For P. Graham Dunn, Retail Is About Embracing Change

P Graham Dunn is surely proof that goals can be accomplished, even from the most basic of beginings, given enough hard work and a focus on the fundamentals.

In the 1970s, Peter and his wife LeAnna Dunn started their gift making business while raising four energetic children and running the business out of a revamped chicken coop at their home. Peter designed every plaque, gift and item of furniture while LeAnna managed the company’s finances.

Today, P. Graham Dunn has approximately 260 employees serving over 8,000 customers, mostly in the U.S. with some clients also in Canada and around the world. The firm is located in the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite community in Dalton, OH and includes a 270,000 square foot manufacturing facility and a 20,000 square foot retail store, which carries mostly company items, along with greetings cards and locally-sourced food items. The company also employs 25 families in the community who arrive by horse and buggy to pick up piece work to complete in their homes.

We caught up recently with Joe Knutson, President of P. Graham Dunn, to discuss his retail store, and what he sees as the factors that have contrib-uted to the company’s retail and wholesale success over the past 40+ years. “Retail spaces require re-invention at least every seven years,” Knutson said. “We kicked off a renovation project the first of this year, completing it in early spring. The look is very much farmhouse and very much on trend. The feedback has been overwhelming positive.

“In terms of handling the pressure retailers are facing via various e-commerce platforms, Knutson offered, “It is important to embrace the ways in which consumers are finding our products. Brick-and mortar will always have a place, but it will take more than just stocking inventory to bring value to the consumer. A retail store needs to be more than a place to find merchandise, it needs to be an experience and destination in itself.” Guests visiting the retail store enter a massive two-story lobby where they are greeted by a grand staircase. Large, ornate plaques adorn the walls and scripture is carved into the crown molding. The retail store is fast-becoming a tradition for families to visit during the Christmas season.

Ascending to the second floor store, guests enjoy the visually rich displays and seemingly end-less product options. Windows along each side of the store provide a viewing gallery into the manufacturing plant. Change in the giftware industry – whether retail or wholesale – is never-ending, and might be accelerating, Knutson said.

“Every single day our industry is changing and we are adapting to serve it,” he said. “What we intend to maintain – and even protect – is our culture. Our product lines, processes, equip-ment and facilities have changed dramatically over the years. We are almost unrecognizable to the company we were just a few years ago. However, at the core of everything we do is our culture, the one constant. Our culture is reflective of the community in which we operate – a strong work ethic and faithfulness, derivative of the Amish and Mennonite community around us.

“Those who are responsible for the creative process at P. Graham Dunn find success rooted in inspiration, Knutson said. “Trends come and go, and we do our best to stay on the leading edge of those trends, but at the core of what we do is the ability to spread the message of inspiration and hope.

“Fellow retailers, Knutson said, should find success following a simple rule – build your business one customer at a time.”There are no shortcuts to developing a great retail operation,” he said. “With all the ways in which you can get the word out, it comes down to referrals from your guests that make the biggest impact on your store. Take care of every guest and they, in turn, will take care of you.”