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Redefining the General Store

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By Andrew Rudansky

A brand is more than just a name and a tagline, it can be an entirely unique perspective in which to view a product. With proper branding, a product can make our mouths water and our thoughts come alive. It can elicit desire and feed the senses.

For Lynda Sylvester, founder and owner of Sylvester & Co., the branding of a product can be just as important as the product itself. She, more than most, can attest to the power of branding and its ability to grow a small business.

Since Sylvester & Co. opened its doors in Sag Harbor 21 years ago, Sylvester said she has cultivated a unique brand for her store. Labeled as a “Modern General Store,” she said she designed every aspect of her store so it will better communicate her brand to the customers.

“I have this romantic notion of the concept of an American general store,” she said. “It’s a destination, it’s a meeting place…It’s a community subculture, it’s all about the heartbeat of the store.”

The coffee bar in the front of the store, the display cases filled with chocolate sweets, the home products and furniture carefully laid throughout the store; all of this is perfectly planned. Sylvester said she puts her background in interior design and fine art to work in order to help communicate the brand she has for the store.

She said stores that design a point-of-view — “and the good ones always do” — can more effectively reach the consumers by creating an experience. As for her own store’s point-of-view, she said it is “about a quality of life.”

Her brand messaging is getting across, and in recent years she has expanded. Six years ago she opened a furniture store, Sylvester & Co. At Home, located at 154 Main Street, Amagansett. She then branched out last year and opened up Sylvester & Co. Savannah, located on 205 W. Broughton Street in Savannah, Georgia.

Sylvester said at the heart of all of her stores she tries to instill a feeling of “inspiration and adventure.” She admits these concepts can be esoteric to the average shopper, but she believes the interior of the store communicates the message by itself.

The branding doesn’t stop at just the store, but is used for all of the Sylvester & Co.’s products as well. Sylvester said the most popular product in her Sag Harbor store is her Dreamy Coffee; not surprisingly, she said, the success of this product comes partly from its effective branding.

“I think the fun thing about Dreamy is the concept of the dream,” she said about the secret blend she has been making for 30 years.

While the name is the most apparent part of the brand, Sylvester believes that good branding requires a story.

“A coffee break, to me, is a pause button,” she said.

This immensely popular coffee has made Sylvester & Co. as much a destination as any place in Sag Harbor, “a place to grab a cup of coffee and explore.”

She added that while developing a concept for her coffee has helped sell the cups; it doesn’t hurt that the coffee also tastes good.

“It has just a little chip of chocolate to it, it is slow-roasted, slow-brewed, it is very low in acid, it is very high in flavor and it is natural.”

Branching out from Dreamy Coffee, Sylvester & Co. also introduced Dreamy Ice Cream last summer, as well as Dreams Come True Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Helping promote the brand, Sylvester & Co. started their “Dream Machine” campaign last year; converting a 1947 Airstream trailer into a mobile Dreamy Coffee dispensary that first debuted at last year’s HarborFest.

According to Sylvester, the success of branding relies on the ability to make an impression on someone’s subconscious. The customer loyalty then comes from an emotional connection created by the brand.

She said that from the outside, her business strategy of brand emphasis and community involvement might appear impractical for a small business owner; but as she puts it, “It’s just way more fun to do retail like this.”