Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 157

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 20
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


Although we had only been living in New Hampshire for two years we had made some very good friends. Through our involvement at Laconia Christian School and our church, we began to hang around with Barbara and Jim Foote and my sister Sharon and her husband Greg. We had also become friends with Mike and Liz Verhoeks. As you may know, it’s not always easy for couples to become friends. Many times, the wives may get along great but the husbands may not. In most of our relationships, our friends like Mal but I’m not as likeable. In this case, we all liked each other!

Mike and Liz owned Laconia Pottery, a retail store, selling mostly Victorian gift items and the hand-made pottery that Mike created. Mike had been a geophysicist for a major oil company but when that industry slowed down he decided to pursue his passion for pottery full-time.

One day, as we were visiting Liz at her store, Mal suggested that Liz should add rubber stamps and card-making supplies to her inventory. Mal told Liz about her experiences with her own stamp store and how much fun and profit she could have if she developed a customer base for these products. My comic book and collectible store had bought the remaining inventory from Mal and her partner Diane several years ago hoping to be able to continue the successful business they had developed inside of our Fitchburg location, but our employees just didn’t have enough interest to make this work. They had a huge sale to try to get rid of the inventory and eventually just packed up the remainder and stored it in the back room. I suggested that we could put the leftover inventory of stamps and supplies into Liz’s store with no risk to Liz. We’d share the profit on any of our old inventory. Liz seemed reluctant to try this, mostly because it wasn’t necessarily a “good fit” with the overall theme of her gift shop, but she decided to try it anyway.

I drove down to our Fitchburg store and was very disappointed to find that we only had a few boxes of leftover stamping stuff. Apparently they had sold most of the inventory when they had the big “blow-out” sale. Liz made some space for the inventory but because there wasn’t very much left to begin with, she didn’t sell much in the first few weeks. Mal offered to teach stamping classes in order to create some demand for the stamping products and within a short time the inventory began to sell. Liz conservatively ordered some new products and she was surprised at how fast it sold. There were times when customers would stand by and watch her unpack newly arrived stamps and accessories and buy them before she could even get them onto the store shelves. Liz became convinced that these products could eventually out-sell her inventory of gift items and she began to allocate more and more store space to stamps, inks, accessories and decorative papers. It still amazes me how little things, like Mal’s decision to open a rubber stamp store all those years ago, can change the lives of those with whom we later come in contact. The following story is taken directly from Liz’s store website:

“Stamping Memories was officially born in October of 2002. A new sign was hung under another sign, which for eight years had served to direct locals and visitors to one of central New Hampshire's most popular destinations, Laconia Pottery. What was originally established as an upscale gallery featuring unique gifts and fine pottery, The Gallery at Laconia Pottery began to change focus in 1998 shortly after owners, Mike and Elizabeth Verhoeks, met and became friends with Paul and Mal Howley. The Howley's had recently moved from Massachusetts to Laconia, New Hampshire, so their daughter could attend Laconia Christian High School.

“Mal Howley had owned a rubber stamping store located within her husband's large comic book and sports memorabilia store, That's Entertainment, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Prior to their eventful meeting, Elizabeth had no knowledge of rubber stamps except for those used to identify a bill as PAID or a check as VOID. Mal was an avid rubber stamper and when she showed Elizabeth some of the beautiful cards she had made with stamps, ink pads, and paper, Elizabeth was surprised and impressed. The Howley's suggested that rubber stamps might be a nice addition to The Gallery's line of merchandise because they were becoming quite the "hot trend" in Massachusetts. Mal offered to teach classes and do demonstrations at The Gallery so customers would see how to use the rubber stamps. Elizabeth was skeptical about how these "craft items" would sell in her shop but, after considerable thought and discussion with her husband, Mike, she decided that since Paul and Mal were such successful retail store owners in Massachusetts, and seemed genuinely interested in the success of The Gallery, she would trust their advice and try a few rubber stamps in the shop. It turned out to be the best business decision she has ever made--so far!

“What began as a small experiment in a new product line, slowly began to move the shop in a completely new direction. As the number of classes grew, the need for another instructor arose. Debbie Monell, a close friend of Elizabeth's and already part-time employee of The Gallery, offered to help Mal with the teaching. She was a fairly new stamper but had quickly learned the basics from Mal by attending regular classes. Her creativity coupled with her outgoing personality and her familiarity with the shop, made her a natural. She continued teaching classes and working part time until she accepted a position with Laconia Christian School in 1999. In May of 2005 Debbie returned to Stamping Memories as a part time employee.

“Now, an unforgettable seven years later, the Verhoeks' and the Howley's are the best of friends. The Gallery at Laconia Pottery is now Stamping Memories--one of New Hampshire's finest rubber stamping and scrap book stores. There you will find cabinets lined with hundreds of great rubber stamps, walls of beautiful paper, shelves of colorful inkpads, rows of embellishments--all that a rubber stamp or scrap book enthusiast could ever hope to find. Pride in the way inventory is displayed is key at Stamping Memories. Because it was formerly a gift gallery, some beautiful remnants still remain which give the shop its wonderfully charming atmosphere. From the many windows adorned with lovely European lace curtains, to the gorgeous silk flowers filling giant containers, Stamping Memories is truly a different kind of stamping and scrap book store. Visitors to the shop have been overheard describing it as "the nicest stamping and scrap book store I've ever seen". Owner, Elizabeth, simply desires it to be a pleasurable experience for each and every person who enters her shop.

“These days, classes are taught several times a week at Stamping Memories, with an emphasis placed on teaching proper techniques and developing creativity. Often students travel from many miles away to attend a myriad of classes taught by several gifted instructors who enjoy sharing their wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm with those who are eager to learn. Elizabeth is careful to select teachers who have a passion for rubber stamping and scrap booking and who willingly stay abreast of the latest trends and techniques. It is Elizabeth's goal to keep classes at Stamping Memories fresh and new with as much creative variety as possible in accordance with the ever changing world of stamping and scrap booking styles and trends.
“The store has experienced tremendous growth each year since adding rubber stamps despite a sometimes sluggish economy. The future continues to look bright. The additional emphasis on scrap booking is drawing new customers daily. An increased focus on family, since the national tragedy of September 11, 2001, has made scrap booking even more popular. People seem more interested than ever in preserving their memories for future generations and Stamping Memories strives to provide their customers with the best the industry has to offer.

Stamping Memories carries only the finest quality rubber stamps, papers and accessories. Elizabeth and her team are always on the look out for new and unique lines to add to the store. Occasionally they travel to other parts of the country to see what is in vogue and to network with other storeowners.
A visit to Stamping Memories is well worth the trip and it will most likely become one you’ll make as often as you can.”

Next chapter: Cassy makes a decision about college, even though she’s only just beginning her junior year of high school.

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