Entrepreneur: Lee Ann Sauter Founder Of Seaside Luxe

by Aidan Sakiri

Lee Ann Sauter founded Seaside Luxe – a retail management firm that specializes in the design, development and management of luxury retail boutiques at five-star resorts –  in 2008. With more than 15 years of experience in the retail field, Sauter has successfully envisioned and implemented a revolutionary approach to resort retail. This is done by applying a profitable corporate structure to a crowd-pleasing boutique experience.

Many people in the hotel industry do not have an understanding of the retail concept, so retail often gets pushed aside or viewed as an frivolous amenity rather than an investment necessity. The result? Ugly logowear and unprofitable gift shops.

Sauter saw resort retail as an untapped market, and seized an opportunity at turning what was an amenity into an activity. Upscale travelers can find just about any amenity, service or activity – from practical to over-the-top and decadent – at the world’s most luxurious resorts.

What Sauter saw missing at most high-end resorts was a shopping destination that fit the look and feel of a high-end resort, with merchandise curated for the guests of that resort. This includes a sophisticated retail space with a sense of place and personalized style.

Sauter, in 2008, opened Seaside Luxe’s first location at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, converting office spaces into 7,000 sq. ft. of profitable retail space. In just two years, Seaside Luxe’s flagship location was bringing in more than six times the revenue than the office space would have for the resort.

Following the success of Seaside Luxe at Hualalai Resort, the company opened its second location at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, and a third location at Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, Calif.

Size of Business

Currently, Seaside Luxe has just under 20 employees. Their combined store sales for 2012 are projected to exceed $17 million.

How Seaside Luxe is Different

Seaside Luxe is reinventing the hotel gift shop concept by branding the resort retail space to fit a resort’s clientele. Not only do Seaside Luxe boutiques carry merchandise by sought-after designers such as Lanvin, Pucci and Missoni, each individual boutique is impeccably designed down to the fixtures by Seaside Luxe’s Creative Director Eric Lopez.

Lopez, who first met Sauter while working together with leading brands – including Tommy Hilfiger and Gap – is a seasoned retailer himself with more than 15 years of experience in boutique and specialty retail. Lopez manages all creative aspects of Seaside Luxe, including store design, architecture, branding, merchandising and marketing.

What sets Seaside Luxe apart from any other hotel boutique is the company’s buying strategy. Buyers travel the globe and seek out the brands the clientele of each resort love, unexpected collections that introduce the client to new brands, one-of-a-kind finds from international marketplaces and exclusive, custom-made fashions. In addition, Seaside Luxe forms partnerships with designers, such as Irene Neuwirth, Gregory Parkinson, So de Mel, Anne Sisteron and coastal-modern furniture designer Tim Clarke to create merchandise available only at Seaside Luxe boutiques.

Future Plans Seaside Luxe is currently evaluating new opportunities – including locations in South Carolina, Florida, Anguilla, Nevis, Costa Rica, Brazil and Bora Bora – as well as a newly envisioned Fine jewelry concept. The company hopes to announce its next destinations in the coming months.