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BiS profile: Susan Kelleher, Seaside Sisters, Seaside Sweets

Susan Kelleher

Owner of Tybee Island’s Seaside Sisters gift shop and Seaside Sweets gelato and candy store.

- Seaside Sisters at 1207 Highway 80 East, Tybee Island, GA 31328

- Seaside Sweets at 18B Tybrisa St., Tybee Island, GA 31328

Family: Two daughters, Amy and Kristen

Pet: A white golden doodle named Joey

Background: My husband and I moved to Tybee in 1999. He was raised in Savannah. We were just sales reps from Orlando. We had five states — Georgia, Florida, Alabama and the Carolinas. We decided to move back to Savannah after the girls went to college. We both decided to start a business here. We just didn’t want to be on the road.

Seaside Sisters came first, in 2007. A couple of years later, (her late husband) Jimmy started Seaside Sweets. We were reps in the gift business. It was a natural stepping stone to open a gift shop…I wanted to open a little bit more of an upscale gift shop.

We started just before the recession. But who knew? Actually our sales were good. Four to five years ago, they started leveling off. Retail is a tough game.

I have five vendors: journalist Polly Stramm; author Mary Kay Andrews; Diane Kaufman, owner of Mermaid Cottages, a vacation rental business on Tybee; Nancy Smith, our bookkeeper; and Sandra Blount. She has rented space on Tybee for 20 years. She has what we called the Treasure Room—piles and piles of stuff that people love to go through.

Marketing: Tybee (business) is mostly weather driven and tourist driven. We’re at the beach. And if it’s not sunny, you don’t have people coming down. It’s a constant marketing effort—partnered with the Tybee tourism council and the Savannah tourism council.

Savannah Sweets: When Jimmy first did this, he wanted it to be a candy store with loads and loads of glass jars full of candy. He thought of ice cream. But there was an ice cream shop across the street so we put in gelato.

It took over the business immediately. It was what everyone on a hot day wanted. Jimmy operated it for two years before he unexpectedly passed away. Every year, we’ve added something new: floats and lemonade and smoothies. And different kinds of candy. We have people making taffy for us. And this year, I’m adding pints to go—and a new ice cream sandwich called Sweetie Pie. It’s just two homemade cookies with gelato inside.

What’s gelato?

Some people come in here and they’ve never heard of gelato. They think it’s got gelatin in it. The main difference from ice cream is that gelato has very little air in it. It’s slow churned. Ice cream has a lot of air in it.

And there’s less calories in gelato than in ice cream. Gelato is about three percent to eight percent butterfat. But ice cream has 10 percent to 18 percent butterfat.

Each of our flavors has its own recipe. And they’re all made from scratch offsite to our specifications. Popular flavors include chocolate chip mint and Tybee marsh mud. It’s vanilla gelato with a swirl of caramel and chunks of fudge.

How many employees?

It depends on the time of year. In summer we have 10 to 12 at Seaside Sweets, all part time. And Seaside Sisters has one fulltime manager and four part time. (We have a great manager. Courtney’s been with me for five years. Everybody should have a Courtney!)

In the winter, we have three part-time at Seaside Sweets, three part-time at Seaside Sisters. I’ve had kids that come back every year. With one family, I‘ve hired brothers and sisters and cousins.

We’re closed January and February. But I’ll open at the end of February if Mardi Gras is late and the weather is good.

Why we’re successful:

(At Seaside Sweets) I have a good product. (At Seaside Sisters) we try to stock stuff people want. We have fun things and a little bit of snarky. Also, our frequent shopper card keeps locals coming back. When they come six times, we give them a gift certificate with 10 per cent worth the amount they have spent in their prior visits.

More on success:

Also, I work my butt off. I work every day. In a small business you have to work every day.

Favorite quote:

You can’t buy happiness but you can buy ice cream. That’s kind of the same thing.

Professional achievement:

Keeping these stores open since Jimmy died.

Personal achievement:

Aside from my husband, my personal achievement would be having a great collection of close friends. And traveling the world and experiencing other cultures. And I have close family members that I travel with.

Future plans:

Retire rich. Isn’t that everybody’s plan? My future goal — travel the world and retire rich.

Tips for other business operators:

Just the basic: Your customers are everything. Your employees are even more. If you don’t treat your employees great, then your customers won’t want to be there. If I don’t have employees happy and smiling, then you don’t have a business.

Things to avoid:

You just always have to watch your bottom line. You have to have a good accountant, good employees. And have something you like, that you are passionate about. I’ve been in the gift business 30 years.

Why Tybee works for us:

I was raised on the water, in Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay. I kind of have to be on the water.

Tybee is a wonderful community that I am privileged of being a part of. This island doesn’t matter if you are blue or red. Everybody rallies around. Every weekend there’s a fundraiser.

Mission statement: Make people happy and have fun doing it.

Contact numbers: Seaside Sisters (912) 786-9216

Seaside Sweets (912) 786-9861

Web site: www.seasidesisterstybee.com (Seaside Sisters has a link for Seaside Sweets on it.

Email: info@seasidesisterstybee.com

— Compiled by Lanie Peterson

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