Low-vision nonprofit launches revamped retail store
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By By Maggie Menderski , The Herald-Tribune
Lighthouse of Manasota had to reshape its own image before it could focus on the rest of the community.
Which is fitting: Its new retail store helps with sight.
The nonprofit had three decades worth of experience assisting residents in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, Charlotte and Highlands counties to adjust to low vision. But it had only a cluttered, 200-square-foot space from which to sell helpful equipment to its clients.
The organization, which provides rehabilitation training to visually impaired and blind individuals of all ages, was well-rooted in the community, but not remarkably well known, said Lisa Howard, the Lighthouse’s director of development.
The pantry-like store would need a new look if it was going to reach the broader community and create a stream of revenue for the nonprofit. The space finally got its makeover last weekend and reopened as “Peepers” this week.
“Many of the things that we have in here help with the things that we do every day, but we don’t think twice about what would happen if we couldn’t see the start button,” Howard said.
The Lighthouse received a grant from the Patterson Foundation to fund consultants to guide the nonprofit in creating a business plan that would generate income. The organization also offers a variety of free services, such as white-cane skills, cooking classes and adapting to low-vision reading and writing.
The store, at 7318 N. Tamiami Trail, just north of Sarasota-Bradenton Airport in southern Manatee County, is in the Lighthouse of Manasota office. It has always sold items that help low-vision individuals maintain their independence — a coffee cup that beeps when it’s nearly full, magnifiers to read pill bottles and menus, large-print keyboards, talking clocks and cooking aids.
With the grant’s help, Peepers now can draw in more customers and put more money back into Lighthouse’s bottom line, Howard said. The grant covers the cost of consultants for the shop’s first year of business, so Peepers has a chance to stabilize. Retail sales goals for the first year are modest, Howard said. She’d like to see Peepers make about $5,000 per month.
“It’s another revenue stream for the organization, and that’s what all organizations are looking for is not to be so reliant on one stream,” Howard said. “You need to diversify.”
To cover start-up costs, Lighthouse of Manasota raised $25,268, which the Patterson Foundation matched. The nonprofit also partnered with the Junior League and its “Done in a Day” initiative to create a design and to revamp the store. Keri Kuhn, a Junior League member and industrial designer with Noah Design Group Inc., designed a new floorplan that transformed the space from a cluttered storage area to a showroom. Another 12 Junior League volunteers pitched in with the labor.
“A lot of times an organization like the Lighthouse can benefit from people just doing what they are doing every day,” Kuhn said. “It was just a matter of the right people getting together.”
Kuhn used low-vision-friendly lighting and light-colored countertops so the products would be easy to see. Cabinets, too, were essential, because they decreased the number of boxes lining the shelves and made the products more visible to the buyer.
“It’s a huge difference,” Howard said. “It actually feels like a retail shop.”