Wacker takes her business and customers personally
By Robert Williams
Vergas native Sarah Wacker took a gamble, well prior to the new downtown cityscape taking shape, when she opened the Lavish Loon in 2021 and has seen her business grow right along with the changes in the village over the past few years.
“There were a lot of great retailers; Natalie (Natalie’s Serendipity) was here, Elm Street Boutique; the Attic Shoppe was still open and this whole town welcomed me with open arms,” said Wacker. “It was unbelievable to me the support Vergas has for each other’s businesses and the locals have been amazing as far as shopping all year long and keeping us all busy.”
Wacker gained valuable retail experience working for two decades at another well-respected area store: Nadine’s Ladies Fashions in Perham.
Eventually, she got out of retail whe she and her husband Tom found themselves both working seven-days-per-week jobs while raising three kids.
“We decided when the kids were little that it was better if I had something that followed the kids’ schedules,” said Wacker.
That led Wacker to take a Special Ed Paraprofessional position at Perham Public Schools for eight years, but owning her own shop was a persistent desire.
“I just couldn’t shake it; I needed to try this for myself and things just fell into place,” she said. “My heart has always been in Vergas, so I always wanted to start something in town here.”
That place became the current location of The Lavish Loon in the heart of downtown Vergas after moving up the block from her first store.
“I opened up and I thought now is the time,” she said.
Wacker opened the first Lavish Loon store in April of 2021 and moved to the new location a year later.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said.
The first year running a new business can often be the most difficult, but there were no first-year struggles at The Lavish Loon
“I really didn’t; I’ve been so fortunate,” Wacker said. “In the beginning, I kept my costs really low. I was timid and I just wanted to see…is this going to work? Can I pay the bills? That’s all I was looking for.”
That success led to ideas of bigger and better things.
“And then…I was sitting just a little too long one day and I thought if I were to ever own a building, which one would it be and it was this one,” she said.
The Lavish Loon building formerly housed a real estate branch of Jack Chivers Realty, something Wacker thought would be there for quite some time and purchasing the building was a pipe dream.
“The following week my husband came home and said, ‘It’s going up for sale,’” said Wacker.
“That week, we bought it and just decided to take a chance on the building and take whatever it gives us. It’s worked, so far,” she said.
A few other parties were interested in the building; the realtor was anxious to move the sale along rapidly, and it all worked out for the Wackers.
With the former Goodman’s Supermarket building still standing, but closed since 2016, the Vergas downtown vibe was still vibrant with shops, but less attractive on the real estate market prior to the creation of Altona Square. Regardless, one of the few open retail spots downtown was not going to be around long.
“It was just pure luck that my mind went that way and it went up for sale fast,” said Wacker. “When things are meant to be, fate guides you.”
Wacker’s success story is equal parts of willingness to take a risk and believing in herself.
“Anytime I get nervous there is some kind of affirmation along the line that tells me this is okay, keep going,” she said.
The deck can be a bit stacked for business owners, given the surrounding success in Vergas and outside of town where a variety of restaurants, art galleries, a zoo and other businesses help point customers to each other. Combine that with the success across the street at Altona Square and it is no wonder business space downtown comes at a premium.
“It always was a great destination, but in the last three years it has been highlighted,” Wacker said. “The fitness center (Lakes Fit) was a huge addition, the grocery store (Ditterich Mercantile); everyone is happy about having a grocery store, and the bakery (MW Pastry) has been another great addition. People have more reasons to come to Vergas and our Community Club is so good at trying to find the next best thing, trying to keep people interested and wanting to come to Vergas, not just in the summer months, but all year long. This is a great example of what a small community can really do and how it can support so many families. We work together.”
Sharing the street with the other clothing stores Elm Street Boutique and A Step Up Thrift Boutique has also been beneficial.
“With us all carrying different things, we complement each other instead of compete and that’s really important,” Wacker said. “We want people to have a variety so there’s more than one stop to make. Without them, I’d have to work a lot harder but when everybody is doing their part it’s huge.”
While Wacker maintains those relationships with her fellow business owners, what has really brought her store success is building relationships with her customers.
“I listen to what my customers want and I build on it; sometimes, it can be scary, but I always go by…if one or two people are saying something there are 40-50 more who are thinking it and not saying it,” Wacker said. “I always try to listen and I think it’s important to not just say thank you, but to really mean it to people when they are supporting you. I’ve built friendships now that I wouldn’t have had without this store. The people that come back for that and who I look forward to seeing are just immeasurable.”
The Lavish Loon also has a strong social media presence on Instagram and Facebook. Wacker takes a hands-on approach with online marketing and is brave enough to be the store’s top model.
“People want to see your face; they want a personal experience,” Wacker said. “You know, they can go anywhere and shop and get a sweatshirt, but to make a connection is very important. The pictures are the least favorite part of my job; it’s taken me out of my comfort zone, but I like it because I get to connect with people all day long. If I post a picture I get people who are messaging me asking me to ship and I’m happy to ship things. Or letting me know when they’re stopping in, personal shopping is a huge thing for me. If somebody has an interest in one or two things, then I can gather a few other things together knowing they’re coming in and have them ready. That’s the fun part.”
That fun and convenience for her customers comes from actively getting to know them.
“That’s where relationship-building comes into play,” said Wacker. “When women are trying clothes on, it’s a very personal thing, so you become close, you visit and find out about each other’s lives. If it was just clothes, it would be boring; it’s everything that comes with it,”
Wacker’s personal shopping extends from her expected demographics to gift-seeking men.
“I have every age group, guys come in for Christmas, birthdays, Valentines, so I do get a nice mix,” she said.
Wacker, who employs six to eight part-time employees, also tries to stock affordable inventory for all ages.
“ I have younger girls that come in—they don’t have to leave town anymore—or they come here because there are some younger things,” she said. “I try to have a little something for everybody and I try to keep a price point that takes a little bit of the guilt out of shopping.”
One of her employees is her 17-year-old daughter, which has provided Wacker with a chance to practice what she preaches as a parent.
“I was so afraid to do this and I kept thinking about my kids, especially my daughter,” she said. ”It’s hard for women to take a chance to some degree. I’m telling her to do hard things all the time and she’s never really seen me do anything out of my comfort zone, so I think that’s important. It’s also important to know you have family if something doesn’t work and have that security.”
Wacker spends many of her nights working on finding the next perfect item for her store from online vendors.
“It doesn’t just happen, a lot goes into it. Most nights I go to bed with my phone in my hand,” she laughed. “There is so much more behind the scenes. I can be in the store evenings counting, checking things, adding and buying more. It’s a lot of time in the evenings, but convenient. I have no complaints; it’s fun, who doesn’t like to shop?”
Wacker treats The Lavish Loon as an extension of her household.
“This is my baby; this is another member of the family,” she said.