In Hanalei Bay, one of the most remote towns on one of the most remote Hawaiian islands, Kylie Barker of Sway Boutique delivers the Hawaiian aloha vibe to her customers. When Covid struck, she made critical changes that helped her succeed while other “tourist” shops failed.

    Sway Boutique is on the main street of Hanalei Bay. Main Street teems with surfing rental shops, fish taco stands and places to get shave ice. The surf shops cover the usual Roxy, Billabong and Quicksilver brands. Leaving shops like Sway to either carry higher end locally-made items or inexpensive Asian-made “Hawaiian” trinkets like ukuleles, dolphin paperweights and the usual tees and tanks.

    Ms Barker had already made a name for the shop by carrying locally-sourced products that ranged from $7.00 costume jewelry to artwork and decor that neared $1,000. The shop targets affluent Princeville tourists. The shop was once a bank. Just before Covid hit, Sway remodeled with vintage panels, shelves and a new ceiling. The visual elements are natural vintage and perfectly support the eclectic range inside. Unlike other shopkeepers, when Covid virtually shut down the island to tourists, Ms Barker leaned into a range of products that met the needs of locals. Her smart pivot has kept the shop open when neighboring trinket shops remained shuttered.

    Kylie was able to see that the usual shoppers changed instantly once the pipeline of tourists closed. She leaned into local makers to reinforce that local connection. Looking over the store offerings, baby clothes, candles and kitchen linens got a new focus.

    In my travels, I get to see a lot of retail designs.

    What stands out to me about Sway Boutique is:

    • Beautiful merchandising that creates shopable zones to slow down shoppers. There is a heightened sense of treasure hunting when handcrafted throws are nestled into a basket near beachy ankle bracelets and wooden serving bowls. Every element is meant to be reviewed handled and considered.
    • Inventory as display pieces. Nearly everything the shop is available for sale. Decor pieces like the sitting Buddha, woven baskets and hanging macrame double as both merchandise display pieces and saleable inventory.
    • Color themes on a neutral. By selecting natural walls, shelves and flooring Sway has been designed to allow colorful products to *pop* in the store. Most seasons, Ms Barker allows Kauai’s beautiful ocean blues to dominate. But the backdrop can also change to coral, peaches and purples to keep pace with tending palettes.
    • Local connections. By highlighting products made on the island and across Hawaii, Sway delivers a native experience that could not be duplicated in Palm Springs or New York. It is a shop of its location. Which is a strong strategy for any retail store: root deeply into your community and location to make your business something no one else could duplicate and scale elsewhere.
    • Store associates who care and know. While Ms Barker was out of her shop, it was in the capable hands of her staff. They were ready with origin stories for local goods and tips for easy travel around the town. Whenever I see outstanding customer service when an owner/manager is not in the shop, I know the management has made good hiring decisions and is training and managing their team well. It is perhaps the most important aspect of having a successful business.

    To see more or feel like you are on a virtual vacation, or order online, check out Sway online.