Three Doors, Three Specialties

When customers enter Paper Moon Event and Wedding Specialists in Midland, Mich., they are given the option to enter through one of three doors, and all will lead to a variety of diverse and unique retail, rental and event planning solutions. But owner Sue MacKellar is no stranger to innovation. In fact, she embraces it.

The initial inspiration for Paper Moon came in 1980 after a buying trip to Chicago for The Calico Cat children’s boutique, her business at the time. After finishing her seasonal buying, she began exploring other floors in the Chicago Merchandise Mart and the entrepreneurial spirit in her surfaced.

“I was excited to see humorous card lines, contemporary paper, balloons, theme party goods and gag gifts that I had not seen available at traditional card stores in our area,” MacKellar said. “Midland didn’t have a large mall and had limited box stores, so I started to envision a new trendy store of this type. I used my current retail store for financial leverage and developed a business plan that would lead to the opening of this new store.”

When Paper Moon opened, it was indeed one of the first “alternative card,” gift and party stores in the area. Despite apprehension from colleagues, this concept caught on quickly, and over the next seven years they opened six more owner-operated stores and sold two franchise stores throughout Michigan.

Rooms to Grow
Then things got creative.

“Big box stores were expanding in our area, so we found a need to be proactive in our approach to our retailing,” MacKellar said. “Creativity and customer service can only go so far. We needed to keep our niche!”

In 1994, they purchased a 7,200-square-foot building and moved a few blocks from the original Midland location. In 2004, they updated the storefront from a brick ’50s look to a building that looked like three different storefronts. They added a second story facade` and windows accessible from the outside used for display.

Inside, they divided the store into rooms: The “Wedding Room,” where they display samples of the tables, chairs, chair covers, specialty linens, wedding and party related rental items such as chaffers, champagne fountains, chocolate fountains, china and glassware; an “Invitation” room; the “Card, Balloon, Paper and Party Goods” room and the “Costume, Accessory and Current Holiday” room.

“It’s not a typical retail set-up,” MacKellar said, “but it works for us.”

In 2005, they purchased a second warehouse and moved seven semi-trailer loads of props off site, keeping the linen inventory onsite for easy access.

In addition to the cards, paper goods, gag gifts, balloons and stickers, they carried adult costumes and makeup during the Halloween season; this was also a first in the area.

“Thirty years ago the market for adult Halloween costumes was very limited, so we had costumes designed and sewn by local seamstresses,” MacKellar said. “As the demand and popularity increased, our rental inventory increased and the accessories associated with Halloween proved very important to our bottom line.

“In addition to retail costumes, wigs, shoes and other accessories,” MacKellar added, “each year, we continued to expand by adding manufactured costumes to rent.”

They’re currently focused on one location where they combine year round rental costumes and accessories with other retail, linen and party rental items, and they’ve added two large conveyors to organize the thousands of costumes. Customers view pictures of the rental costumes in volumes of notebooks — each page gives a description of the costume, what it includes, suggested accessories, the deposit, rental and a number corresponding to the location of the costume on the conveyors.

“We have 11 dressing rooms and we now do all repairs and laundry (except dry cleaning) on site,” MacKellar said. “Accessories, makeup, wigs and hats are displayed year round. When retail Halloween costumes come down, we use that display space for the current holiday paper party products. We work hard to have the right mix of quality rental costumes, trendy purchase costumes and hard-to-find accessories.”

Business and Brides
The last few years, demand for more upscale party items sent Paper Moon in another direction and the upscale theme decorating business began growing quickly. They added custom theme props and specialty linen rental to the mix, and have photos available in store and online as inspiration for customers.

“Our linen and chair cover inventory began to grow by leaps and bounds as we took our corporate events and weddings to a higher level,” MacKellar said. “We stock all our own props and linens so we can serve our customers with quality and exceptional service. If it’s wedding or party related, we’re a one-stop location.”

Because corporate budget cuts have caused their corporate work to decline, they began focusing advertising dollars on the bridal market, touting Paper Moon as a one-stop shop for invitations, favors, chair covers, linens, china, flatware, glassware, fresh flowers and most of all, unique ideas.

Since most brides are visual, they set up tables to show different options for the reception. MacKellar said their “out of the box” creativity helps brides stay within their budgets, and they can also direct them to other vendors who provide services that they do not.

“It’s fun to come full circle with our clients and rewarding to know we are still in business and able to service their current needs,” MacKellar said. “It’s amazing to be working with brides whose mother’s purchased their 'home from the hospital’ clothes from my children’s store, and others we call 'Sticker Brides,’ who as youngsters, spent their allowance at Paper Moon on stickers during that phenomenal fad.”

And while they’ve faced challenges in this economy, MacKellar feels it’s their diversity and dedication that has allowed them to succeed.

“Having a great team of long term employees has been an integral part of our success,” she said. “Working alongside my husband, Ed Morris, makes the long hours and demanding schedule easier as we share the responsibilities. The down side is when business is slow, there isn’t a second income source to take up the slack. This has kept us proactive in our business approach.”

To keep their inventory active, they started a new division, “Linens & Chair Covers by Design.” They now offer a commercial rental program, where they supply hotels, caterers and banquet halls chair covers and specialty linens and discounts on theme props and rental items.

In other words, when customers are given the option to enter through doors one, two or three, all will lead to a variety of diverse and unique retail, rental and event planning solutions.

Originally posted Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2010