Beth Staula and Sherry Hartley started talking about creating a business that would sell Alabama-made goods after serving together on a women’s executive roundtable in 2006. They each were in the process of selling their businesses and deciding what to do next.
“We didn’t know each other outside of the roundtable,” said Sherry. “But we had a mutual respect for one another and decided to explore opening a business together.”
“We spent a lot of time figuring out a business plan,” said Beth. In October 2007, Alabama Goods was launched. The company initially sold Alabama-crafted products online as well as corporate gifts.
“We travel to north Alabama, south Alabama, east and west. We go to art fairs and craft shows, looking for products to sell,” said Beth. Makers seek out Alabama Goods as well. “We are a for-profit business, but, at the same time, what we are doing helps crafters and artists in the state,” said Sherry. As Lora McGowan of Owens Cross Roads, one of their artist vendors, puts it: “Alabama Goods takes emerging artists out of the ‘starving artist category’ to the ‘here I am, support me category.’ ”
The online-only business model worked, but “we kept finding these really nice products that were handcrafted, but didn’t meet our criteria to be a website product, so we decided to showcase them in a store,” said Sherry.
Since 2011, the partners have successfully added brick-and-mortar stores, one in Homewood and the most recent in Huntsville. In 2023, they will open their third store in Stadium Trace Village in Hoover. A separate operation center fulfills gift orders for their online presence and corporate sales.
Collaborators and Information Gatherers
Beth is the chief executive officer and Sherry is president. “We had to call ourselves something,” said Beth.
Beth manages the operations center, designs gift baskets and boxes, plus oversees website and corporate gifts fulfillment. The partners recently doubled the operation center space to 5,000-square-feet.
Sherry manages the store staff, oversees vendor relations as well as product development and coordinates corporate sales through the stores.
“We each have our own set of strengths that we bring to the table,” said Sherry.
Both women are data driven. “We’re constantly reading reports and adjusting,” said Beth.
They also keep up on trends by reading local, national and online business publications and participating in an entrepreneurial roundtable. “We are always seeking information that will benefit our business,” said Sherry.
Alabama Goods is a certified women-owned business, and the partners draw inspiration from other women as well. When the business partners don’t know something, “we seek out someone who does,” said Beth, adding they are “still in touch with some of the ladies” from the women’s roundtable where they met in 2016.
“Our incredible staff give our customers a top-notch experience; our Alabama vendors create amazing products; and our customers appreciate unique products and believe in buying local,” they said upon being named the 2021 Gold Alabama Retailers of the Year in their sales category.
Attracted to Local
Alabama Goods’ flagship store is on 18th Street in the heart of Homewood. “Homewood is very much a destination shopping area,” said Beth, in explaining why they choose the city and why they plan to stay. Also, Sherry said, “You don’t find that many locally owned boutiques and restaurants in one location that offer a wide range of unique products that you can’t find anywhere else.”
The stores and restaurants on 18th Street “all help each other,” and have similar customer bases, said Beth, a strong advocate for local ownership.
“Local businesses like ours circulate a greater share of every dollar. They employ more people per unit of sales. They’re linked to higher income growth, and they provide more tax revenue for cities with less cost.”
When looking for other brick-and-mortar locations in Alabama, the partners also sought out areas with a higher proportion of local ownership. It is what attracted them to Valley Bend Shopping Center in Huntsville and Stadium Trace in Hoover.
Alabama Goods capitalizes on the local movement through its private labels – Locally Established (T-shirts, tote bags and hats), Huntsville Home and Birmingham Home (candles).
“I grew up in Alabama. I came back as soon as possible (after college and my husband’s military assignments), because I wanted my children to have the same values and upbringing,” Beth said when asked why start a store that only sells Alabama. And, “we thought there would be a demand for Alabama-made products,” said Sherry.
“Each item reflects our state’s warm character and creative spirit,” the Alabama Goods website declares. “When people come in the stores and see what we have to offer, they’re always very impressed,” said Sherry, adding Alabama Goods also gets good feedback from the gift baskets or shipped items.
While others may sell Alabama-made goods, “we’re still a unicorn,” said Beth. “Nobody in the whole state does as much as we do, on the scale that we do, exclusively.”
While the business started as online only, online sales in 2021 represented 10% of overall sales. Their initial focus, corporate gifts, now accounts for half of sales in the Christmas season and 20% to 25% of overall sales from January through October. Corporations that want to give holiday gifts with an Alabama flair or flavor should think about ordering as early as August, the partners said, adding they take corporate holiday gift orders through the beginning of December.
“There are corporate occasions year-round,” Beth said, adding she had just filled a 70-piece corporate order. Makers that can produce large quantities consistently are who Alabama Goods looks to for corporate gift and online items.
“We generally work with vendors who are business owners, because they are very small companies,” Beth said. Sherry added, “They can make really quick decisions” and “get really creative with how they resolve supply issues.”
“It’d be easier just to go to market and buy some stuff and get on with your day,” Beth said, but she and Sherry don’t take the easy route. They develop close relationships with the makers and customers to ensure both have a satisfying experience.
“We are proud to carry products made in Alabama and are pleased that by selling these products, Alabama Goods has a positive impact on our state,” Sherry said.
Number of Employees
We have had dozens of professionals help us in all kinds of areas. We build relationships with people who fill information gaps for us.
Diversifying our revenue stream and giving attention to all of them.
We opened a store in Tuscaloosa and closed it a year later. If something doesn’t work, cut your losses and move on.
Don’t listen to experts who give you advice that goes against your gut. No one knows your business like you do.
MEMBER SINCE 2013
Alabama artists and craftsmen supply the merchandise sold by Alabama Goods – art, pottery, jewelry, bath and body products, towels, leather goods, glassware, T-shirts, hats, books, gourmet food and more. Visit online at alabamagoods.com