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Retailer Of Note: The Salamander Group

What started in 1994 with just one sundry shop called The Juggling Fish inside a hotel has now evolved into six brands and nine storefronts in the resort areas of Aruba.

Posted 2/5/2013

Nine location in Aruba
Profile By Shelby Stanger

There is a small sign for sale at one of the nine Salamander resort shops that reads, “If you are lucky enough to vacation in Aruba, you are lucky enough.”

That’s exactly how Jodi Tobman, owner and creator of The Salamander Group, feels about living in Aruba and owning some of the most original shops on the island.

What started in 1994 with just one sundry shop called The Juggling Fish inside a hotel has now evolved into six brands and nine storefronts in the resort areas of Aruba.

“I never thought I’d end up here,” says Tobman, who always dreamed of having a beach shop, but studied criminal justice in college and first came to Aruba in 1989 working as a destination representative in the travel industry.

All of Tobman’s branded shops are different, but each has a warm feel and carries original products, many that she says “tease customers about life.”

The Juggling Fish sells tees, caps and souvenirs for visitors. The Lazy Lizard carries tropical-inspired products. The Coconut Trading Company carries gifts and jewelry. The company’s flagship store, T.H. Palm and Company, is impeccably merchandised with gift items like soccer ball cufflinks, high-end iPad covers, lamps, coffee-table books, clothing for men and women, jewelry and even kids rompers with funny sayings like, “I’m cranky. Is there an nAPP for that?”

“You can come in three times in one week and find something new,” says Tobman.

At other shops you can find items like Absolut bottles up-cycled into vases, signs that say things like “My home is a mess, but my Facebook page is beautiful,” and handcrafted jewelry.

“A lot of people just come in to our shops for retail therapy—just to breathe, browse and to smile—and there’s a lot that makes people smile,” Tobman adds.

Besides making people smile, Tobman is big on carrying only quality products that cater to a wide variety of customers—people from all over Latin America, Canada, the U.S., and a variety of countries in Europe.

Having such a diverse customer base can make buying for each store challenging, but Tobman enjoys it. “Someone creates each item we buy," she says, "and I love putting together their vision in an atmosphere where people can come and find something they might not have even known they were looking for.”

She is also big on quality and can easily adapt to change, one of the main impetus for calling her company name “The Salamander Group,” after the harmless animal that can easily blend in a variety of places.

She’s also not afraid to try new concepts. Last year, Tobman opened Caribbean Queen, a new retail brand featuring accessories and artisan-inspired products like locally made accessories and hand-crafted jewelry.

Buying local is important to Tobman, but she has also been giving back to her local community ever since she started. In 2007 she even started a corporate-responsibility program called Tikkun Olam where customers pick from a menu of local foundations The Salamander Group has chosen to support at each shop. The company donates a percentage of sales to the chosen charity.

“I've always donated my whole life and I decided to start donating in the country I live in,” says Tobman, who adds that the program is appreciated by both tourists and locals.

Besides giving back and buying new items to freshen up each shop, Tobman loves the experience of owning resort stores.

“I love when people come into the stores, and find something they like or just smile at some of our products. That makes my heart soar,” she says. “All my stores are geared towards creating ease of shopping in a warm and beautiful atmosphere. Whether you are in Aruba because you live there or are here for business, we just aim to give you quality and care and send you home happy.”

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