For an art glass enthusiast, discovering the Stained Glass Studio of Clearwater, FL is like a fried foods addict finding the fairgrounds. It's sensory overload. Large panels hang from the ceiling, small panels are posted on lightboards, and a large mixed-media piranha looms in the front window. You could spend hours in the 2400-square-foot studio and not find all of the art glass treats sprinkled around.
Owner Kathleen Bromley is like the Willy Wonka of this proverbial chocolate shop. Her studio, located on US 19 attracts tourists, snow birds and locals of all ages, and she has diversified her offerings to appeal to multiple audiences. We went to visit Kathleen at her studio while a class was in session. Her students were learning how to make glass kaleidoscopes. She broke away from teaching long enough to introduce her staff and give us a quick tour. She, like her shop, is warm, inviting and colorful. Someone you feel like you've known all your life. Perhaps that's one reason behind her loyal customer base. Once you meet her, you're hooked.
Or maybe its her business model, with its great selection of products and bustling staff, the air is thick with creativity.
While we were there, a woman wandered in from the outside. She wasn't a glass artist herself but was clearly taken by the art around her. Her eyes widened as she wandered. It was amazing to see her so captivated. I'm not sure if she ended up buying anything, but I am sure the experience changed her in some way. That is the magic of glass.
Even after more than 30 years in the art glass business, Kathleen can still appreciate the magic. But she's more than just a creative genius, she's also a savvy businesswoman. She knows that to keep her business afloat she has to offer a variety of classes at reasonable prices, a wide-selection of products and exceptional customer service. She says it's the customer service that keeps buyers coming back. Anyone can get started in glass by going to
a big box store or shopping online, but it's the one-on-one attention you get from your local retailer that brings people back, she says. She has even seen a growth in the number of private classes people are requesting. She says her students are so busy these days, they need to be able to take classes on their own time. And they're willing to pay a premium for it. She also offers classes geared toward children. The benefit to teaching kids, she says, is twofold. If they start young, they're likely to stay with the craft. And she maintains that if you can get the kids, you can get the parents. She also supplements the store's income with restoration work and custom designs. She showed us an incredible window she and her staff created for a local hospital. They do it all from pattern creation, to fabrication, to final installation.
Other tools have helped her business stay successful the last few years. She has a very complete website with class postings and a photo gallery. She recently had great success with offering classes through Groupon. It brought her many new students. And she has been experimenting in co-promotion with other craft stores. A local beading store offers its customers coupons for Kathleen's store and vise versa. She's just getting into social media (they have a Facebook page) and hopes to do more. She says retail stores need to think big, "like Oprah big" she says with a smile. And we should listen to her.