FLORENCE — The story of Deck the Yard is as unique as its inventory and the way it does business. Housed in a facility that has served as everything from a karate school to a church, owners Ricky and Julie Dickerson have boldly put their imported yard decorations out for all traveling bustling U.S. 49 at Florence to see, and have drawn customers from all points who return again and again for Deck the Yard’s selection (it offers interior products, as well), prices and old-fashioned customer relations.
And, all of this started from a single Christmas present from a relative.
“Oh, yeah, it’s exceeded my expectations,” said Ricky, who wearing a baseball cap and jeans could easily pass for a freshman in college. “Julie and I are yard fanatics. One Christmas, my mom gave us (an imported outdoor) lamp. People loved it, started asking where they could get one, and that’s how it started. We had no experience at all, and no plans to start a business.
“Our prices are really low compared to the competition, and we focus on customer service. I don’t care if you come in here and just by a candle, we want to carry it out for you. We make sure the item is packed properly, put cardboard down on the seat or floor to make sure the car’s interior isn’t damaged — the little things.”
At this point in the interview, a customer who had shopped Deck the Yard previously stuck his head in and inquired about a certain piece that was not in stock. He and Ricky carried on a detailed conversation about the desired item. A price was agreed upon, and the customer asked how long before it would arrive.
Ricky said, “Well, it’s Mexico, so that means a day of phone tag. I like to say four to six weeks just to cover myself, but probably two weeks.”
The customer turned to leave, and Ricky said, “And, hey, that price I quoted you was from another vendor. The one I’ll get it from is generally cheaper. If he is, you’ll get a better price. I wouldn’t take you — we don’t do that here.”
With that, the deal was struck. The customer, who had driven all the way from his residence in Waynesboro, a nearly 100-mile trip, turned and walked out.
There had not even been a handshake. “That’s a pretty typical deal,” Ricky said.
While the Dickersons had no background in import retailing, they had experience as entrepreneurs. “I always had to have my hands in something,” Ricky said. Natives of Meridian, they owned multiple car dealerships there while Ricky worked for a railroad. Ricky’s railroad career would bring the Dickersons to Florence approximately seven years ago.
After the “momentous” Christmas gift, the Dickersons, approximately four years ago, set up shop in a nondescript brick building on U.S. 49, which is now teeming with new businesses on the stretch between Florence and Richland.
The initial offering was limited — mainly urns and pottery. (The inventory’s countries of origin are primarily India, China and Mexico.) Perhaps the key to Deck the Yard’s success was the Dickersons’ decision to put everything outside. It says a lot about the Dickersons’ philosophy on customer interaction and human nature.
“Most businesses aren’t going to put their inventory out because of the risk of theft,” Ricky said. “Florence is kind of like Mayberry, you know. The city has a great system, and people are trustworthy, honest. We have people browsing out here at nine, 10 at night. It’s a risk that has paid off.”
If an item is not found, customers can just write their request down, and the Dickersons will go look for it.
“We keep a customer request book,” Ricky said. “When we’re out buying, we carry it with us. I’ll be honest with you, we’ve gotten some really odd requests, but, amazingly, we find a lot of them.”
On that theme, the Dickersons are preparing to meet the needs of a new group — retailers. They have acquired a 4,000-square-foot facility on Highway 469 approximately four miles from Deck the Yard. At press time, the Dickersons hoped to have it in operation in late October.
The new facility will be wholesale only. Secluded, it offers privacy, and visits will be by appointment only.
However, the Dickersons are far from leaving the retail industry. Ricky said he and Julie had discussed moving Deck the Yard to an area such as the tourist-rich Alabama Gulf Coast. They have since decided to stay put.
But, the Dickersons do have a vision for perhaps franchising Deck the Yard. It is only in the concept stage now, but Ricky said he believes the model could be transplanted in other places, and made it clear that more Deck the Yard was on the way.
“You know what we do here? We sell ‘pretty,’” Ricky said with a laugh. “We don’t sell what people need, we sell what people want.
“We don’t charge for unique. If an item is rare or hard to find, we don’t jack up the price. Our overhead is low here, and that coupled with our fair pricing means we can cut great deals.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.