 100 percent of our focus when we are open – that’s seven days a week, 362 days a year! It requires a great deal of stamina and commitment. Whew!
Finally, with the vast number and assortment of products, it is a challenge to stay knowledgeable about what has come in, what a book is about, or how something works.
Where do you look for new products?
We pay attention to what our customers ask for. If we cannot find it, we search for ways to have it made. Trade magazines and tradeshows can be helpful.
Scouring designer-maker sites for the unexpected is critical to having products shoppers cannot find just anywhere. Also, when I travel and there is a street festival, it is fun to discover unique items there.
We are grateful that we receive unsolicited requests from individuals selling their wares – at least a dozen or so a month.
How do you display everything? What fixtures do you use?
We love antiques and using the unexpected to show off our products. For example, a local artist created a giant cake to display our vintage-reproduction birthday candleholders. So fun!
We change our displays ALL the time. We receive new merchandise every day! Change helps support our goal – to allow our customers to explore and discover what they were not looking for.
As practical and utilitarian as slat wall is, we have very little.
Do you love your location?
We are happily ensconced on a busy corner in an historic adobe building that was renovated 10 or so years ago. It’s around 1,800 square feet with 1,500 square feet of selling space. The rest is for offices, a break room, a receiving area, and the “orange runway” where products are staged before they “take off” to the sales floor.
Santa Fe is an enchanting, historic city. It is our nation’s second-oldest city and the oldest state-capital city, founded in the early 1600s.
What differentiates your storefront from the other shops there?
It is a welcoming gathering place with a small patio that features colorful folkloric chairs and benches for folks to sit, meet, and just hang.
Our four large windows are changed out multiple times during the year. A current favorite is a camping scene with pixies roasting marshmallows near a colorful, floral, makeshift tent. There is campfire bingo there, and miniature Danish mice sleeping in a tiny “real” tent. A furry fox and other puppets sit under the stars.
This summer, folks from near and far voted us “Best Gift Store,” Best Children’s Store,” AND “Best Downtown Business” in the annual “Best of Santa Fe” competition!
How important is the internet to your success?
We have a presence on Facebook and Instagram. One of our savvy young employees handles our posts and photos, and also produces and mails a monthly e-newsletter.
After 62 years, we finally created our website – which is mostly eye candy.
What do you like best about your job?
Our staff and our customers! Our employees are the best of the best, with a customer-comes-first mentality and a ton of the fun factor swirled in. And our customers, well – they’re thrilled to be in Santa Fe and happy, happy, happy to discover and experience Doodlet’s!