~ as told by the middle sister
5 Sisters Create Decor Dynasty
Back in 2004, my youngest sister, Carie Whittaker Kelsey and her husband, Nate Kelsey, rented one room and a hallway upstairs in the Old Creamery in Twin Falls, ID, and opened just on Thursdays to sell home décor and accessories at the best value possible to the customer. We had no idea how this would impact our family -- Carie was simply doing this transient-store gig on Thursdays, with her first son, Carter, on her hip. She had a little cash register that didn't even print receipts, initially. Within a few weeks her little décor hallway was an instant success with the customer base of the next-door closeout store, Thursdays (open only on Thursdays:).
WHO'S FAULT WAS IT?
Marisa is actually to blame for starting everything (the middle child is most accurate in assigning blame). Carie and Nate had just finished college, and Marisa said she was tired of them being broke and never able to do anything. So she sent Carie $10,000 of home décor saying, "Find a place to sell it." Yes, she's super-bossy, just like Carie. Carie's customers were soon eager for her to be open another day, so she added Saturdays to her weekly retail days in 2005, spending a little more time on her hobby. Somewhere in here, it was time to give Carie's hobby a name, so Real Deals on Home Decor was officially born. It was the natural choice since Marisa and her husband, Jeff Humphrey, were currently running a terrific business selling furniture in a 90-thousand-square-foot cotton mill in Jefferson, GA, called Real Deals on Furniture.
HEY, I WANT ONE, TOO!
If you're a sister, you know it's never OK to be left out of a good thing. Soon we other 3 Whittaker sisters had to open our own stores. I remember my husband dragging his feet, saying, "Do you really have to open a store, just because they are?" Karmelle (eldest) opened in Pocatello, ID, in a parking lot with a van (yes, a very good story that we laugh about often). Dori Whittaker Shaner (2nd eldest) opened in Boise, ID, even though she was currently living in Tokyo, Japan, with her family at the time (another great story). I, Wendy Whittaker Christensen (middle sister) opened a store in Bend, OR, with my friend Brenda Layton. With my ad agency background, I was completely comfortable doing everything creative with product, merchandising and advertising, but I needed a really good left brain for the important business and numbers end, and Brenda's left brain is awesome!
Much to our surprise, requests soon began pouring in of, “How can I open a shoppe like yours?” from friends and customers. So far our system consisted of:
- Talking to each other all of the time (business as usual)
- Going to market together and trying to order what was selling for each other
- Sharing ideas about customer service, about how to get ladies excited about our stores.
We remained a little overwhelmed and reluctant with the idea of boxing up our Real Deals' idea to sell as a franchise. Until. A friend of Carie's that had been talking with her about opening a store like Real Deals scoped out Carie's back room, took vendor names off boxes, and opened her own store, an exact copy of what we were doing. !!! We were shocked and sad. We didn't yet know that we'd have a copycat store (or two or three) open every time we open a Shoppe. Now we expect it, and imitation is a compliment, right? But this shock ended up being a motivator to franchise, and Carie and Nate, along with Marisa and Jeff, franchised the concept in 2006, creating Real Deals on Home Décor, Inc.
OUR WHITTAKER FAMILY
Now, for a decade, our Whittaker family reunions and gatherings have been punctuated by Real Deals’ emergencies, triumphs, and endless to-do lists. We play the game of "No One Bring Up Real Deals for 10 Minutes" and someone usually loses. The 17 cousins have grown up playing together in Real Deals’ stores, in Real Deals' meetings, on market trips, and at yearly conventions. They have all eventually become great help in our Real Deals’ shoppes, usually our best help. Now, 10 years later, these cute cousins are graduating, off to college, getting married and having grand kids. We look at how amazing our kids that were raised during our Real Deals' years are and we see the work ethic and people skills they learned, even though it was sometimes crazy. And it's been awesome to have both Mom and Dad close, Dad working his genius with books and taxes, Mom (miracle Maryl as we call her) working her genius with customers, vendors, owners, legal agreements, and preserving a semblance of normality for her grand kids.
OUR REAL DEALS' FAMILY
Nate, who is now CEO and Executive VP of the franchise, always says, “We’ve built our franchise around helping women succeed in owning their own home décor and clothing stores, and we've been one family selling to another family all along." Seriously, the best part of growing our franchise has been growing our family -- each owner and her family, her employees and customers all become our family and strengthen our brand and systems with their unique skills and ideas. And our vendors have become family too -- we feel incredibly grateful for such loyal partners that have helped us build Real Deals.
Carie emphasizes that "The best part of Real Deals continues to be our people. We're constantly amazed at how our owners take care of their customers and communities. They are exceptional women and we learn so much from them." An important part of the Real Deals’ business model from the beginning has been hosting open houses, private parties and community "fun" raisers -- and our owners always have creative new ideas for events and product. When those ideas are a big success we're able to roll them out to the entire franchise and benefit everyone.
3 DAYS & RD BOUTIQUE
In 2014, Real Deals added Fridays to their open retail days and most Shoppes are now open 3 days a week on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with their average yearly sales exceeding the industry average for a 6-day-a-week home décor store. We're so happy about that. Twin Falls’ Real Deals added RD Boutique in 2014, offering the latest clothing and accessories in addition to home décor. Like Carie's initial décor offering, RD Boutique has been met with enthusiasm by her customer base as well as the customers of other Real Deals’ shoppes that have added RD Boutique. Around 30 franchise stores have already added boutique, and we're opening all new stores with RD Boutique since clothing has proved to be such a great complement to our home decor. And clothing is bringing in a younger generation. What we're seeing now is high school girls bringing their moms to shop (and pay for their clothes), and mom ends up buying clothing for herself, too. Then moms and daughters all discover our décor as a bonus. Some customers that haven’t been in for a while come back to discover boutique and rediscover home décor. We couldn't be more thrilled to have both home décor and boutique sales up franchise-wide.
A DECADE OF DECOR
This year we're celebrating our 10th anniversary. Unbelievably, the franchise now has 69 locations in 19 states and 4 provinces in Canada, and is listed in the Top 500 Franchises of Entrepreneur Magazine. In January we teamed up with World Market Center to bring our franchise owners to the annual convention, holding it during the Spring Las Vegas Market. Giving our owners their franchise awards during convention was humbling and incredible -- in 2015 we had stores reach incredible sales numbers that we never dreamed possible in 3 days of retail per week. Our remarkable owners and loyal fans have helped us create something incredible. We're proud and awed and so grateful to go to work every day doing something we're passionate about, for people we love.
Wendy Whittaker Christensen, Middle Sister, VP & Creative Director
The Twin Falls, ID store, the first Real Deals on Home Decor franchise store!
The latest Real Deals Convention, The Heart of Real Deals.