Owner has found success with jewelry, accessories.
When Bruce Leahy left the U.S. Army a few years back, he fully intended to pursue a career working as an accountant until a dinner conversation changed all that.
Leahy, who grew up in Kansas City, MO (home of Hallmark) and his wife, Susan, were enjoying a meal with the parents of his wife’s best friend and former college roommate, when Leahy was asked by the father what he wanted to do with his life.
“I told them about my plans, but what I really wanted to do was run my own business, “Leahy said. “I knew about this Hallmark thing, and he (the father) told me he had been looking for an investment opportunity, and told me he would loan me the money.”
Leahy took the man up on his offer, and in 1972, he and his wife opened a retail store called Quips “N” Quotes, selling largely Hallmark cards.
In 1984, the Leahy’s bought an 8,000 square foot store in McAllen and another store in nearby Harlingen.
Today, the McAllen store has grown to encompass 16,000 square feet, and the Harlingen store is 10,000 square feet. Cards are still a staple at the stores, but now jewelry, clothing, fashion accessories and shoes account for more than 50% of his annual revenue.
The stores are truly destination locations, with cafes and a unique service Leahy stumbled upon in 1985, when he and his wife were visiting a friend’s gift shop in Houston. “She had a little postal window in the back of the store, and I watched as customers came in to the store for the post office all day long,” he explained.
That was all it took.
Leahy’s McAllen store has a full post office (called a CPU in the postal business) in McAllen. Unlike stores that offer stamps, etc. and charge customers convenience fees for doing so, Leahy’s store charges the same rates and uses the same equipment as the neighborhood post office.
“It’s not a profit center,” he explained, while quickly pointing out he sees about 300 to 500 customers in the store every day because of the postal services offered at his store. Additionally, the McAllen store has 1,000 postal boxes, and the store in Harlingen has 100 of the same.
That said, Leahy knows it’s the gifts that win the day. “We’ve carried jewelry from the very beginning, but a few years ago we began carrying clothing items,” he said. “We started with shawls and scarves and those went great, so then we added ponchos, dresses, coats and it evolved from there.”
Trade shows are a key way Leahy stays connected within the industry, as well as a relatively- new, 400 store, 66-member buying group, which connects members via email, social media, and good, old-fashioned phone conversations and meetings at the markets to discuss what’s hot and what’s not in the retail gift world.
“I’ve heard some members of the buying group say that if not for this group, they might not be in business today,” Leahy said.
ASD Market Week in Las Vegas is one venue that Leahy has been going to for 30 years to see the latest trends.
In fact, he credits the products and pricing he found early on when he decided to carry more clothing, accessories and shoes, as a key element to his success. “It was primarily a surplus goods event,” he said, “held in the old Hilton, but today I could not come close to walking the show.
While Leahy remains active in the stores daily, for the past 20 years, his son, David, and David’s wife, Patty have been involved as well. Joining the family are 40-45 employees, with the exception of Susan, who after 30 years in the business, retired to be with grand kids.