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March 8, 2019

Sea Bags seaside strategy, growth leads to five store openings

Courtesy / Sea Bags
Courtesy / Sea Bags
Sea Bags new store in Rehoboth Beach, Del., opens today. It's one of five new stores the Portland-based company is opening in the coming months.

Portland-based Sea Bags is opening five new stores, including three in Maine, driven by double-digit growth and a strategy of locating in coastal towns.

Sea Bags, which designs and manufactures handmade items from recycled sails, is opening stores in Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Ogunquit, Watch Hill, R.I., and Rehoboth Beach, Del., between now and May. The Delaware store opened today.

The openings will expand the company's retail operations, which stretch from Maine to Florida, to 24. The products are handcrafted at 25 Custom House Wharf in Portland.

Popularity of the product drove the openings, and the strategy of locating in seaside tourist towns determined where the openings were, Paul Gori, vice president of retail operations, told Mainebiz Friday.

"It's such a well-received product wherever we go," Gori said. "It's an exciting time at Sea Bags, with all the growth that's occurring."

Gori declined to cite revenues, but said the company has had double-digit growth each year of the past two years.

Gori came to the company a year ago, and said his charge was to grow retail. In his first six months, the company opened five new stores. Altogether, he said, the company will have opened 10 new stores in just over a year.

The company has a unique strategy for identifying new locations.

"One of the founding principles is being on the working waterfront in Portland," he said. "So a lot of the store openings are in coastal towns that have the name 'port' in them. We've got Portland, Newport, Rockport, Freeport."

More recent openings are in towns with the name "harbor" in them or, like Rehoboth Beach and Ogunquit, are beach towns, he said.

The company also targets markets for strong local and tourist trade, he said.

Gori said the search process for site selection starts with an understanding of the customer base.

"Once we know it's a great market for us, I go to Google maps to identify Main Street corridors and search prime shopping areas," he said. "Then I do a site visit and walk around the town, scout sites and watch where people and traffic tend to flow."

The decision is further informed by cost considerations.

"Occupancy costs typically, for any retailer, are the highest cost there is," he said. Therefore, frequently, the company selects a side-street location rather than a Main Street location to help control costs, he said. The company typically leases space, rather than buys.

Fitting up each store is done as a team in one day, starting early morning and sometimes going late into the night, he said.

"We arrive on site with all our fixtures and nautical accessories and merchandise and, from start to finish, we open the store within a day," said Gori. "We have an amazing team. Five of us go in, including our CEO, Don Oakes, who's had an active hand in every opening."

Courtesy / Sea Bags
Courtesy / Sea Bags
Sea Bags is opening a store at 5 Firefly Lane (center storefront) in Bar Harbor in May.

The stores are fitted up to reflect a working waterfront theme, Gori said. That includes window displays designed to evoke boat docks and use of old buoys as decorative elements. The company tries to use as much reclaimed wood as possible for fit-up.

The company employs more than 140 people across manufacturing and retail. It's in the midst of hiring now for the five new stores, he said. Each store typically employs two or three people.

Incorporated in 2006, Sea Bags started by making tote bags from reclaimed sailcloth in Portland's Old Port. Today, the company makes totes, bags and home goods, all featuring material from sails that were once actively used. The extensive use of reclaimed sailcloth is unique to Sea Bags, according to the release. Signs of hard sailing can be seen in every Sea Bags creation, making them individualized.

Production began with just a handful the first year, Gori said. Today, the company produces 160,000 units per year.

"It's so exciting to open store for Sea Bags," he said. "It's a brand that stands for something. We're taking 700 tons of sails out of the landfill."

The new stores will carry Sea Bags' designs and seasonal collections, including totes and home accessories.

Sea Bags in Bar Harbor will be at 5 Firefly Lane and is expected to open May 10. Sea Bags in Boothbay Harbor will be located at 8 Wharf St. and is expected to open April 12. Sea Bags in Ogunquit will be located at 15 Shore Road, Unit B, and is expected to open April 12. The Ogunquit store will be open year-round and Boothbay Harbor and Bar Harbor are both seasonal.

"We're very excited to open three new stores in Maine this spring, bringing our total to seven stores in the state," CEO Oakes said in the release. "We've been on the lookout for a space in Bar Harbor for the past few years and were pleased to find a great location in the center of town. We were also fortunate that a spot in Boothbay became available that was simply too good to pass up. Finally, our 'southern-most' Maine store will open on the heavily trafficked Shore Road on the way to Ogunquit Beach. Ogunquit has a special meaning for us as our ultimate beach tote takes its name from this location."

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