Story and photograph by Pamela Price
This story originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Leon Springs Community News.
For local shoppers eager to pick up a gift, there’s a new Leon Springs boutique filled with candles, earrings, cards, flip flops, food items, funky eyeglasses, kiddie clothes, and quirky hostess gifts-not to mention a strong spirit of customer service.
“We want to offer ‘simply elegant gifts that celebrate the fun in life.’ So, we offer merchandise that can be given for birthdays, showers, anniversaries, hostess gifts, or entertaining at home,” said Cathy Haffner, co-owner of Giorgio Gifts.
Nestled in The Boardwalk shopping center on the IH-10 frontage road, Giorgio Gifts represents a career change for both Haffner and her husband, Noll, a former collegiate level women’s basketball coach. The couple moved to the Leon Springs area in 2008, around the same time that Haffner left a corporate gig to become a co-author, with Ginny Hutchinson, of the 2009 book “Better Because of You.”
“Opening Giorgio Gifts was a combination of finding a business to invest in San Antonio, and looking for a gift shop to sell my recently published book,” said Haffner. “When we were looking for other retailers to carry my book, in addition Barnes & Noble, and The Twig [Book Shop at Pearl Brewery], we realized there weren’t any local gift stores serving [Leon Springs] neighborhoods. So, Noll and I decided there was a need for a neighborhood gift store-a place where customers can quickly park, get a perfect birthday or hostess gift, and have it gift-wrapped and ready to go.”
Putting her skills as a Fortune 100-level marketing executive experience to work, Haffner conducted a couple of focus groups with local women and discovered there “was an overwhelming response” to the idea of a new store.
“Since neither of us have run a retail store before, I also asked the focus group participants to share their favorite gift brands. This is how we determined which products to initially stock the store,” said Haffner.
The owners continue to take product suggestions from customers, keeping most of the stock in the $15 to $50 price range. “Because of our customer feedback, we added Tyler Candles, and glass nail files, as well as collegiate items for UT, Texas A&M and Texas Tech,” said Haffner, who noted that she’s in the midst of expanding the store’s assortment of children’s toys for holiday shoppers.
Although Giorgio Gifts opened only four months ago, the Haffners have already expanded. In early October, they launched a second shop in Boerne. Central to the shop’s success is a commitment to customer service.
“Our store manager, Barbara Peterson, also owned Lasting Impressions in Boerne, which she sold in 2008. She often says, ‘Building relationships is very important for gift boutiques. Customers really appreciate when we give suggestions to find that perfect gift,’” Haffner said.
Even with the recent expansion to Boerne transforming the boutique into a tiny chain, the Leon Springs shop maintains a cozy, mom-and-pop vibe that sets it apart from impersonal “big box” stores at The Rim or La Cantera shopping centers.
“To be a neighborhood store, we wanted to be convenient to homes… to have plenty of parking, and to have customers enjoy shopping and a meal or drop in after a salon visit,” said Haffner. “It’s great being at The Boardwalk, close to Subway and Thai Lao Orchid, Salon Soleil, Massage Heights, and the Yoga Sanctuary.”
And while the shop has both a Web site (www.GiorgioGifts.com) and a Facebook page to promote trunk shows, new arrivals and other special events, it’s the personal one-to-one relationships with her customers about which Haffner is most enthusiastic.
“It’s very important for us to build a community here in Leon Springs,” said Haffner. “We want people to be able to call us and ask for ideas on gifts. We get regular calls to put a gift together. If a customer tells us what they’re purchasing is a gift, we wrap it in tissue, and a nice gift bag, with ribbon… Our goal is to offer items that will bring a smile to someone.”