Barbara Wiggins contemplated her longevity in the business. “Has it really been that long?” she mused. “The time has flown by.”
That’s because, for Wiggins, owning the Mustard Seed has been a passion – not a job. “I can honestly say I still love it. I’ve never had a day when I felt like I had to go to work. I love my customers, my staff, my sales reps. I’ve been blessed for all these years.”
Her reflection is interrupted by customers asking questions and showing off clothes they’ve selected. Wiggins has dressed generations of women, and from the looks of things, everyone has enjoyed it.
“My mom and aunt have shopped here for years,” said Donna Cordeiro, a longtime customer. “I love it! They treat you like family and it’s a fun atmosphere. It’s like being in your own closet, trying on your own clothes.”
Wiggins practically fell into retailing. In high school, she worked for Jim Roberts at his Hallmark store in Bel Aire Plaza. Roberts taught her as much about retail as anyone else.
A few years later, over drinks after a tennis match, her tennis partner suggested that the two of them open a tennis shop. Shortly thereafter they launched what was, for 10 years, a successful business.
“It was a lot easier then than it is now. Plus, I was young and didn’t know any better,” Wiggins said with her always-ready laugh. The shop was in Seattle, where she and her husband Jim had moved in pursuit of his career, but the two Napa natives had been away long enough, and needed to come home.
“We were like a lot of kids who grow up here – we couldn’t wait to leave, and then we couldn’t wait to get back,” Wiggins said.
The Napa the Wiggins returned to was different than the one the young couple had left. “That was in 1980, and downtown Napa was dead. There were over a dozen empty stores on First Street alone. I wanted to open a store, and St. Helena seemed like the logical site.”
And the name of the store? “It was January, and the valley was a blanket of bright yellow fields,” Wiggins said. “It also takes a little faith to start a business, and the name ‘The Mustard Seed’ just seemed right.” After a couple of years, she opened a second store in Napa, which quickly outperformed the Upvalley site. She closed the first shop, and has been in Napa since.
Retail has changed over the years, and Wiggins has moved with it. “I got involved with social media right away,” she said. “At shows, I would email my customers pictures of clothes I thought they would like.” She still maximizes social media. Her posts, like everything else she does, reflect her humor. “It’s got to be fun.”
Haley Henderson, Wiggins’ granddaughter, has joined the staff, and fits right in. Wiggins warns her that retail is a seven-day a week job for the first several years, that you initially won’t make any money, and that you constantly have to pay attention to your customers and industry trends. “I guess I’m kind of discouraging,” she says with a chuckle, “but it’s important to know what you are getting into when you open your own business.”
The secret behind the Mustard Seed’s success is no secret at all.
“Customers mean everything to me,” Wiggins said. “I’ve grown up with lots of them and now see their kids and grandkids. I know it sounds like a cliché, but they have become like my family.”
She treats them the way she wants to be treated. “We laugh a lot in here, and we spend a lot of time visiting with people, whether they’re locals or visitors,” Wiggins said. “Two women from Iowa recently stopped in, and spent over an hour. As they left, one told Wiggins that her friend had just lost her husband, and both women needed the laughs they all shared. It was the memory of Napa they would take with them.
Wiggins also treats people they way she wants to be treated, and won’t hesitate to refund a purchase. “The last thing I want is for anybody to buy something and then not like it.”
What do the next 36 years hold? “I can’t think that far ahead. Christmas is coming though, and we are going to be in the parade again!”