How do you survive in a tough business for more than a dozen years? For Kathryn Murphy, it was all about diversification.
For 14 years, she operated year-round holiday stores in La Jolla, including a dozen years at the La Valencia Hotel. In January, Murphy closed the La Jolla Holiday Store, after spending years riding the roller coaster of that fickle market.
“They didn’t renew my lease,” said Murphy. But she said she had no regrets.
“I would say I was doing OK by the time that I closed,” she said. “It became more and more challenging in this neighborhood to keep up what was unique. And, in my small store of about 400 square feet, I wasn’t going to draw the masses of a Victoria’s Secret.”
Fourteen years ago, Murphy opened La Jolla Christmas Store across the street from the hotel, closed that up after six months, and then moved next door and opened the Easter Store for a year and a half.
She stocked both stores with consignment items , finely crafted ornaments, as well as antique furniture, collectibles and Tiffany pieces, some of them used to display the holiday wares. All were available for sale.
Murphy, 58, also gave opportunities to local artisans, whose holiday crafts she sold on consignment.
“Most artists are not business people,” she said. “It’s hard for them to know how to sell their beautiful pieces.”
It turned out to be a “win-win,” said Murphy. She attributed the success, in part, to the timing , people who lost their keepsakes in the Northridge earthquake near Los Angeles in early 1994 traveled to La Jolla to find replacements.
Also during that time some locals were hit hard by the real estate bust, moving out of big houses trying to downsize. In both cases, she said, “This filled a need.”
It also feathered her own nest.
“I couldn’t afford to open up the whole store , 2,000 square feet , with my own income,” she said. “So, I put the word out.”
Her business “snowballed” and Murphy was busy seven days a week, 12 hours a day, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It was pretty grueling,” she said.
Eventually, she made enough money to go on her own buying excursions.
But then the building where she leased space was sold and it was time to move on.
“I was paying $3,500 a month in rent,” she said. “Then my rent went to $16,000 a month.”
Feeling The Heat
In October 1994, Murphy moved her Christmas store into the La Valencia Hotel, filling the space previously held by a clothing shop.
“When it came to things like Christmas trees I couldn’t compete with the ones at the big stores,” she said. “So I tried to concentrate on unique handmade decorations that weren’t mass-produced.”
But, eventually, she started feeling the heat from some of the major discounters such as Target, Costco and Wal-Mart , even Home Depot.
“They started to sell Christmas and holiday decorations, which are my lifeblood,” she said. “I realized I had to come up with different angles. I wouldn’t have lasted 12 years at La Valencia if I hadn’t branched out.”
While she still catered to tourists, who wanted the cache of La Jolla Christmas ornaments, Murphy decided to take a broader view of the “holiday.” She traveled far and wide, from Australia and Hawaii, to tony gift shows in Los Angeles, to expand her nonholiday wares as well.
“I have three daughters who thrive on shoes and purses,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I get into that market?’ ”
She started buying “unique” shoes and high-end purses.
“Visitors loved them, because they hadn’t seen them before,” said Murphy.
She also started stocking hats and straw bags for summer, and added wedding-themed gifts such as personalized frames, toasting glasses and photo albums.
But the business became more and more of a challenge, she said. At the end, when faced with the prospect of starting all over in another venue , at a much higher rental rate , she decided to close up shop.
“Rents have driven out small operators like me whose price point is predominantly under $50,” said Murphy. “I was putting hours into it and I couldn’t rationalize opening at a higher rent.”
But Murphy is the type of businesswoman who likes to be prepared for all contingencies. Three years ago, she earned her real estate license and now works full time as an agent with Realty Experts in La Jolla.
She’s still riding that roller coaster.