By Amy Watkins For The Herald Business Journal
LYNNWOOD — Signs in Sheepskin and Alpaca Specialties ask customers to please touch everything.
Sometimes that friendly request causes a bit of confusion in the store.
“They do a double take and ask, ‘where’s the don’t?’” manager Berndt Mottl said. “But a lot of people come in and say, ‘I’m just here to touch everything.’ It’s the touch-and-feel store.”
Sheepskin and Alpaca Specialties on Oct. 1 opened for another season at Alderwood mall. The store offers sheepskin slippers, boots, and accessories as well as alpaca sweaters, hats, throws and other accessories. The business is managed by Mottl and his wife, Rena, and owned by Denise and Dennis Munsterman of Bonney Lake.
Sheepskin shoes and boots were sold beginning in 2006 off a cart in the center of the Alderwood mall. A storefront location opened in 2008 and was better able to accommodate more items, Mottl said. Sheepskin and Alpaca Specialties has been across from American Girl and next to Starbucks in the Alderwood Mall Village for the past three years. The store plans to be open at the site through Feb. 28.
Repeat customers have come to know the business and look for the storefront, Denise Munsterman said.
“People come to know us and look for us,” she said. “It’s a lot of work during the Christmas season.”
The temporarily leased storefront and a cart in front of Macy’s are at the Alderwood mall this season while a storefront is also part of Kitsap Mall. Other locations at the Tacoma Mall and the Capital mall in Olympia and South Hill mall in Puyallup offer Sheepskin and Alpaca Specialties products via kiosks.
Munsterman and her husband started selling sheepskin products in 2005 at the Tacoma mall. They soon started looking for another line of product to pair with sheepskin boots and slippers and settled on clothing and accessories made from alpaca fiber.
“It ended up being the perfect product to go with it,” Munsterman said. “The alpaca product is a fairly unique product. You’ll find it here and there but there’s not a lot of selection.”
A lack of selection isn’t a problem in Sheepskin and Alpaca Specialties. The store offers different styles of alpaca sweaters for women and men, heavy weight alpaca blankets, throws, hats and hand sewn baby alpaca teddy bears.
She buys many of the products that are found in the store from a company named Peruvian Link based in Amherst, Maine.
Mottl said he’s already seen his largest increase in weekly sales so far this season over 2012’s numbers and that business at his store overall has steadily increased over the years. The bestselling alpaca item at the Alderwood location for the past seven years, according to Mottl, is a lightweight, $159 sweater with pockets in the front, called the Ebel. The second most popular item is a $179 sweater, called the Essential, which can be worn in several ways, including as a cardigan, a shrug, a hoodie and a shawl collar.
“I always say it’s essential to life,” Mottl said.
He helps to educate customers about alpaca fiber with flyers that point out that the products is hypoallergenic, stain resistant and more durable than wool.
“Alpaca is six times warmer than wool,” Mottl said. “It keeps you nice and cozy but because of the weave it’s very light weight.”
Sheepskin is another organic product with similar qualities, Mottl added. It’s a natural insulator that breathes to allow for an even body temperature, does not shed, and is water repellent.
Sometimes his customers will ask why they can’t find Sheepskin and Alpaca Specialties products in department stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s. Mottl said he tells them it’s to keep prices down.
“The markup is 2½ (percent),” he said. “I keep the prices low.”
Mottl estimates that about 75 percent of his customers return to buy new items. He sends a monthly newsletter to about 2,000 people and keeps a notebook of customer comments.
The positive feedback from one customer can be read on the store windows.
Those interested in finding accessories made in Washington can also find different alpaca hats and boot jewelry inside the store. That feature is another part of what makes Sheepskin and Alpaca Specialties at Alderwood mall unique.
“We try to stay open to natural things,” she said. “We’re different. You don’t find many stores that are more unique and have more natural fibers.”