Welcome to our Small Biz Spotlight series! An interview series focusing on local retailers and what makes them special. For this installment, we spoke with Alex Naeve at Redwood Trading Post in Redwood City, California. Over the course of our conversation, Alex and I spoke about the difficulties of maintaining an online presence and how, contrary to popular belief, social media creates personal connections, instead of severing them.
Let’s start with a brief history of the business. How long have you been in operation?
Redwood Trading Post was first opened in 1952, then called Redwood Surplus, located on Main Street in Redwood City, California.
In 1964, Joseph Weber purchased the business, working tirelessly to establish a reliable retail source for quality outdoor gear. Redwood Trading Post (RTP) soon outgrew its Main Street storefront and was relocated to a larger location on nearby El Camino Real in 1974. In March of 2016, RTP opened the doors to its current location, at 1455 Veterans Blvd.
What makes your business unique?
Redwood Trading Post is a true family business. By 1982, Joe’s three sons, Larry, Randy, and Ron shared ownership of the store, managing day-to-day operations while Joe kept the books and mother Tessie headed the cash registers. In 2017, members of the family are still a part of day-to-day operations. Not many businesses still open after this many years can claim such a rich, nurturing history!
Tell me about a time the business had to overcome a challenge.
In 2016, RTP moved–TWICE. During the spring of 2015, the owners of Redwood Trading Post were notified that the store’s location on El Camino Real had been purchased by a development company, and the building would soon be demolished, replaced by a 7-story apartment complex. Thus, RTP would need to find a new a storefront–not an easy feat in a quickly growing city with ever-climbing rent prices! Thankfully a new location was secured, and RTP would be able to relocate, just as soon as necessary renovations were completed — about a four-month-long process. Unfortunately, there were only two months before operation would need to cease in its longtime retail storefront. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, RTP considered the options: would it be a better decision to close the store for two months and re-open in the new location, risking losing loyal customers and staff? Or, would seeking out an interim retail location allow an opportunity to better serve customers and retain employees?
Redwood Trading Post chose to remain open and essentially move twice; operating out of a small pop-up location with limited inventory until construction on the new building was completed two months later, from January until March 2016.
Despite the location changes, having a storefront accessible to the public allowed for open communication between RTP and its customer base, with the help of social media and website updates. As a result, customers could continue to rely on RTP to provide stellar customer service and top-quality outdoor gear, even though the physical storefront location had changed.
Does Redwood Trading Post host or take part in any events outside of normal day to day operations, such as fundraisers or community events? If so, tell us a bit about it!
In partnership with outdoor education programs at local schools, RTP works alongside educators in encouraging youth to enjoy nature while emphasizing sustainability and environmental awareness. Jim, RTP store manager, hosts on-site informational meetings with school staff, administrators, and parents about essential equipment and attire necessary for outdoor adventures.
If you had one piece of advice about digital marketing for a new retailer in the industry, what would it be?
Social media matters! Platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow for direct interaction between business representatives and customers, which ultimately affords businesses the opportunity to know their customers as people, not simply representations of individuals as demographic data. Relationships are built through interaction and communication, and utilizing social media is one way to engage directly with existing and potential customers.