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Nautical Wheelers Moves To New Home
With Rooms to Grow
August 24, 2011
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unning a small business is a balancing act, even more so in a small town like Oriental. Your customers may be residents as well as visitors to town. Some of them come by land, some by water. And you have to compete with the stores in bigger cities down the highway.

Bill and Camilla Wheeler of Nautical Wheelers recently learned what happens when the right balance is found: their store ran out of space.

The new Nautical Wheelers store at 411 Broad Street.

The couple opened the original Nautical Wheelers store in April 2010 in the Old Hotel building at the corner of Hodges and Broad. From the start, Nautical Wheelers specialized in high quality outdoor and marine clothing and footwear as well as a mix of NC-made art and accessories.

They also filled a need in Oriental because two other stores selling some of those things had scaled back or closed down. People came to Nautical Wheelers. They shopped. So much so that after only a year, Bill Wheeler says, “We needed to find a bigger store.”

Moving on up. Between first and second floors at Nautical Wheelers new store at 411 Broad Street.

They found a new home, just a block down the street. In June, the Wheelers, their three children and the staff moved their operations to the building they bought at 411 Broad Street, right at the corner of Main.

The new Nautical Wheelers store is at 411 Broad, at the corner of Main. In the past decade alone, it’s been a residence, a hair salon and spa and an office building. Now, it’s virtually a department store.

The three-story yellow building once known as the Edmundson House dates to 1904 and its interior is dominated by a central hallway that leads to various rooms. Those rooms now serve as the different departments for Nautical Wheelers. “It’s actually a very good layout,” Bill Wheeler says. “The main hallway acts as a central hub and the rooms off to the side give us lots space for merchandise.”

Camilla Wheeler in the hallway and at the staircase leading to the second floor of the new Nautical Wheelers store.

Mens’ wear, hats, shoes, gifts, jewelry, wine and the children’s togs and toys rooms are laid out in the rooms on the first floor. Women’s wear, t-shirts, outerwear and the clearance room occupy the second.

At the heart of the store is the shoe room, with a wide array of footwear for the outdoor enthusiast and boater. In that center room there is also something for those just looking for a snappy pair of shoes.

Employee Rainy Bilicki assists customers Jim and Helen Acton in the shoe room.

Here, among the Merrells, Keens, Olukais and Crocs, customers can have their feet measured, talk with staff about individual foot shape, and weigh the advantages of various models.

Behind the scenes, the store has a serious supply of shoes in its store room. With vendors shipping shoes every week, Camilla Wheeler says, inventory is replaced almost as quickly as it’s sold. This means chances are good customers will find the size and style of shoe they’re shopping for. If they don’t, she says, Nautical Wheelers will make arrangements. “The customer can go ahead and purchase the shoe they want,” Camilla says, “and we’ll get it to them”.

Keens, with their protective toe caps, have been selling well. Area sailing programs suggest participants wear close-toed shoes to minimize tripping over sailboat lines. Bill Wheeler notes that they also, “keep those toes out of chain-plates.”

Camilla says it’s important to sell clothes and accessories that combine “the right technology for the area” with high quality and value. While a pair of quality water shoes may initially cost more, they will last longer and offer better follow-up service than a cheaper choice. “We have lots of customers now that just come in and say ‘I bought this pair of shoes here and I liked them,’ and they buy another pair.”

Socks don’t have to be white. Or match, for that matter. Pictured are SolMate socks from Vermont. Camilla says though many customers enjoy the colorful motif, they’re not for everyone. It’s also possible to get a more subtle pair of socks as a souvenir, that will still, as Camilla puts it, “remind the person back in the office how good a time they had in Oriental.”

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