Sunday, April 01, 2001

Time on their hands turned into business


hed,18 Classic Clock Shoppe in Waynesville began as retirement project

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        Even though owner Aleta Crist will be setting her clocks ahead today, Waynesville's Classic Clock Shoppe has a timeless quality about it. Despite all the ticking and chiming, the business is more about stability and tradition than about clock watching.

        “It's like a comfort level,” she said, as a grandfather clock marked the hour with the familiar notes of “Ode to Joy.” “I can't imagine anyone not wanting to listen to that.”

OLD WORLD MEETS NEW
  The Classic Clock Shoppe has carved a successful niche in the world of specialty stores by offering upscale products from several European traditions.
  The shop's clock lines include Franz Hermle & Sohn, Comitti of London and Howard Miller, the largest manufacturer of grandfather clocks in the world. Prices of most of the Crists' grandfather clocks range from $900 to $2,300, but some limited-edition pieces sell for $10,000 or more.
  The shop also carries a range of traditional cuckoo clocks.
  On a smaller scale are the Bulova limited-edition miniature brass and crystal timepieces and Swiss music boxes.
  Manufacturers represented in the shop's line of nutcrackers and smokers are Christian Steinbach and Christian Ulbricht.
  You can call the Classic Clock Shoppe from noon to 5 Tuesday-Saturday at (513) 897-4927 or explore its Web site, www.classiclock.com.
        The business is a retirement project for Mrs. Crist and her husband, Wayne. It opened in September 1995, after the couple spent months researching, planning and envisioning what they wanted their business to be.

        “My husband was director of personnel for a research and development company,” Mrs. Crist said. “He had to take a medical retirement. It took a year for him to heal, and then he had to do something; he was going nuts.”

        Mrs. Crist, who had worked with corporate lawyers, left her position, and the couple started investigating small business ownership.

        “After looking at existing businesses, we decided we could make our own mistakes,” she said. “We wanted to get something we would enjoy. My husband is a mechanical engineer by training, and likes working on tiny things.”

        The Warren County residents decided to open a clock shop and looked for a good location in the area.

        “We wanted old-world charm, and you can't get that in a vanilla box in a mall. We wanted it to be truly our business, not directed by some real estate investment company,” she said.

        In Waynesville, the couple found a two-story Victorian home with a front porch, right on Main Street. Not only did the historic community seem a good fit, but the house felt right.

        “In a house that's over 150 years old, doors are crooked, and the floors creak. Where else are you going to find a ceiling like this?” she said, gesturing toward the paneled ceiling above her cash register. “And there's just something about the porch. If you're not busy in the summertime, you can take your lunch and sit out on the porch.”

        While the shop's big draw is grandfather clocks, there are traditional mantel clocks, tiny jewelled clocks and a variety of wall clocks. Often, families will come to select a timepiece they hope will become a family heirloom. Other customers want to replace a clock they remember from childhood. With each purchase goes a tiny wooden mouse, the Crists' personal touch.

        Mrs. Crist enjoys helping customers find just the right clock in the store, but even better, she says, is delivering the grandfather clocks to them.

        “People are usually so excited,” she said. “Delivering a grandfather clock is one of the highlights of this business. You're making someone so happy.”

        It took a few years to get just the right mix of merchandise. With a successful base of clocks and imported music boxes, the Crists tried a succession of complementary specialties. Then they found just the right products.

        “Two to three years ago, we picked up German nutcrackers, and in doing so, we bit off almost a second business,” she said. “They have grown remarkably. I'm now one of the largest dealers in the area, with over 750 nutcrackers and smokers.”

        A smoker, or “raucherman,” is a wooden incense burner hand-carved into a whimsical human figure. These items are native to Germany and are traditionally used around Christmastime, like the nutcrackers.

        What started as a sideline now occupies the upper floor of the Crists' shop, complete with a Christmas Room.

        The shop also has German steins and hand-blown glass ornaments.

        Print ads in regional publications and in area newspapers have increased business from residents of the Tristate area. Waynesville's reputation as an antiques mecca has drawn tourists to the shop, and the owners have shipped clocks, nutcrackers and smokers to those customers' homes as far away as Texas and California.

        But a large part of Classic Clock Shoppe's business has developed through Internet exposure.

        “People will come in or phone in because of the Internet, and we've had a great deal of Internet business for nutcrackers,” Mrs. Crist said, adding that sales overall have grown 30-35 percent each year since the shop opened. “We have one Web site now and are getting ready to put up a sister site just for nutcrackers and smokers.

        “We feel very blessed, the way we've been accepted. ... We're only in business because our customers keep coming back and we keep making friends.”

       



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