Redmond retail: Uncertain, but upbeat
By MARY STEVENS DECKER
Redmond Reporter Reporter
October 17, 2008 · Updated 2:57 PM
Will Redmond’s independent retail shops and restaurants have a holly-jolly holiday season?
Or will nervousness about the nation’s economy cause local consumers to act as miserly as Ebenezer Scrooge?
In Wednesday’s edition of the Redmond Reporter, we featured comments from owners of three businesses which opened in the city within the past year. Today, we offer insights from proprietors of three businesses with long histories in Redmond.
STAYING THE COURSE
Sherill Taylor has owned Pacific Northwest Costume in downtown Redmond for 27 years. This is not a seasonal costume shop — she carries costumes for sale or rent and theatrical make-up and props, all year around.
Speculating on the current economy, Taylor remarked, “When things aren’t so good, people need to do things to make themselves feel better. Especially this Halloween, I think people are going to say, ‘Let’s go out and have a nice time,’ and because this Halloween is on a Friday, I think even a lot of offices will have fun.”
Crazy costumes can help to lighten the mood, she said. “Let’s be Austin Powers, a Teletubby or the Burger King. ... Halloween is like my Christmas, but that said, I can’t just be about Halloween or else I wouldn’t be here.”
In November and December, she’ll outfit plays at professional theaters such as Studio East and Bellevue Youth Theatre and will work with lots of school groups. She prides herself on having a kid-friendly shop — she doesn’t carry scary or smutty stuff.
“And I give school discounts — they always get 10 percent off,” Taylor added.
She feels the upcoming elections are fueling people’s apprehension and influencing their spending habits.
“Every four years, when there’s a presidential election, we see a fluctuation because people are concerned about the change. Anyone who’s been in business a long time knows this. When there’s a change of the guard, there’s a little hesitation in spending.”
But she’s kept charts to see where she was 10 years ago, five years ago and a year ago and has told herself and her employees, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings. My hope is that Wall Street will settle down and people will go back to being more relaxed.”
For more information about Pacific Northwest Costume, call (425) 881-8618 or visit www.pacificnwcostume.com.
SILVER AND GOLD
You’ve likely heard the children’s song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”
That type of thinking applies to retail success, as well as life, said Bob Ferguson, owner of Ben Franklin Crafts and Frame Shop, a downtown Redmond fixture since 1975.
“We have to earn a customer’s business,” he explained. They strive to do that by providing exceptional service, quality and up-to-date information about crafting trends.
The store’s already brimming with colorful materials for Christmas crafts as well as doo-dads for Halloween and Thanksgiving. We asked Ferguson how he thought this holiday season would stack up to those of the past.
He responded with a nervous laugh: “My crystal ball is so foggy right now — which is not to say we’re not cautiously optimistic.”
He pointed out, “We sell no consumable products here. We don’t sell milk or diapers. People are motivated to purchase (what we sell) not because of a particular price or a real strong need. In the past, the craft business has been stronger when the economy is softer. This time, all bets are off. Today, people are just scared, fearful. Watching the stock market, we’re seeing dramatic swings, up and down. I don’t have any control as a retailer.”
His staff makes commitments for purchases six to eight months in advance, he added. So if they’ve chosen unwisely, they could be left with a lot of rejects.
We asked if more crafting in a poor economy was due to the fact that making your own holiday gifts or decorations is cheaper. That could be a factor, said Ferguson. But more importantly, “in times of stress, people have looked at opportunities for self-satisfaction and self-esteem. ... We’re selling creativity, self-expression, family memories.”
Not everyone is a born crafter, so the store offers hundreds of events each month, including free or low-priced classes and demonstrations. Throughout the store, there are samples of finished projects, surrounded by suggested materials.
Neil Ferguson, who is Bob’s son and the manager at Ben Franklin, dreams up those displays and often completes the projects himself, to prove that they’re easy-to-make but sensational.
“We really need to go for the ‘Oh, wow!’ factor to get someone to try what they haven’t done before,” Bob noted.
Neil agreed, “Most come in with a mission, to get stuff for their kid’s school project. We have to grab their interest with something they haven’t seen before.”
That’s especially true in scrapbooking and beading, two of Ben Franklin’s busiest departments. Loyal hobbyists in these areas do lots of networking, blogging and sharing ideas. If you don’t have the latest and greatest products, they’ll get bored and shop elsewhere, said the Fergusons.
With 70-some full-time and part-time employees at Ben Franklin, Bob doesn’t anticipate any layoffs, but said he probably won’t hire any extra help for the holidays — even though store hours are extended through Christmas. “We’ll all have to take on a little more, work a little harder,” he concluded.
For more information about Ben Franklin, call (425) 883-2050 or visit www.craftsandframes.com.
A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Originally from England, the Redman family opened The British Pantry in downtown Redmond in 1978. The shop specializes in authentic foods and gifts from the United Kingdom. In 2001, they opened the adjacent Neville’s Restaurant and two years ago, added Three Lions Pub.
That was smart thinking. According to Neville Redman, who oversees this mini-version of a British Empire with his sister Alvia, it’s turned out to be a “one-stop destination” for expatriates throughout the Puget Sound area.
“There are other places that do English tea, other pubs, but I’m not aware of anyplace else in this region that gives you ‘all that’ — the pies, the bakery products, the atmosphere of a real British pub. We may not have a building that’s 200 years old, but whether you are 21 or 71, you can come in for good food, nice conversation ... or watch soccer (European football),” said Neville.
Commenting on the recent economy, he said, “For all the imported stuff, sales are down. But for what we make here? Sales are up. The pub next door is doing great, the restaurant is about the same. We have an established clientele and draw from as far away as Olympia and Bellingham.”
Their best-selling products are pasties and sausage rolls, said Neville.
“Come Christmas, we sell literally thousands of sausage rolls and minced tarts. We’re gearing up for a busy time. ... We always add extra help then. In years past, we literally can’t make enough. The demand outstrips the availability.”
That’s because people crave a taste of home, around the holidays, more than any other time of the year.
However, Neville stated, “We may cut back on some of the higher-end Christmas items, like big boxes of chocolates specifically in Christmas packaging.”
In other words, Brits won’t give up their meat pies but not all will spend $20 to $30 on a box of chocolates when money is tight.
While the Redmans feel chipper about their holiday season, Neville expressed concern about another trend on the horizon, the City of Redmond’s “grand plan for Redmond, an urban village.”
He fears that some of the older businesses may suffer during temporary road closures related to new construction — and that nearby parking may be insufficient when the downtown area becomes more populated.
For more information about The British Pantry, Neville’s Restaurant and Three Lions Pub, call (425) 883-7511 or visit www.thebritishpantryltd.com.Contact Redmond Reporter Reporter Mary Stevens Decker at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 867-0353, ext. 5052.