April 14, 2018
When most buyers shop for their clients or shops, they take a plane, a car and book a night or two in a good hotel to recover from the stress.
Brooke Phillips took a camel and headed for the hills of a faraway African village. She’s slogged across rough terrain on mules, hiked hills, trekked to remote villages in Vietnam, ridden a rescue elephant in Thailand, hired translators in Indonesia and racked up memories and miles to last a lifetime, all in the name of making a difference in the world of small business retail.
Phillips is the creative energy behind Oasis Sandyport, the store that takes home décor to a new level in The Bahamas with pieces commissioned from craftsmen around the globe. She also carries more traditional items but it’s the style of the shop, the one-of-a-kind goods and the designer behind the concept that makes Oasis stand out from the competition.
It all began, says Phillips, by accident.
A certified residential and commercial space stager, she bought her first home, a modest condominium in a young professionals’ community and set about furnishing it.
“I’m a Bahamian and I wanted to shop at home,” she said, “to support local businesses because I appreciate when Bahamians shop with us at Oasis outdoor furniture or order awnings and boat cushions or other work from us at Phillips Sailmakers & Awning Manufacturers,” says the 32-year-old who also manages the two companies on East Shirley Street started 30 years ago by her father, Larry Phillips.
But when she started searching for the basics – a sofa, love seat, bed, dresser – what she found surprised and disappointed her.
“It was not only what I found which largely fell into one of two categories, heavy, outdated and dark or extremely costly, but what I did not find that surprised me even more – furnishings and accessories that said contemporary, organic, climate-appropriate and inviting.”
So Phillips set out to find them or, lacking that, having them made.
“I thought if I could not find what I wanted, there was a whole market out there that was not being satisfied,” she said. “They were going abroad to shop and it is not as though they had to stop at the border and explain so we did not have a record of how much business The Bahamas was losing, especially to Florida.” She started to notice how frequently Florida furniture and home retailers advertised in local print media, on TV and online.
Before she opened the doors in late February 2017, she trekked halfway round the globe finding pieces to fill the space. She worked with Morgan McKinney, whose unique hand-sculpted wood works of practical art, are on permanent display exclusively at Oasis Sandyport. Together with Brooke’s fiancé Matthew Pyfrom, McKinney and Phillips worked long nights and weekends converting the empty concrete shell into a shopper’s wonderland. With counters and decorative trim of recycled and repurposed pallets, every inch of the shop seems to contain an element of interest, intersecting the useful with the whimsical or stunning. Copper-lined chandeliers, stone sinks, McKinney’s hand-carved vases, tables and decorative pieces, napkin rings to fit any style and tables to go with the rings.
The biggest surprise since opening, says Phillips, has been the demand for small gift items.
“I had initially thought being in furniture and accessories that the next step would be to enlarge one of those categories, maybe bedroom,” she says. “But what customers wanted was more small items. Jewelry, handbags, unique storage and jewel boxes, place mats.” Customers also responded to pop-up shops and, as unlikely as it seems, among the most popular – designer bikinis and casual wear with fabrics, styles and prints created by local designers.
Phillips, who recently returned from a shopping trip to Africa, said the hardest part of being a young entrepreneur and trying to make a difference was shipping delays.
“When you are designing pieces and leaving drawings, selecting the wood something will be built of, or asking for an adjustment on a chair that you want to alter the depth of, you are at the mercy of the artisan or factory,” she said. “Yes, there have been a few letdowns, but the toughest part is shipping delays and that takes some adjusting for. We are learning every day and the good part is that we have a very loyal fan base so we are pleased that we are introducing a loyalty rewards card as our way of thanking everyone who helped us make the first year possible.”
Young Bahamian entrepreneur Brooke Phillips treks by foot, camel, horse, mule and more from Africa to the Far East, and across North America searching for the unique to stock her home décor and more store, Oasis, in Sandyport, Nassau. Oasis indoor furniture and gifts just celebrated its first year in business while the company that gave birth to it as an affiliate, Phillips Sailmakers & Awning Manufacturers, marked its 30th.