What started as a hobby becomes a family business
As part of the Venture Local Franklin (VLF) initiative, Macon County News is teaming up with VLF to highlight local businesses throughout Franklin. Each week, MCN will select locally owned and operated businesses in a different industry ranging from retail to tourism, to manufacturing. It is our goal at MCN to work with VLF to encourage residents to shop locally and utilize the resources Franklin has to offer. For more information on Venture Local Franklin, join their next community hang out on Thursday, July 26, at 5:30 p.m. at the Frogtown Market and Deli.
Regardless of the product, or the intention behind the business, one thing that most antique stores in Franklin have in common is that it started as a hobby and as the family tradition grew, a business opportunity was born.
From an antique milk crate, to a home décor item handcrafted on burlap from the 1860s, antique stores in Franklin have a rich mixture of items that speak to both the culture and identity of the South. Like mini historical museums that have all their display items for sale, antique stores in Franklin have been a major industry in the community for years.
After years of watching his parents collect antiques, Toby Pickartz decided it was his turn to give the family hobby a try, so in June 2011, he opened up Collectiques on Main Street in Franklin to keep the tradition alive. “Since my parents were collectors and had bought and sold antiques and collectibles over the years, it was sort of in my blood,” said Pickartz.
Pickartz, who just celebrated his first year of operation last month, believes that opening during the recession ultimately helped him out, because there was only room for improvement. “Business is good. I've just completed my first year and am looking forward to an even better year ahead,” said Pickartz. “Since I opened in the depths of the recession, I guess you could say it's only up from here.”
Although only in its first year of operation, Collectiques is already expanding in order to cater to their customer base. “In order to compete, we've expanded not only the size, but the selection of merchandise. Listening to people and adding what they are looking for is key. We've expanded the space and are bringing in new "old" merchandise, along with a line of vintage style decorator items that people are asking for,” said Pickartz. “People want mirrors, lighting, and accessories, but not necessarily antiques for their mountain homes. We're working with a decorator to expand into that market with items not offered in other local shops.”
According to Pickartz, several promotional events have benefited his store since he first opened. “The Main Street Program held a Red Carpet event for the shop. It was a nice welcome,” said Pickartz. “Venture Local's Street- Fest brought people downtown who didn't realize there were so many shops in downtown Franklin. Ellen Jenkins at Primrose Lane worked with downtown merchants to expand their reach with a "gold card" book in select hotels. The Where's Waldo project is being spearheaded by Suzanne at Books Unlimited and it has been a success so far.”
As an antique dealer, Pickartz believes that information is key and he hopes to continue providing his customers with information about his items. “When people ask about an item, I want to be able to tell them a year, or a usage, or maybe, just a story behind the item,” said Pickartz. “So, in short I suppose, learning. Learn, expand, learn. Wash, rinse, repeat.”
Although Collectiques has a designated “busy time” of year, Pickartz said that he is grateful for the local support that he has been able to rely on. “Summer and fall are definitely the busiest time of the year,” said Pickartz. “However, we have a following of local shoppers who visit us regularly to see what we have. Without these people, it would be tough to stay open during the winter.”
The local support he has during the summer is not only important to him, but is vital for Franklin's entire economy. “Shopping locally helps our own economy to grow,” said Pickartz. “Local businesses hire employees within the community who, in turn, spend their dollars in Franklin. So, stop by, antiques and collectibles are the best form of recycling.”
With the goal of building the area's largest selection of antique furniture at great prices, Ron Raccioppi and his wife, JoAnn, originally opened Reminisce Antiques & Auction LLC in 2003 in Sylva. As the store and Reminisce's clientele grew, Raccioppi moved to their current location in 2008 in Franklin in order to utilize a 24,000 square- foot building.
Although Reminisce saw a decline in business when the recession first hit, they are starting to see a steady turn around. “As everyone knows, with the sluggish economy business everywhere can always be better,” said Raccioppi. “But we have seen this year doing better than last year, especially with the antique auctions, which have been packed. Our auction items come from local consignments and they have supplied us with some of the most beautiful and unusual antiques we have ever had.”
Reminisce's busiest time of year occurs when the leaves begin to change and people are visiting Franklin for the holidays. “Our busiest time of year is always the tourist season while children are out of school, without a doubt the month of October has been our peak month but in retail and auctions,” he said.
Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of the poor economy, Raccioppi viewed the recession as an opportunity to better his business. “The recession has affected us both negatively and positively,” said Raccooppi. “With all the foreclosures and down sizing in the last four years along with very few home purchases or new homes being built, it has hindered the furniture and antique market (as well as other markets across the board) with the market being flooded with furniture and nowhere to go. On the other hand, more people have gone to auctions for an outlet for furnishings that they have been holding on to, clearing storage units out to eliminate monthly bills and turning it into cash at our auctions. We have seen a large increase in gold, sterling sets, coins and cherished pieces that were held to pass down going to auction for living expenses.”
As an outlet for local consignment pieces, Reminisce houses several antique dealers with a wide range of items for sale. With the pressure of the economy, Raccioppi decided to lower the auction house's booth rental space rates in order to offer a better deal for his customers.
“At Reminisce Antiques & Auction LLC we have lowered our booth rental space from $1.30 per square foot to $1.00 to help our dealers and those looking to move into spaces,” said Raccioppi. “This incentive helps us keep space rented and helps the dealers keep a little extra in their pockets on a monthly basis.”
