Building a retail destination store from a pumpkin patch
DeWayne and Tina Lee of DeWayne’s, Selma, NC
If you’re passing through North Carolina on Interstate 95, a series of billboards will ensure that you don’t miss the chance to stop at a sprawling gift emporium called DeWayne’s. It’s hard to believe this expansive shop started 25 years ago as a pumpkin patch run by DeWayne Lee, a 20-year-old son of a produce farmer. His location: the lawn in front of a busy outlet mall. Forced to get creative one year when he lost his entire pumpkin crop, Lee diversified with a fruit and produce stand and wooden cutouts, and eventually Christmas trees. In its beginnings, the business was no more than a pop-up greenhouse, a port-a-john, and outdoor tables laden with merchandise.
DeWayne met his wife, Tina, when she was just 16, and she grew to be as passionate about the business’ success as he was. Together they evolved from the produce stand and garden center, realizing that the interstate travelers are more likely to buy smaller gift items than a plant or a garden sculpture. Eventually they moved to their current location, a 6-acre lot about a mile down the road from the outlet center where it all began.
Growing Up and Out
The space offers plenty of opportunities to grow, and their latest phase includes an atrium that will centralize the cash registers and incorporates a year-round Christmas shop. The additions bring the square footage of the store and its offices to nearly 42,000 square feet, with departments including a greenhouse and garden center, outdoor statuary, a ladies’ clothing boutique, a gift shop, a gourmet foods department, a jewelry department, home decor and more.
The store has become a local destination for sought after brands. Tina says Pandora is its top-selling line, with Vera Bradley, Yeti, Brighton, Sanuks, Vineyard Vines, Jack Rogers, Tervis Tumblers and Simply Southern also strong sellers. The Christmas shop— dubbed Christmas Land—includes offerings from Regency International, Border Concepts, RAZ Imports and Renaissance 2000, to name a few.
Watching and Learning
The Lees, and now their staff of buyers, have been regular visitors to AmericasMart markets for more than 15 years. “At first, we’d go to Market, wander the halls, and get totally overwhelmed,” recalls Tina. “We were new to this type of retail, and the Market has taught us a lot.”
It still does: DeWayne isn’t much of a talker, but despite his quiet demeanor, he’s as observant as a hawk. It was he who saw all the customers with Vera Bradley bags slung over their shoulders and insisted that the store add the line. And at Market, he’s likely examining what the other attendees are wearing as much as he is the showroom displays.
But in showrooms and booths they’re savvy about choosing what to stock. Tina says one of their biggest considerations is price and perceived value: “If it doesn’t give you the margin you need, then it’s a no go,” she says. They also consider freight and minimums, how returns and damages are handled, and protection from competition.
Their buyers attend gift and home Markets in January, March and July, and the apparel Markets in April and August. “It’s so consolidated, everything is right there: Christmas, gifts, clothing and jewelry,” says Tina about AmericasMart. “And there are lots of opportunities to go to different markets, it seems like there’s one about every month.”
Building a Reputation
The store’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed in the vendor community. The buyers—who include DeWayne’s sister—have been asked for feedback on new lines, or even to provide input for product design, and they’ve been invited to speak at corporate sales meetings.
Because of the store’s large scale, cross-merchandising is important. A display of plants might have a flag mixed in, for instance. “We try to build displays that pull customers to different parts of our stores,” says Tina.
An in-house print shop allows DeWayne’s to make banners, signage and other marketing materials on the fly, and last year the store put out an Ideation catalog, which mailed to 15,000 to 20,000 customers.
DeWayne’s stopped carrying live Christmas trees several years ago, and no longer offers fresh produce. But one holdover remains from the store’s origins: every fall, the yard in front of the store fills with fresh pumpkins, which is how it all started.
For more information, visit dewaynes.com or ShopDeWayne’s on Facebook.
Images by Exum Photography