The ASD Insider spoke with the owner of Jan’s Hallmark Shop in Greenville, Texas, about her journey on the road to retail success, the challenges she’s faced along the way, and the most successful products on her store’s shelves.
Store: Jan’s Hallmark Shop
Location: Town South Shopping Center, 5035 Wesley Street, Greenville, Texas 75402
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10a.m.- 6p.m., Closed Sundays
Nearly 30 years ago, Jan Weddle was a stay-at-home mom with little entrepreneurial experience beyond teaching piano lessons. But as her child grew older, she decided to step back into the groove by working part-time at the local Hallmark store. Jan took to the job like a fish to water, and after five years on the grind, she bought the business from the owner.
Where did her motivation to become a business owner come from? “I thought this was a good opportunity for me to do something for a living I’d always enjoyed in my spare time — shopping!” That was 23 years ago. Her shop boasts over 5,000 square feet and a variety of products — sourced from Hallmark as well as other resources such as the ASD Market Week — including fashion accessories, toys, Harley Davidson merchandise, and Star Wars items. She spoke with ASD Insider about her store, how to keep up with changing trends, and how she plans to keep expanding.
AI: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a business owner over the years? Any memorable highlights?
JW: Challenges have been many, though mostly what I’m sure my peers in retail have gone through—finding good managers and sales associates, keeping theft to a minimum, dealing with landlords. A challenge unique to a Hallmark store has been getting the word out that we sell more than cards.
The biggest challenge I faced was a fire in our strip center. Half the center burned to the ground. My space did not burn, but there was such heavy smoke and water damage that everything in it was destroyed. The space was gutted to nothing but bare metal and concrete, then rebuilt. The fire occurred in April and we re-opened in time for “Ornament Premiere” in July.
All my Hallmark stock was to be shipped to the store a week before the re-opening, however it was pulled from the shipping dock in error. So, two days before the opening the stock was sent to us via same-day air, then loaded onto a semi truck at the airport 90 minutes away. The truck pulled up around midnight and my husband and I — along with the truck driver and my parents — spent the next 4 hours unloading the truck so the team from Hallmark could help stock the store the next day. We were the first store to reopen in the center, which meant great front page advertising. A fire isn’t the ideal way to get rid of old stock and acquire new fixtures, of course, but the new store attracted customers who had never been in the old one. It was certainly a memorable event, and turned into a highlight as the business grew rapidly from there.
AI: What proportion of the store’s inventory do you reserve for non-Hallmark goods?
JW: A significant proportion of our everyday inventory is non-Hallmark. At Christmas, we are heavier in Hallmark inventory due to Keepsake ornaments, and Hallmark gift wrap and cards.
AI: How do you source non-Hallmark goods?
JW: To source non-Hallmark goods we attend multiple gift markets — including ASD in Las Vegas. I look for things that will make my store stand out and let customers know that we offer trendy items that are competitive on price with larger retailers. ASD is my primary market for goods that offer high margins, goods that are part of upcoming trends, and it is my go-to market for fashion items that are currently hot.
We carry lots of fashion items and ASD is the only place I currently shop for that category because of the great variety of vendors offering high-margin goods at many price points. In making my selections I first ask myself how much would a customer pay for this item. Then I look at the wholesale cost. If there isn’t room for extra margin to support markdowns, I move on to something else. I also try to select items with a high perceived value. My grandmother always told me she wanted to pay $5 for a gift but she wanted it to look like she spent $20. I try to remember that when selecting merchandise.
“ASD is my primary market for goods that offer high margins, goods that are part of upcoming trends, and and it is my go-to market for fashion items that are currently hot,” says Weddle.
AI: What’s popular now in terms of greeting cards as well as stationery?
JW: We are in an area with many rural customers, so traditional greeting cards are still popular. Humorous cards and musical cards are the most popular for birthdays. Sales of stationery on the whole are slowing down since fewer people write notes or letters other than through e-mail or posting on Facebook. The stationery we do sell is mainly small note cards with simple images such as florals or geometric designs.
AI: How do trends change over time? And what products are trending now?
JW: Each new generation is interested in different things. For example, when I first began working in the Hallmark shop, collectibles were the most popular item. Customers had large collections of figurines or Christmas decor items they displayed in their homes. Now simplicity is key. The trend is stress-reducing items and small indulgences—tea, coloring books, home fragrances, a new scarf for an outfit rather than an entire new outfit. Customers are not interested in purchasing things that they consider to be clutter in their lives.
AI: Do you host in-store events or classes to attract customers?
JW: We host two large in-store consumer promotional events per year — “Keepsake Ornament Premiere” in July, and “Holiday Open House.” We also host a “VIP Open House” in November. Our in-store events are a great way to retain and reward our customers.
AI: What do you find is the primary demographic?
JW: Our customer demographic has changed greatly since I purchased the store 23 years ago. At the time of the purchase the demographic was primarily upper middle-class females aged 50 and up. Through the years I have changed the merchandise mix, so the demographic has changed.
The largest percentage of our customers is still female, with the exception of holidays throughout the year when we also have a large number of male customers shopping for their significant others. With the addition of fashion we now have customers from a broad age range, from teens to senior citizens — and different cultural backgrounds. Thanks to the vendors we find at ASD, we are also able to offer products in a price range that appeal to people from a broader range of socioeconomic levels as well.
“Simplicity is key. The trend is stress-reducing items and small indulgences—tea, coloring books, home fragrances, a new scarf for an outfit rather than an entire new outfit. Customers are not interested in purchasing things that they consider to be clutter in their lives.”
AI: How do you acquire new customers and keep your current ones returning?
JW: I strive to contact my current customers at least once a month via e-mail or postcards that offer either a promotional item, sale, or thank you gift. We send our current customers direct-mail catalogs twice a year. During the fourth quarter, we send a weekly e-mail — daily during the month of December. We also offer incentives several times a year in the form of a bounce-back card, which is given with any purchase; the card offers a free gift if the customer returns the following month. The most important aspects of retaining customers are a varied selection of fresh product and great customer service. Once I get a customer in the door, those two things are really what keeps them coming back.
To attract new customers, we place advertising inserts in local newspapers in the spring prior to Mother’s Day, then again before Thanksgiving week, and once more in early December. I also mail catalogs to new neighborhoods in Greenville, and in small towns surrounding Greenville. During the fourth quarter I rent space on a digital billboard along the major highway through town with a simple message that reads, “Jan’s Hallmark has been voted the best gift shop in the county!” Just something to try to catch a potential customer’s eye and make them want to visit our shop.
AI: Do you have any valuable tips or advice for those looking to get into the retail space?
JW: Work in retail through one Christmas season! Seriously, my advice would be to make sure you are aware that retail isn’t a 9-5, five-days-a-week job. It is 24/7, 365 days a year. It takes a full commitment of your time, energy, and emotions. But remember to schedule time for yourself and your family on a regular basis, and take vacations to completely unplug from the electronics in your daily life. If you don’t actually write that time off on the schedule it will never happen!
Do not isolate yourself from other independent retailers because you view them as your competition. They can be your support group and will help in so many ways, and you can help them in return. A number of years ago, some friends of mine who owned multiple stores were instrumental in my becoming a part of a great group of retailers from around the nation known as Southwest Buying Group. Sharing product finds, hits and misses, marketing ideas, and management techniques with them has been a major part of my successful transition from a small-town mom-and-pop Hallmark shop to a destination gift boutique.
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