Shop proprietor's travels grow into import business
Special for Arizona Republic
Feb. 21, 2008


Georgann Yara

Twenty years ago while on vacation, Yucatecan Imports owner Clay Poulson lay in a hammock on a Yucatan beach, stared up at the stars and wondered how he could do this for a living.

His downtown Tempe shop, which features handmade textile creations from around the world, has allowed the Scottsdale native to do just that. Poulson started by purchasing hammocks from craftsmen in the southern region of the Mexican state, and then selling them at local swap meets and art shows. His inventory soon grew to include crafts made by indigenous people in Central and South America. It was not long before he opened Yucatecan at 414 S. Mill Ave., in the Mill Avenue Shops courtyard.

Ten years of success spawned Poulson's second shop, Made on Planet Earth, which opened two months ago at 16211 N. Scottsdale Road. The new shop has more space and a more upscale environment.
"(Yucatecan) had that positive flow going to it, I've had good clientele there," he said. "With this one, I thought to go in another direction."

Poulson attributed his wanderlust to his father's military career, which took his family all over the world.

"It opened up the world to all of us," he said. "I'm a traveler at heart."

Every year, Poulson travels to as many as 20 different countries, including Thailand, Nepal and Europe. He is a self-described jack-of-all-languages but master of none, with the exception of Spanish, his strongest foreign tongue. He knows just enough German, French, Italian, Russian and Chinese, he said. He always brings guidebooks and studies up on countries to prepare for his trips, even to familiar nations.

"I've been to Ecuador 10 times, but you still do your homework," said Poulson, who just returned from Ecuador and a business meeting with the mountain-dwelling Otavalo Indians. "Communication is more than language."

Poulson said being an independent business owner has been key to his longevity on Mill Avenue. Unlike chains, he can be flexible with his hours, inventory and the changing vibe of Tempe.

"To survive on Mill, you have to play those crowds," he said.

While his selection of scarves, bags, wallets, jewelry, pins and other accessories seem to appeal to a narrow demographic, his customer base ranges from teenagers to retirees interested in making purchases fueled by social consciousness or simply fashion. In both of his stores, Poulson shows photos of his vendors and craftsmen so patrons can see exactly where their poncho or Hacky Sack is coming from.

"They look at it in a different light ... someone's crocheting each little stitch by hand. Some people appreciate the differentness of it. It's a celebration of the world, in a way, and they appreciate it," he said. "There's a lot of heart in that place."