STONE HARBOR — Robin Stewart studied psychology at Ohio State University before she spent a career in retail.
But those college classes helped her in unusual ways as owner of Frog & Toad, a home decor shop on Third Avenue in Stone Harbor.
Stewart, of Stone Harbor, said the first time her college psychology background came in handy was in picking the store’s name, Frog & Toad, which was both memorable and enough of a non sequitur to allow her to change the store’s retail focus, if necessary.
“You need a name that doesn’t limit you,” she said. “And I’ve heard it’s bad luck to use your own name for your store.”
She also decided to stock her store with children’s flip books that animate a bird or plane or roller coaster when the pages are flipped quickly. She sells quite a few, but that’s not really the point, she said.
“I want to keep the kids busy for two minutes while their parents shop,” she said. “It keeps them occupied for a while.”
Stewart has always been fascinated by retail. She used to make and sell potholders to neighbors and ran a roadside lemonade stand when she was a girl growing up in Ocean City.
“We bought a house here in Stone Harbor. I started working at different stores on the island. I learned from a lot of different people I worked for. I even worked at a bait and tackle shop. Every day I heard the same question, ‘What are they catching?’” she said.
She opened her own store in 2003.
Stewart keeps her store’s front door open throughout the summer — despite the occasional housefly — because she knows subconsciously it’s more inviting. And she studies traffic patterns on the island.
“Most people are right-handed and will automatically turn right when they get to an intersection,” she said.
The first challenge was selecting her shop’s inventory. She was anxious about whether her personal tastes would translate into sales.
“I didn’t think I could buy things that people would buy. My initial goal was simply not to lose money,” she said. “But all of a sudden, it took off. It was so unexpected.”
She goes to trade shows each year in New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta to find fresh inventory.
When Stewart worked the cash registers of other shops, customers sometimes commented that the store was their favorite. She always took that with a grain of salt. She never dreamed it would make her feel so good to hear that as a business owner, she said.
“It’s so nice. It took me time to trust my instincts on what to buy. My reps say I have an ability to zero in and find good things,” she said.
The key to success in retail is treating every customer like the best one, she said.
“They say the customer is always right. You have to honor that,” she said.
Her store carries an eclectic mix, including seasonal and shore-themed decorations such as hand-painted wooden mermaids, unusual stuffed animals such as anteaters and owls, and funny all-occasion greeting cards.
“When you hear people laughing over a card, it brightens your day,” she said.
Halloween items are always big sellers. The store also offers dolls made from plush furniture fabric and fish-shaped Gurgle Pots that make a gurgling noise when emptied.
The store has cultivated a loyal following among customers, said Leah Marmon, of Greenwich, Conn.
“The selection is so colorful and scrumptious. You have to go back two or three times to see it all,” she said.
Ginger Hunter, of Yardley, Pa., said she makes a point of stopping in the store when she comes to Stone Harbor.
“I like Robin’s taste. It’s not ordinary. It’s not assembly-line stuff,” she said. “I’m very selfish. I always come in to buy something for someone else and end up getting something for myself.”
Contact Michael Miller:
Frog & Toad
Location: 9500 Third Ave., Stone Harbor
Owner: Robin Stewart, of Stone Harbor
Employees: 8 seasonally