Mellow Monkey owner Howard Aspinwall never anticipated having a brick-and-mortar store when he opened Mellow Monkey as an online gift and home décor business. He started his small business out of his garage almost a decade ago and quickly found his business outgrowing his home space.
That’s when Mellow Monkey moved to a commercial warehouse space in Stratford, Connecticut, where the business expanded exponentially. “I recall customers knocking at my unmarked warehouse door looking for the Mellow Monkey “store,” which, of course, did not exist.”
Today Mellow Monkey is a huge retail store boasting three showrooms and earning four consecutive wins as Best of Connecticut for gifts, home décor, and lighting in Connecticut Magazine.
The transition from online business to brick-and-mortar was an eye-opening experience for Aspinwall, who explained that your focus is on product categories when you’re buying for an online business. When purchasing for a brick-and-mortar store, your focus shifts to lifestyles, colorways, and story-telling.
“It’s not that we were abandoning our online business at all. Our online business was the perfect complement to the retail store because everything we carry in the store can also be found and purchased online. Online orders with curbside pickup saved us during the Covid business shutdown. And customers appreciate the curated selection and the opportunity to see it all in the store in person.”
Mellow Monkey’s focus has always been on finding the most unique items, those you’d be unlikely to find anywhere else. And this is exactly why shoppers from all over the tri-state area make the trip to the Stratford store.
“Every customer who journeys to the store has the same initial experience, traveling down a road of warehouses thinking, ‘This can’t be the right way.’ It’s always fun to watch new customers enter the door in complete amazement and disbelief at what they’ve discovered.”
In its seventh year as a retail store, Mellow Monkey sets itself apart from other gift shops with a surprisingly extensive inventory of decorative items for the home and wall, unique gift items, and lighting for tables and ceilings.
When shopping in the store, you have to walk all three showrooms several times because there is so much to see, from floor to ceiling. And because they also have an online store, their inventory rotates constantly; new items arrive daily, making every visit to the store different from the last.
One of Mr. Aspinwall’s joys is listening to customers laugh out loud at the store’s sassy gifts and greeting cards. “We don’t have the typical gifts and greeting cards at Mellow Monkey. I’ve always found it frustrating to begrudgingly buy a greeting card for almost $10 that I didn’t even like. That’s why Mellow Monkey stocks the right mix of bookstore-style cards and humorous greeting cards at a more affordable price than what you’ll find in traditional card shops.”
So what does Mellow Monkey specialize in? “That’s always a challenging question. We have such a variety of different items – literally thousands of them. As we’re along the coastline, we lean in that direction with our style – but at the same time, we’ve integrated vintage and modern styles into what we carry. But if I had to pick one word to describe our product line and vibe, it would simply be – FUN! When you come into Mellow Monkey, you will have a good time, and our goal is to offer products that bring that fun into your home as well.”