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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 14, 202005:10 AM EST

Business Strategy: Natural Life wants to add experiential shopping

The store will add a cafe to its newest concept after closing at St. Johns Town Center.
by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

As Natural Life reached the end of its five-year lease at St. Johns Town Center, CEO Patti Hughes saw an opportunity to pivot the retail aspect of the company.

The store was performing well, but in the past several years she noticed the decline in shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retailers across the country and didn’t want her company to follow the same path. 

That’s why she closed her store in the St. Johns Town Center at the end of January and will open a new concept in Ponte Vedra Beach. 

This one will be half cafe, half retail store.

“I think having more of an experiential store where it’s more representing the lifestyle brand versus just in a mall where people are walking around shopping fits us more,” said Hughes, who founded the clothing and accessories store in Ponte Vedra Beach in 1996.

The Chirp Coffee Shop and Cafe, which is what the cafe portion will be called, will serve coffee, wine and craft beer, along with sandwiches, soups, pizza, breakfast food and ice cream. She described it as a “micro kitchen” with a limited menu. 

The name comes naturally.

Natural Life sends out morning inspirational quotes on Instagram and by email that it calls “chirps,” which is where the cafe’s name comes from. Those quotes and sayings also are found on nearly all the company’s products. 

The new concept will have indoor and outdoor seating and cozy spots and also will carry on the look of the Natural Life store at the Town Center. 

It will have a rustic feel and garage-door windows that allow the indoor and outdoor spaces to feel connected. 

The idea is to not only create an experiential retail portion of the company, but also provide something “cool” for Ponte Vedra, Hughes said.

Hughes lives in Ponte Vedra, and the company’s corporate headquarters is at 820 Florida A1A N. The warehouse is at 7780 Westside Industrial Drive in Jacksonville. 

 Hughes said she will open later this year and is completing a lease for space on the east side of Florida A1A in Ponte Vedra, but declined to say where that will be until the lease is signed.

“I just like to make things I want in my own life and I love coffee shops and I love how they bring community together and people come hang out,” Hughes said. “I wanted to make the kind of coffee shop that would look like a Natural Life product. It’s more about something that I felt like the community could use.”

For Natural Life, the retail store component of the business has never been its largest.

The wholesale end of the company, which sells its products to more than 10,000 retailers, is about 60% of its business. Those companies include Hallmark Cards and francesca’s, a women’s boutique clothing chain.

Direct-to-consumer sales, which comprise online and in-store sales, are about 40% of the company’s business.

As more retailers go out of business and more people shop online, Hughes said she expects growth.

She keeps an eye on companies she calls “dino-stores” that aren’t doing well, and will stop selling to them if she thinks they may close down.

“We want to make sure that we keep Natural Life healthy,” she said. 

Natural Life describes itself as making gifts, clothes and accessories “with a free-spirit style and a positive vibe” for women and girls.

Hughes declined to disclose the sales of the privately owned company.

Hughes said Natural Life always will have a brick-and-mortar store in Northeast Florida because it serves as a test ground for the wholesale side of the business, and customers enjoy coming in.

It opened its first retail store in The Avenues mall in 2012, before moving to St. Johns Town Center in 2014.

“I didn’t really plan on doing it but when I found out the lease was up, I’m like, OK, let’s do something different,” Hughes said.


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