Spotlight On: Monroe, La.
Treating each customer as one of the family
Sometimes the next great adventure can literally be just outside your front door. That was the case for Amy Robinson, owner of The Paper Market in Monroe, La.
“I’ve always been into stationery and party supplies and had an interest in the products that a local store carried,” Robinson said. “When shopping there, I would make mental notes about things like the type and variety of products offered, as well as customer service and the overall look and feel of the store.”
In the fall of 2010, Robinson decided that becoming a business owner was a great fit for her and her family and knew just the business she wanted to own. After talking with her husband about her idea, she tracked down the name of the business owner and simply gave him a call. To her surprise, he was willing and ready to sell.
“After several months of meetings, my husband and I became the proud owners of the store that we renamed The Paper Market in February of 2011,” Robinson said. “With a lot of hard work and dedication, we took a profitable business and made it even more profitable.”
Something for Everyone
The 4,000-square-foot store is located in a very busy shopping center, and shortly after purchasing the store Robinson consulted with a designer with the goal to lay out the fixtures in a way that would create a pleasant shopping experience for their customers.
Shorter gondolas were used to create a more open and inviting concept that has incidentally helped deter people from shoplifting, and they also placed display tables in the front of the store to merchandise products and party themes.
“It’s not hard to have a fun and bright color scheme,” Robinson said, “but we’ve branded ourselves by predominantly using a fun lime green color in our logos and signage around the store.”
Although they primarily sell party supplies, they have branched out into gift and home décor lines to provide a more unique selection of products. Now their customers are able to not only shop for party décor, gift packaging and stationery, but small gifts and home décor as well.
“For example, we now carry a wide variety of containers such as buckets and pails and have a variety of chalkboard easels and signs,” Robinson said. “Our goal is to brand ourselves as a party store that not only has a great selection, but one that consistently merchandises our products to give our customers ideas. We want them to leave with everything they need to host a party their guests will be talking about even after it’s over.”
Solid ensembles and balloons sell best, and they try to merchandise solids with some of their party patterns on endcaps and display tables. They’ve started to showcase a “Party of the Week” every Thursday on one of their front display tables, starting with a predominant theme and working in other products from the store to show customers different ways of creating the perfect party. They also try to feature small balloon sculptures around the store to give customers ideas for balloon décor that go beyond the traditional helium balloon on a string.
Balloons are the most ordered item in the store, and after that, their personalized stationery and custom party invitations. For both items, an easy-to-understand and efficient ordering process is essential to ensure the order is correct from start to finish.
“One of the biggest challenges in taking custom orders is making sure the correct information is communicated from the customer to the employee,” Robinson said. “If an order is wrong, we do our best correct it, but we have found that revising our order forms has created fewer communication errors between the customer and the employee taking the order.”
They’ve also recently added vinyl personalization to the list of things they offer. During the Easter season they used their vinyl-cutting machine to personalize metal pails for Easter baskets and other gifts and are now able to personalize anything.
“We definitely feel like this has been a great investment because the sky is the limit to what you can personalize,” Robinson said. “It’s a perfect fit for a party store!”
The Paper Market has a full-time graphic designer who previously created her own line of invitations and paper gifts from home. While her products were in high demand when she worked from home, since partnering with The Paper Market, she has increased her sales while providing a one-stop shop for their customers. Her designs are one-of-a-kind and can even be custom designed to match any party theme a customer creates.
“The vintage look has become popular with party invitations,” Robinson said. “We are seeing that customers are choosing fonts and design elements with an old world feel, such as the digital fonts that look like handwritten calligraphy and vintage poster designs. And of course, the traditional monogram always tends to be a favorite.”
A favorite part of their marketing strategy has been Facebook, where they post pictures at least once a day of items from the store with ideas of how they can best be used. Robinson said customers have actually come in the store saying they want to buy a particular item they saw featured on Facebook.
They’ve also started a “Staff Spotlight” where they feature a staff member and their favorite things about working at The Paper Market. They feel that it helps their customers and Facebook fans connect with and want to invest in their “Paper Market Family.”
But every “family” has challenges, and Robinson said she has learned that a big one is that “you can’t be everything to everyone.”
“It’s difficult when a customer asks for something that we don’t carry,” Robinson said. “Sometimes it’s an item that doesn’t mesh with the store and sometimes it’s something that we know would be successful, but we simply don’t have the room.”
She’s found it’s important to constantly evaluate their inventory and compare that to what the customers need and want. There needs to be a balance between that and the fact that that there will never be enough square footage or money to make every single customer happy.
“That’s why it’s important to have goals and an overall vision for your business,” Robinson added. “However, we’ve found more often than not that using a little creativity and asking the right questions can help the customer find a similar item that will meet their needs. We never want a customer to leave empty handed unless we know we have done everything we can to help them.”
Whether it’s a balloon bouquet or a personalized invitation, the staff at The Paper Market will make you feel like a member of the family. After all, your next adventure could be right inside their store doors.