It’s all about heart … and home
WC?business celebrates 25 years
Orton has a keen eye for putting together beautiful and eclectic things, in styles ranging from the traditional, trendy, or elegant, to vintage and industrial. Her ability for staying ahead of the curve has come from a unique blend of talent, work experience and most important, paying attention to her customers needs. Their hunt for the perfect piece of décor, personal accessory or gift item has helped fuel her passion, resulting in a specialty/gift shop that has been one of Webster City’s long-lived retail treasures, and a destination business for many from outside the community.
Orton opened Heart n Home in November of 1991, in a small residential style home at 1600 Superior Street. She had always wanted to start her own business, and knew she wanted a home décor/gift shop. With years of experience making arrangements for weddings and funerals, wreaths, and displays, when her job of 15 years at a local floral shop ended, she decided to go out on her own. Once the decision was made, and the location found, she and her husband Dave, began working on the small house. The entire bottom floor was dedicated to the business. The back area was a work space and used for packing. The rest of the main floor was for displays. There, she grew her business for the next 16 years in only 600 square feet of space.
“I made a lot of my own product when I first opened the store,” Orton said. She’d had a lot of luck with her creations at craft shows. However, she soon began to offer more, by going to market and selecting manufactured lines for the shop. “There wasn’t a lot of space but we were ok with it,” she said.
The challenges and risks of being a small business in a small community were typical. Business was slow in the beginning, she said, and it took a couple of years, but her inventory and the business continued to grow. “Much of the growth was due to word of mouth,” she said. And customer’s expectations also grew, as she expanded into jewelry, and women’s accessories.
“I knew I was out growing the place because I was listening to my customers. I was trying to get new merchandise in there, knowing I just didn’t have the place for it,” Orton said. The small space had begun to hold her back, she admitted. With increasing inventory, and space at a premium, the thought of moving was on her mind but they had not been actively looking. “Our customers told us we needed more room and we really wanted to keep it in a house,” she said, thinking it was more conducive to creating different displays and vignettes.
Making a Move
“I didn’t know where to go. I knew I wanted to be in a house and they are not that easy to find,” she said, with the added requirements of being a well trafficked, commercial location. But then a house at 1423 Superior St., not far from her first shop, came up for sale. “When it came up, I decided to look. I didn’t know if we were really ready for that, but if we were going to expand it was the only way, to buy this house,” she said. “And we worked for two years, my husband Dave and I, every night after work and every weekend, trying to get it ready. And it needed a lot,” she said. The Ortons did work themselves, with assistance from their three sons who were a big help, she added.
“I just decided after two years we had to get open,” said Orton. “I set a date in November. We were approaching the Christmas season open house at the other store and I knew I wanted to be at the new shop by my open house. We moved as much merchandise as we could. We had ordered inventory and display fixtures and got them set up. We worked better with that deadline,” she said. Her husband had told her there was no way they were going to be able to do it, but she was determined. She said she told him they would do it, and they did.
They not only maintained the business at the origin location during the entire remodeling process, but into the holiday season as well. Not everything had been moved from the other store, according to Orton, so her original shop remained open for a few more months and housed a lot of the sale items. Her open house went very well that year, better than expected with customers visiting both stores.
Reviews of the new shop at the time of its opening were glowing. The building had undergone an extensive renovation. “Just the openness, high ceiling, and the staircase when you walked in were impressive,” she said. They had taken out bedrooms, and removed part of the upper floor to reveal a high, open ceiling and turning staircase.
Expansion and trends
Ginger Snap, Petite Snapper, KD Designs are a couple of the expanded jewelry lines she now has. “You can personalize your own jewelry, in a bracelet or necklace, put in your own charm, stones, and initials, definitely a big trend right now. Large chucky pieces still make a statement, but another popular trend is longer, layered necklaces,” she said.
Orton has also been able to expand with new lines to include more women’s clothing and accessories. She has added a baby gift area, and a wine and gourmet food section where customers will find Iowa wine from Garden Winery, Gowrie, and gourmet foods such as beer bread crackers, dip and cheese ball mixes. She is also a distributor for Lipscense, a long-lasting, lip color that is water proof, and kiss-proof.
The boutique style clothing they now offer is something you don’t find in every store, according to Orton. “The clothing is unique,” she said. “A lot of people might know we have clothes here, but they don’t know we carry small to XXXL.”
They also now carry leggings, tank and long sleeve tops in shape wear. “People really like the fabric, which took several years to develop. It stays up and stays put with a nice tall waistband that does not roll down. The shape is appealing because they tuck you in without feeling uncomfortable. It’s a nice basic layering piece to start with. Then we have jackets and capes and cardigans to go over that,” said Orton. They also carry scarves and purses such as totes, cross body, small clutches, and large and medium size bags, as well as boot socks that are worn with shorter boots. “Tall boots used to be the thing but you see a lot more short boots now,” she said.
Future plans include increasing the clothing selections because she has found there is so much interest.
Orton has seen trends in color change time and again over the years, but her advice for staying current, and the trend today is -start with neutrals. “When it comes to color, neutrals are strong right now. We are still finding a lot of gray and white tones. People are doing their big items like furniture, carpeting, walls, in neutral colors and then throwing that pop of color in there with things like pottery and pillows. Then colors can be easily changed if they get tired of what they have. It is a nice way to go if you are someone who likes to change colors seasonally,” she said.
“We have people come in the store for greenery and florals because ours have such a real feel and look to them, and I guess that has been a big part of my business because that’s where I got my experience, working in the floral shop for 15 years,” said Orton. “There has been a shift from the heavy floral arrangements to more grasses, sticks, and bushes to create more of a woodsy, airy look, in keeping with simpler designs in home décor,” she said. People bring in a vase and might want the florals changed out and she is happy to accommodate them. If anyone needs help with their decorating, or with a specific area in their home she suggests taking a picture, bringing it in, or a home visit can be arranged, and they are ready to help.
People are doing more with single, sometimes larger statement pieces, like large clocks, galvanized wood pieces, metal and wood mix pieces, canvas rather than framed art, mirrors and vintage look pieces, rather than multiple small pieces. A new look can be achieved simply.
Vintage items are displayed in the garage behind the shop, but are also included in displays throughout the store. “The garage is just a nice place if someone just wants something they can redo, but we also use vintage in the store so customers can see how a vintage piece can work in their home,” Orton said. Vintage items and antiques are the other areas she plans to expand on, after seeing the interest generated by the annual Junk Fest event in Webster City. “We were open for Junk Fest extra hours. It’s a huge event and draws a lot of people to the area. People came in and looked through the garage and shop,” she said. While the porch is a highly visible area where she has also displayed vintage and antique items, she has also set aside a place for people to sit and relax if waiting on someone else to finish shopping.
Orton marked her 25th anniversary with her annual Christmas season open house. Men looking for gift ideas are often told by their wives, “anything from Heart n Home.” They come in, look around and sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed. They often say,” I think I’ll just get a gift card,” said Orton.” They know that can be used for whatever they want. “So we do have the occasional guy who will come in look around and pick out a gift.”
Sip and Stroll is coming up in April. You can come and taste the wine, buy a glass and make the rounds to different businesses that are participating. It makes a great date night or is fun for a group of friends. It has been a successful Webster City event over the past few years, according to Orton.
Listening to her customers, meeting their needs, and most important, providing great customer service, has been an important focus of Heart n Home, and contributed to her success over the last 25 years.
Heart n Home
1423 Superior Street
Webster City, Iowa 50595