Like other businesses, Raccioppi has placed a stronger emphasis on the customer service side of his business and has implemented several additional services to stay ahead during the recession. “As far as the auction side, we have provided our consignors with the added service of going to their home or storage unit to give a fair evaluation of where their item will sell best; not everything is destined for auctions,” he said. “We pride ourselves as having clean, quality items that result in bringing in more sellers and buyers. We have always provided an honest and sincere personal touch to all out customers whether they are sellers, buyers or just lookers.”
Although they have implemented various business strategies to improve the store, Raccioppi said the business’s goals have not changed. “Our goals are the same as they have always been. Have great items at reasonable prices, a clean place of business, treat customers with respect and fairness,” he said. “Word of mouth has always been our success and we would love to thank everyone for their confidence and support. It is they, our customers, that have made Reminisce a success and be able to ride above these economic times.”
According to Raccioppi, the benefits of being a member of the Chamber of Commerce have also helped his businesses throughout the years. “We are chamber members and along with the other antiques shops in Macon County, we put out a yearly map and directory showing the locations of antiques shops in the area,” explained Raccioppi. “These maps are located in participating antiques shops and the Franklin Chamber of Commerce. We also have our own website www.ReminisceAntiques.com and our auctions are promoted nationally by www.Auctionzip.com under auction ID #6224.”
While some antique businesses in Franklin have worked to better their establishment to meet the demands of the harsh economy, one duo turned to opening an “eclectic find” store as a way to beat the affects of the recession.
After losing their jobs three years ago, Audrey Lowry and Hollie Watts began buying and reselling antiques and specialty hand crafted décor items at flea markets just to make ends meet. Recognizing the business opportunity and with the dream of always owning their own store, Lowry and Watts opened up the Rusty Rainbow on East Main Street in early June.
From antique furniture, to handcrafted one-of-akind home décor items, the Rusty Rainbow is more than just your typical antique store. Lowry and Watts’ specialty is stocking the store with a variety of eccentric finds at affordable prices.
New to the business world, Lowry said that their first month of business exceeded her expectations. “We built our business around the economic struggles that our community faced,” said Lowry. “We wanted to establish an accommodating business. The economy has been a driving force of a lot of our decisions. We have decided to venture out into the E-market as soon as we are able, just to have another avenue for marketing and sales.”
Lowry explained that the antique and specialty item markets vary depending on the product and the history behind it. “Our prices will always reflect our initial investment not the items proposed worth,” explained Lowry. “So often people are using E-bay as a standard for pricing items, people don’t realize that an item selling on E-bay is priced by an individual. It can't be used as a guide for an item's value.”
As a new business, the Rusty Rainbow has worked with the Main Street program to really get their feet wet in the industry and have also relied on themselves in order to keep their prices low. “The Main Street Program has helped us greatly, said Lowry. “We are also trying to do a lot of our own marketing. Putting in the work ourselves ensures that our prices can remain affordable.”
With the Rusty Rainbow only a little more than a month old, Lowry and Watts are still working to establish themselves in Franklin. “We want to become the place to come for that special, affordable, eclectic item,” said Lowry. “We also want to bring in local artists that have been unsure of selling their art in order to help other artists grow and become confident in their abilities. Overall, we want to be a place known for its affordable art, antiques, furniture and more.”
As a small, locally owned business, Lowry understands the importance of shopping locally. “We have to help one another or no one is going to make it if we only concentrate on our own success,” she said. “We have already received so much local support and we want to acknowledge those people whose belief in us, have caused us to believe in ourselves.”
After retiring from Macon County Schools, Jane and Bill Hooper decided to work with their son, Barry, to pursue their antiquing hobby, and four years ago, they opened Nestfeathers. “It just turned into a booming business,” said Hooper. “We are very pleased that people really love our store.”
With wooden floors and three levels of rooms packed full of antiques, Nestfeathers, which is located on East Palmer Street behind Macon Bank, takes you back into time as soon as you walk in the doors. From the floor to the ceiling, the store is overflowing with items that date back to centuries ago. While you shop one of the many rooms in Nestfeathers, you can even sip on a traditional glass bottle coke, while enjoying the fresh air that is gushing in from any one of the opened windows.
With dangling paper tags to display the prices, collectors and hobbyists have an array of items ranging from antique wooden roll top desks, to a vintage school desk, to look through.
“Business is very good,” said Hooper. “We work very hard to provide unique items for collectors at good prices. I think we are pretty close to the same amount of sales this same time period last year.”
Like so many other businesses located at the heart of Franklin, Nestfeathers is busiest during the summer months. “We are really happy with our success. We have enough business to expand but we are working as hard as we want to,” said Hooper. “Summer is of course our busiest time of year. But we do have a large local customer base which we are very proud of, so we do pretty well all year.”
According to Hooper, Nestfeathers has been fortunate to not be adversely affected by the recession. “We have been pleased that the slow economy hasn't hurt us too much,” she said. “We find that shoppers are careful. They try to buy thing they can put to use.”
In their fourth year of operation, Hooper said that the store has remained true to their original goals. “Our policy has always been to provide folks with the greatest items at the best price possible,” she said. “That strategy seems to work. Word of mouth is our best advertisement and we just stick to good old fashioned down to earth fair and honest sales practices.”
In addition to customer recommendation, Nestfeathers also utilizes the services offered by organizations such as Venture Local, the Main Street Program and the Chamber of Commerce to help advertise their business.
According to Hooper, shopping locally is not only important for the financial benefit of Franklin, but also for the community's identity. “We are local folks and are very proud of Franklin,” said Hooper. “We have seen lots of changes, some good, some not so good. We must continue to grow, but at the same time keep our wonderful local flavor. Of course, revenue is always necessary for a town to function and grow. Shopping locally ensures that process will continue.”
See next week’s issue for the continuation of the Venture Local series