Parchment on Nantucket

We are so pleased to share with you our very first featured retailer interview with Heidi Girvin of Parchment Fine Papers, a beautiful jewel-box sized store on a beautiful island.  Heidi not only has a masterful merchandising touch, she’s also a smart entrepreneur who has successfully grown her business with the challenge of both seasonal highs and lows and the tough retail economy that has affected us all.

She shares with us below her perspectives on running this lovely store as well as some of her savvy merchandising tips.

Q:  How long have you been in business?
I’ve been in business for six years. I opened in April of 2004.

Q:  How large is your store?
My store is approximately 425 square feet (I think that includes half of the hallway I share with the store next door!)

Q: You are in a gorgeous but mostly seasonal destination spot. How do you plan for the seasonality of your business?
Gosh, it is so ingrained in me (from all my years of working retail on Nantucket) that it is kind of hard to answer! But, from the beginning, I laid the foundation. For example, when I negotiated my first lease, I set it up so that my rent is mostly paid during the busy summer months and shoulder season. I basically “lumped” my rent payments, so I don’t have that expense hanging over my head in the winter. I also cut back hours and staff in the winter months.

Ordering is more difficult. For example, I go light with my holiday orders and really use that time to sell stock that is on hand. In January, I only bring in a few things, like thank you notes for post holiday writings. Spring is hard, but in late march/early April I start restocking more aggressively. I take a calendar and map out which shipments are arriving when, so that I can plan for payment. I jump for joy whenever someone is offering a special with dating- net 60 is huge and net 90 makes me dance in the streets! Fortunately, I can use my line of credit with our local bank in the spring, and pay it off throughout the summer. Another thing that helps tremendously is the custom side of my business. While winter is very quiet on Nantucket, it is the time that early summer brides are working on their wedding invitations. For me it’s a great source of revenue, and my brides truly get my undivided attention during those quiet months!

Q:  Your store is always, always beautifully merchandised, often by color scheme.  How do you approach merchandising and what do you feel is successful about the way you do it?

You’re right, I do it by color. That is just how I see things, and how they make sense to me. When I was first opening the shop, I had all the merchandise on the floor and nothing on the shelves. Then I started putting like colors together, and it was an epiphany! One nice thing about this method  is that when customers coming in, “Just looking for some note cards,” I tell them to go to the color they like, and there will most likely be something for them. In addition, when customers are putting a gift together, I often recommend building a color story. For example, they might find some pink note cards that they love, so we will put it together with a pink journal and pen, and then they look as though they were meant to be together.

My other approach to merchandising is that I don’t use company fixtures that are sold with collections. I find it more fun to use things that I find when I have time to antique. Also, some of my shelving is narrow and doesn’t allow a lot of room. I use empty boxes behind-the-scenes to lift up merchandise and vary the height of different displays. I find this gives the displays a little more depth, which is more appealing to the eye.

Q: What is the best tip you could give to another retailer about remaining successful in a tough economy?
I was not sad to see 2009 leave us – what a year! The wonderful thing about the type of products that I stock is that if something is selling really well, I can most likely get back into it quickly, so I kept my inventory tight as compared to other years. When writing orders, the question I asked myself over and over was this: “Is it the best of the best? Or the best of what they have to offer?” (To give credit where credit is due, this mantra comes from my days of working for the dynamic owners of Hepburn and Zero Main.) This kept me from buying something out of habit, and truly sticking to what is great! I think when you have companies that you buy from year after year, it becomes easy to buy from them just because you always do, and not because what they are offering is different and wonderful.

The number one most important thing is to remember why we are doing this – for our customers. I try to keep this in mind (even though sometimes it’s hard!) and treat them with kindness. Even when I don’t remember a name, I try to convey that I remember the face, and greet them warmly. And I always, always thank them for their business.

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Thank you Heidi for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.  You can visit her lovely store at:

Parchment Fine Papers

11 Washington Street

Nantucket, MA  02554

508-228-4110

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** For more ideas on how to display inventory in your store, visit our Merchandising Tips section for ideas and downloadable templates.

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