Coastal looks continues to be strong for many retailers.

By Jason Duarte

The coastal look continues to be a popular one, partly because of the sense of freedom that it conveys, but also because it reinforces minimalism, openness and nature, while still being decorative and thematic.

Many coastal decor retailers, such as Crabby Chic in Wilmington, North Carolina (, specialize in this relaxing sea-and-sand look.

“When you walk in our store, it has a very calming effect,” says Pat Flynn, a buyer at the store. “Everybody that comes in says, ‘oh my gosh; it makes me feel so good.’ ”

According to Flynn, the shop focuses on a more “upscale coastal look,” selling items such as candles, pillows, Shabby Chic furniture, tableware and frames. The blue claw crab is native to the Carolinas and is a staple motif at the store. In fact, some of the most popular items are crab-themed, with the shop’s best-selling items being decorative glass lamps and candles.

Polly Helm, owner of Door County Nature Works in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin (, says her store offers customers more lake-inspired themes, such as sailboats, lighthouses and seagulls, rather than the beachy seashell and ocean motifs.

“Our store in Door County is on the water, so I think people like to purchase things that remind them of where they’ve been on vacation or where they’d like to be,” Helm says. “I think most coastal decor tends to have a very fun and fresh feel to it.”

For many vendors, the coastal trend has been a boon to sales. Eleanor Carter, president of Sea Island Imports in Summerville, South Carolina (, has been selling wholesale for about nine years. She keeps up with ever-changing decor trends and now offers many products that connect with coastal customers. Big sellers for Carter include handpainted blue-and-white porcelain tableware featuring shells and crabs as well as original carved wood bookends, door stops and stools that showcase coastal themes.

Lisart, a vendor in Wells, Maine (, has found success with creative beach-themed art pieces.

“I go down to the beach and write in the sand peoples’ wedding and anniversary dates, and I frame that,” says owner Lisa Biasin.

These meaningful gifts are especially popular with customers who have their wedding on the beach and can commemorate the date with a Lisart piece.

In addition to her wholesale business, Biasin also sells retail to a customer base split between locals and tourists. She says that these customers usually either want to expand their coastal-themed home or bring collectibles back for family and friends.

To appeal to both types of customers, retailers should mix furniture and home accents in a variety of price points with a selection of inexpensive, easy-to-pack gift items.

Biasin also notes that people seem to resonate with the smells and sounds of the beach, and they often recall the joy of days spent playing in the sand and water as a kid.

Retailers can play up this theme by merchandising vintage-style coastal products in nostalgic displays that are sure to call up fun childhood memories for coastal-loving customers.

One benefit of selling coastal products is that the category lends itself to creative displays. If you’re selling this fresh and fun merchandise, consider some of these display ideas.

  • Incorporate shells in a variety of ways. Fill glass vases or jars with shells and adhere a plate to the top for a simple and unique tabletop display item.
  • Create your own driftwood. Gather various twisted branches or logs and give them a whitewashed paint treatment for an easy driftwood look.
  • Think crisp blues and fresh whites. Paint your walls in these coastal-themed colors for instant beach appeal. Add striped fabrics as curtains, backdrops or dividers.
  • Showcase jewels in the sand. If you sell sea-glass jewelry, consider placing a few pieces in a tray filled with a layer of shimmering white sand. The deep colors of the glass will shine against the sand.
  • Construct quick pilings. Gather three logs of similar width but different heights. Group them together, and wrap them with thick rope to create rustic dock appeal.
  • Hang scarves on a dune fence. Tack a section of dune fencing on your wall, and adhere clothespins at random locations or attach small loops, such as towel holders, to the wood. Use the piece to display scarves, pillows or other small items.
  • Make your own sand dune. Use a swath of coarse burlap fabric as a display base, draping it over piles of pillows or bunches of cotton to create an undulating beach look.
  • Bring in the sounds of the sea. Call up coastal memories and create ambiance by playing a CD of the unmistakable sounds of waves crashing, gulls calling and boats docking.
  • Design a near pier. Make a simple pier on which you can showcase products by lining up weathered pallets end to end and adding a couple of wood crates to serve as lobster traps.