Judy Dees had a lot going for her when deciding to open her business, Magnolia Pewter, in Pearl.
She had experience in retail working as a department manager at McRae’s in Jackson in the china, gifts and silver area.
A pewter collector for several years, she did in-depth research about how to turn her passion for pewter into a business. She had a two-year degree in merchandising from Hinds Community College, and she took advantage of the free services of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Hinds to put together a business plan.
“Many people don’t realize that the SBDC services are free,” Dees said. “Anyone going into business needs to talk with them. Anything you discuss with them is in confidence, and they are there to help you. The tools are free and more people need to utilize them.”
Although experienced in business, Dees found the feedback from professionals very helpful. They helped her prepare a business plan.
“Anyone considering going into business, I recommend they call the SBDC,” Dees said. “People don’t realize the business plan you put together to get financing is a detailed book. I don’t say that to scare anyone off. The plan helps you to focus on goals and all aspects of the business that you need to think through. It makes you look at the downside before you hit any barriers so you can overcome those as they occur.
Dees considers a detailed business plan a must. All you have to do is look around at how many businesses that fail in the first year in business to have a sober awakening.
“I wanted to do my homework and make sure I had really thought this through,” she said.
Dees enjoyed working at McRae’s. Its training program was helpful, as was the experience working as a department manager and in the buying office. But she had long been interested in starting her own business, and had collected pewter for years.
“I loved pewter,” she said. “When I found a way to open a shop and sell it at a great price, then I started researching. I realized I may have found something that interests me. So I started looking at opening a store. I had two children in college at this point. I didn’t want to jump into something knowing I could sink. I was going to be very thorough. I was going to be very careful where I put my money.”
For market research, she did a preview showing November 2005, renting out the Richland Community Center to showcase pewter and do a survey of the friends and business acquaintances she had invited to view the product. They could purchase pewter or just come in and fill out the anonymous survey that asked questions such as: “Do you like the product? Would you buy the product? How far would you go to purchase it?”
“The feedback I received was 100% positive, which was really good,” Dees said. “The other thing was I almost sold out of everything I had that night. That showed me this was a good thing.”
The pewter ware that she carries includes dishes, bowls, platters and vases. Pewter has increasingly taken the place of silver and is popular because you don’t have to polish it.
“Silver you have to polish,” Dees said. “Pewter you don’t. They have made pewter just as beautiful as silver in traditional and contemporary styles. It is easier to care for. Whereas every year you have to pull out and polish silver for the holidays, you don’t have to do that with polished pewter.”
Dees didn’t jump into the business. She opened August 31, 2006, nearly a year after the preview showing, at a shop located at 100 Business Center Parkway, Suite A, in Pearl across I-20 from Cracker Barrel on the frontage road next to Fuelman.
In the time between the preview show and opening, she researched the competition and worked extensively with the SBDC.
“The SBDC was very instrumental in helping me come up with a business plan, which is very important, and to look at all aspects of opening a business and keeping it running,” Dees said. “I researched my competition. I looked to see where other places were that had pewter, and how much they had. People don’t realize that competition can be a good thing. It keeps you on your toes. It keeps you always looking for new and better ways.”
The SBDC helped her look at issues such as advertising and what she would do during slow sales times.
“What am I going to do in slow times to keep business coming in?” she asks. “You do have to look ahead and project. You must have ideas out there and goals set up. They were good at helping me look at those details. They helped me to think ahead because opening a store is a work in progress. Once you get it open, it doesn’t stop there. You need to do things to keep customers informed.”
Word of mouth is drawing customers from as far away as Columbia and Philadelphia.
“People are finding out this is the place to come and get pewter at really good prices,” she said. “I also have a bridal registry and do gift wrapping for people who purchase gifts for those registered brides.”
Although word of mouth is great, she also promotes the business by making sure she has an advertising budget.
“I advertise something each month,” she said. “I know that advertising is very important, and there are different ways to advertise for different businesses that work better for one than the other. I have a piece of paper I insert with each gift purchased that tells how to care for pewter that includes my name and number. So at Christmas time when someone opens a gift of pewter, they know where it is from. That is another way of advertising.”
Dees said it is important to get creative with advertising. There are ways to do it that aren’t very expensive. When she opened, she did a lot of legwork taking flyers to doctor’s office and other businesses.
Another key is a focus on customer service.
“A lot of stores have gotten away from customer service and I think people want customer service,” Dees said. “So I try to educate them when they come into my store on things like how to take care of the product, and suggestions of usage. I keep in touch with my customers to let them know when new shipments come in. And I do special sales just for my customers.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.