Rubber Ducks Take Off
By: Debra Lawless
Topics: Business , Chatham , Chatham Merchants Association
Colette Cummings, who co-owns Ducks in the Window on Main Street, Chatham with her husband, Rob Foster, used to have a leisurely routine during these late fall mornings.
She had plenty of time to exercise and tend to the needs of the couple’s three dogs before opening the store for customers at 10 a.m. Off-season, Cummings employs two part-time workers, down from the nine-to-10 employees of the summer.
But over the past month, something changed. Online orders for ducks skyrocketed. Ducks in the Window now has such a strong presence on Amazon.com, in addition to its own website and eBay, that Cummings’ slow mornings are a thing of the past.
She gets up at 5:30 a.m., and by 6:30 a.m. she is heading to her North Chatham office, which doubles as a warehouse. There she will fulfill the 30 to 40 overnight duck orders from Amazon. Later she will drop off the packages with their pre-paid labels at the North Chatham post office. By 9 a.m. she’s heading over to 507 Main St. to restock the shelves of Ducks in the Window. At 10 a.m. she opens the shop, ready to serve customers until 5:30 p.m.
“We have become a very, very, very unique seaside tourist shop that has grown to a national appeal,” she says. “It’s exciting and scary.”
Step inside the store and you’re going to be dazzled by ducks.
Yellow rubber ducks. Walls of them.
Here, they come in almost any guise and garb you could want. Dracula? Ziggy Stardust? A soldier? A plumber? A skier? They’re all here. Plus more, more, more.
The unicorn is the number one selling duck. Donald Trump is number two. On one wall are Yarto Designer Ducks which sell for $12.99. Here are a lawyer and the Statue of Liberty and Cleopatra. Cummings believe that these ducks are popular among adults who are buying gifts for adults. The smaller ducks make great gifts for children. The store has exclusive DITW design ducks.
TripAdvisor ranks Ducks in the Window as number five of the best things to do in Chatham. “We went nuts looking at the ducks,” writes a reviewer from Canton, Mass., who bought 15 ducks here. The store has become a destination, a place that draws people to Chatham.
Cummings and Foster have owned the store for three years now. A few years ago, the couple was living in the Boston area. Cummings’s career was in corporate merchandising, specifically fashion apparel. When changes came in leadership at Talbots, Cummings decided to take a year off. She could not have anticipated the way things would work out. Two weeks later, she met the owner of Ducks in the Window and took a part-time job. Two months later she and Foster bought the business.
“It was a unique shop on Main that just fell in my lap,” she says. The couple moved to their summer house in South Chatham. Foster also works at John C. Ricotta and Associates Real Estate as a sales associate.
The previous incarnation of the store was as a toy store selling some ducks. “We really built the brand around the name,” Cummings says. “Duck-centric, duck-themed.” Cummings and Foster edited out some product lines and expanded the duck lines. “We got very clever with merchandising.” Ducks are popular in Europe, she says, and she has developed relationships with duck manufacturers in Europe such as Lanko, which is based in Barcelona.
Any small business owner will tell you that the first years are the toughest. You may be running the cash register, as Cummings is today. The store is open every day year-round, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s a lot of hours. Also, Chatham’s seasonal economy poses unique challenges for those who choose to stay open year-round. This is where the online business comes in.
Foster built the company’s website during the first year and Cummings began to learn what sells online. In the second year, online sales tripled. Now, in the third year, the pair is selling new brands. And then they became Amazon sellers. Search for “rubber ducks” on Amazon, and you’ll come to a page with the Ducks in the Window logo in the upper left. Click on the Lanco Santa Rubber Duck, and you will reach a page where you can order the $15.48 rubber duck. Shipping is free, and the product is shipped by Ducks in the Window—which means Cummings in the early morning. Click on Ducks in the Window, and you learn that the five-star rated business is the “World’s Largest Rubber Duck Destination.” Five-star reviews run down the page. “Hard to get the boy out of the tub,” writes one customer. “Well packaged and prompt ship,” writes another. A third customer praises “the seller” for great communication and same-day shipping.
While Cummings is chatting with a visitor, three new orders come in through Amazon from California, Arizona and Florida.
Despite the explosion in online sales, Cummings remains committed to her successful brick and mortar store.
“We’re grateful to the community that has meant the world to us,” she says. “Our pride and joy is still this store.”