Work/Life Balance Is Achievable and Gum Tree Owner Lori Ford Has the Proof
Lori Ford manages to run successful beach-side boutiques, while creating a great life for her family.
Nestled a few blocks up from the beach sits a Cape Cod-style house with a long staircase inviting you inside. To the left, a chic Nancy Meyers-esque kitchen with avocado toast and flat whites call you in.
You'll find yourself quickly wandering into the store next door, a beach bungalow with color schemes you'll want to emulate when you get home. Jewelry, home goods, and cookbooks adorn the shop—Gum Tree, a family owned and operated staple in the South Bay community, a stones throw from Los Angeles city proper.
Lori Ford has owned the Hermosa Beach shop with her husband for 10 years. Opening in 2008, a risk that isn't lost on the family, has proven to pay off. With a new location in neighboring Manhattan Beach, locals flock to Gum Tree bright-eyed and bushy tailed. In a town where developers are outbidding locals and tearing down classic staples of a once treasured beach town, Ford keeps a sense of community in tact.
As a female business owner, mom, and wife, she has a lot on her plate, but you would never know. Composed, sensible, and genuinely happy, Ford strikes a seemingly impossible balance these days—a work/life balance.
Women.com: How did you settle on the South Bay (Los Angeles)?
Lori Ford: I grew up in Manhattan Beach and then left to get a degree in Art History at the University of Kansas. When I came back to Los Angeles it was for a job with ABC as a costumer on the set for General Hospital. About three years in I switched to their new show, Port Charles, and I became the costume designer there.
I always had a dream to move to New York, so after five years in Los Angeles, I made the move. I was really young and thought, “I’ll just move to New York and do something in fashion”, but I had no idea what I was doing. I also always had the dream of having my own store, and I knew that one day that would happen.
I moved to New York three months before September 11th. I interviewed everywhere, but no one was hiring, so finally I got a waitressing job, which is where I met my husband. Shortly after I found a job doing product development and design with Hat Attack I ended up working there for seven and a half years. We manufactured a lot of the private label hats for Urban Outfitters, Anthropolgie, Wet Seal, all the brands. So we traveled a lot for inspiration, and I kept notebooks full of products I would want to carry when I’d finally have my own store.
Then, my daughter was born, and I started to feel that I was too far away from my Mom and Dad. My husband had a restaurant and bar that closed at 4 o’clock in the morning, which was fun before you have a baby, but suddenly wasn’t working for our life anymore.
I really wanted to open in Hermosa, it still had that mellow beach town feel I grew up with, and one day a girlfriend in Hermosa called me and said the house I’ve always wanted was for sale. We felt it was the perfect opportunity. So we sold everything we owned in New York and moved here in August. It happened really fast, we opened the store on November 1st, 2008, ten years ago this year. The first year was really hard because there was nobody down here. Then the Pier Avenue construction happened, which took a year, and it helped to change downtown Hermosa.
WDC: How do you find products to buy for the stores?
LF: I had never been a buyer or even worked in retail, but I have always been a good shopper, so I just figured it out. I had a pretty good vision of what I wanted it to look like and a vision for the product I would carry. In the beginning I just stuck to my guns and bought what I liked. I still buy what I like, but I have the benefit of knowing my customer better. I like to merchandise by color, so as I’m buying I have a vision for what each wall in the shop will look like.
I want our stores to have that treasure hunt feeling, merchandised in a way that feels unique. Whether you come in for a gift for your girlfriend’s birthday, a baby gift, or a gift for your mother in law, we can help you find something interesting. I want everything to be high quality with a good price point.
WDC: Gum Tree has been a staple in the Hermosa Beach community, did you ever think you'd expand as quickly as you did?
LF: It took us about a year to find the right space for the Manhattan Beach location, but we finally found it and we thought if we could do as well as we do in Hermosa, we would be really happy about that. Our numbers have been higher there since the day we opened, but they have to be, because it’s a bigger space with higher rent!
I originally thought we’d be a home décor store, but once we opened people really loved the jewelry collection, and the books and accessories, and so we added more and more. It has evolved over the years from what I had initially pictured, but I really love that we’re a gift store now. I never worked retail, so I didn’t know how much our lives would change, especially during the holiday season. We’ve certainly learned a lot along the way, everyone thought we were insane, opening a store in 2008. But we did it, and here we are.
People always ask me if I want to open more stores. Right now, I feel like I want to live a happy life and I want my kids to have a happy life, so if it works out that we can expand and keep that work/life balance, then maybe? But right now, we are really happy with how everything is going. We’re getting it down to a science. My favorite part is buying and merchandising the store, and meeting my customers and making relationships. That, as you get busier is harder and harder to do, especially interacting with our customers. Which is why I love Instagram because it’s still a way for us to connect.
WDC: Speaking of Instagram, do you feel that the social-media platform has helped with the growth of the company?
LF: I only really have anecdotal information, but everywhere I go people mention our Instagram. I’ll post something in the store, a scarf maybe, and five minutes later someone will be in the door and ask for it. It feels like it really translates for our type of business. I like managing our Instagram and featuring what’s fun in the store. And I think people connect to us because we are here, we are the family behind the brand. It’s been a nice way to keep that connection going.
WDC: And finally, the age-old question, what’s next for Gum Tree?
LF: think that right now we are really happy with our life and our balance. People do come into the store from different places, a lot of Orange County especially, saying they wish we would open a store down there. For my husband and I, we are very hands-on, so the idea of being far away makes us a little sad. How would we connect so well with the community? Lots of South Bay people who come into our shops still haven’t heard of us, so there’s a lot of potential for growth in our existing shops.
To continue to have a great work/life balance and be happy is our goal. We’re always working on improving our existing locations, focusing on really great customer service, and keeping our brand really tight and feeling like us. And hopefully that will continue to serve us well.
Visit Gum Tree online or in stores:
Gum Tree Shop & Cafe: 238 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
Gum Tree Manhattan Beach: 324 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266