After three decades of style leadership in Laguna Beach, AREO, a downtown home goods and gift shop, will move out of its physical location at the end of February.
Owners Kevin Mundt and Dave Thomas decided to focus on their primary venture, a wholesale business called HomArt.
The duo worked to design the products and then manufacture them. Thomas said they now have nearly 4,000 products that they wholesale to other retailers and have showrooms in Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas.
A loyal customer base allowed AREO to overcome a rocky start, which included opening its doors during turbulent economic times and surviving flooding in its infancy following the 1993 Laguna Beach fire.
“We’ve had a great run, 30 great years,” Thomas said. “We opened when the economy wasn’t great in 1992. We had a lot of local customers come in and ask us why we were opening in such a bad economy, but luckily they bought things the way they asked, so we’ve been able to grow our local customer base immensely .”
Since its inception, AREO has been located at Ocean Ave. 207. It will continue to operate in an online capacity, an avenue the owners said they began exploring when they started seeing a different kind of clientele after the television show “Laguna Beach” aired in 2004.
“I think the ‘Laguna Beach’ show brought more tourists to town, but we’re very tourist friendly,” Mundt said. “We have a lot of people walking to the beach right next to the store, so many people stop.
“That’s one of the reasons why we went online with areohome.com. … I think it gives them that connection because they were here on vacation, and they can still order from that little store. We ship everywhere.”
When the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce began hosting a holiday window decorating contest, AREO made a name for itself by joining in on the festivities. Its expansive window frontage and ever-changing window displays, combined with overhanging lights, made it a hit during the holidays.
This was evident again at the busy Hospitality Evening, although the business itself is a short walk from the Promenade on Forest and Peppertree Lot, where most of the action and entertainment took place.
AREO won the holiday window decorating contest, but Mundt said one constant follows the holiday season each year.
“The one thing we do every year … is change the Christmas holiday red to white grass windows,” Mundt said. “We’ve been doing that since we opened.”
Customers have come to expect consistency in the look and feel of the store, as well as the products available at AREO. Thomas has always been a shopper, and his partner noticed that he had a knack for displaying merchandise that helped the retail store stand out.
Personal care products, soaps and candles proved popular with customers, but new items also found their way into the store. In late December, the store featured handmade angels, garden gnomes, reindeer, Santa dolls and miniature Christmas trees. There were also the usual walls for candles and greeting cards.
Another thing the owners enjoyed was the complimentary signature gift wrapping service, complete with the use of craft boxes, satin ribbon and gold wax French seal.
Mundt and Thomas, who moved to Laguna Beach from Chicago, recently held a 30th birthday party for their AREO family. Several dozen current and former employees showed up at the store in August to mark the milestone.
The couple, who now live in San Juan Capistrano, also took pride in providing their first jobs to young people in the community, teaching them good business practices and work ethics along the way.
“We were really pleased with that,” Thomas said. “Seeing a lot of these younger people grow from being very shy and coming in and not knowing how to approach people and communicate on a business level and seeing them transform into sales associates, where they go up and say hello and are much more confident and competent.
“A lot of them have come back and told us it was a really great experience for them too, which is nice.”
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