42 Elliot Street
Brattleboro, VT 05301
Owners: Shari Zarin & John Von Wodtke
Year Opened: 2004
Square Footage: 1,500 square feet
Hours: 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday, 11am-5pm Sunday
Products in Stock
Women’s clothing, jewelry, personal accessories, natural and creative toys, stationery, candles, tarot decks, natural body care and scents, reusable food storage, incense, inspirational books, textiles
Inventory Method/ Software Use
Inventory Turn: 6.2 days
Sales by Category
Women’s clothing, jewelry, gifts, toys, stationery, candles, natural beauty and scents, tarot decks, incense
Occasional workshops in essential oils, crafts, and tarot readings.
Altiplano store is a Fair Trade lifestyle boutique located in southern Vermont. Their brand name means highlands in Spanish, and it is a reference to the Highlands of Guatemala where owners Shari and John have been working with many cooperative groups and small family businesses for the past 30 years. Since they are committed to create innovative products that support indigenous communities and the environment, their intention is to provide items and inspiration that support a conscious and creative lifestyle. We spoke with owner Shari Zarin to learn more.
Why did you decide the open a store?
My husband, John and I opened our brick and mortar store, after working in Guatemala for 15 years developing product for the wholesale market. We saw brick and mortar as an opportunity to contribute to our Vermont community and as a bridge to our two worlds. The design process is my favorite part of my job. I love my work with the artisans, and the fact that we have been able to offer fair wage, long-term employment for nearly 30 years. The fact that these people count on me, keeps me inspired. I work to develop collections specific to each group’s skills and resources twice a year. This keeps me focused and often dictates my design direction. Opening a retail space was exciting to me, not only to showcase the work that I do in Guatemala, but as a new creative expression. I love the freedom that I have to create in the space, and to curate collections of beautiful and meaningful things. It brings me great joy to share it with my community. I enjoy the opportunity to connect with people and to offer them directly an experience and products to inspire and enhance their lives.
How would you describe your customer type?
Altiplano has a diverse customer base. We are fortunate to be located in a vibrant downtown setting and to enjoy a loyal local following of a variety of ages. Generally speaking, our community is rural, artistic, and down to earth. Our people often prioritize conscious and natural living. We are so fortunate that so many of them intentionally support local business. We also cater to a broad spectrum of tourists who are attracted to our values and aesthetic.
As a store owner can you share a little bit of your weekly routine?
My weekly routine is often split between the needs of our wholesale business and those of the store. I spend a lot of time traveling for both businesses and my role is design for both. I live in Guatemala for part of the year designing jewelry and accessories and managing the photography for our website and wholesale catalog. As a shop owner, I travel to tradeshows at least five times a year, to put myself in front of new brands and trends. When I am in Vermont, I spend a lot of time with our shop manager, Quinn Castelli. Together, we select every item that is sold in the shop. Sourcing and ordering is a big part of our work each week, which includes lots of inventory and product review. Incorporating new items, planning, and creating fresh in-store and window displays also occupies a good portion of our time. We both love the creative work. Managing company graphics and communication is another role we share. This includes artistic direction on our website, wholesale catalog, print ads, emails, and Instagram. I love being in the shop most. I often feel that I spend way too much of my time communicating – writing and answering emails. Some of my least favorite jobs are managing the calendar, staffing, and marketing strategy.
How do you promote your brand and products to grow profit margin?
We invest most of our energy on the in-store experience and rely heavily on word of mouth for promotion. We do print ads in one local publication that promotes the arts to visitors. Otherwise, we contribute to a whole host of local nonprofit events and organizations with ads and product donations. We send an infrequent email and try to stay active on Instagram. In addition, I participate in our local business association that works to promote our town.
Do you work with consignment products?
Do you sell products online on social media?
We don’t sell on social media, but we direct sales to our website.
Do you work exclusively with local artists and Made in USA products or do you carry in-store imported products and Fair Trade as well?
We carry a wide assortment of products that are made in the US, but we also showcase our own fair trade jewelry and accessories that are handmade in Guatemala along with a wide variety of other fair trade, locally made and imported items.
When choosing new products what is your criteria in terms of selection?
Every item in the shop offers beauty and intends to make people feel good. We look for artists, items and companies that encourage slow and healthy living, consider sustainability, social responsibility, or provide information or inspiration that sparks joy, creativity, and connection.
Do you frequently buy products advertised in our magazine?
I love to support advertisers in this magazine!
Any plans to expand your business to attract a broader audience?
We often talk about offering our brick and mortar collection on our website, but don’t have any imminent plans to do that.
What advice would you share with retailers in the conscious living community?
My advice is to do business with kindness, as you do everything else. Do what you love and lead with your heart. The conscious living community shares these values and I believe living and doing business ethically and consciously is our greatest strength. As shop owners, our job is to create an inspiring space and selection and a welcoming and enjoyable experience. For me, this is the greatest opportunity that brick and mortar offers.
I know that it is hard for some small businesses to invest in a lot of inventory, but I believe that in order to attract abundance, you must offer abundance. It has been my strategy to offer a wide variety of products and price points to cultivate a broad customer base and keeping it fresh with new items coming in regularly to maintain customer interest. My advice would be to keep your stock moving, take risks, reorder what sells and move old stock on sale!
Small business owners have to wear many hats, but I encourage them to get help and invest in building a team. Wherever possible, focus your energy on the things that either inspire you, or that you are good at, and look for ways to collaborate on the other stuff. I am so fortunate and grateful to be working with my husband all these years. He brings so much perspective to the business and is very good at so many of things that I am not. In fact, he actually likes numbers! We both agree that building a team is one of our most important roles. I love the Altiplano team spirit and sharing common goals. From the artisans in Guatemala, to our stateside staff, we couldn’t do it without each other!