By Andy Owens
Published April 8, 2013
When Crocs and Silly Bandz were in high demand, you might have found yourself at Palmetto Moon. Before word spread that those products were going to be in short supply across the country, the lifestyle retailer had signed contracts with suppliers to get the merchandise on their shelves.
The family-owned business knew what was coming because its employees constantly talk to suppliers, listen to customers and even watch what people are wearing in airports, looking for patterns and predominant consumer behavior.
The company, which prides itself on the longevity of its retail associates and thoughtful approach to growth, says it’s all about finding the stuff people want to give as gifts and wear to football games.
“You’re looking. You’re watching. You’re finding it before your competition,” said Eric Holzer, chief merchandising officer for Palmetto Moon. “We weren’t the only person to carry Silly Bandz. We established ourselves as the first person in Charleston and the key place to buy them, so when the trend started going up, everyone was coming here.”
|Palmetto Moon’s founders, Robert and Karen Webster. (Photo/Leslie Burden)|
Company started: Christmas 2002 with two mall kiosks.
Number of stores today: Eight.
Facebook fans: 50,000 and counting.
Number of employees: From 100 to 175, depending on the season.
What do Carolina and Clemson fans complain about? The amount of merchandise available for each fan base at Palmetto Moon stores even when it’s the same.
Palmetto Moon’s founders, Karen and Robert Webster, met while working in retail in the late 1970s. He was a merchandise sales manager, she worked as a buyer. Fast-forward to 2002, when their youngest daughter, Morgan, entered Clemson University.
“Karen and I found ourselves empty-nesters and decided we wanted to do something to keep ourselves busy, and I couldn’t rearrange the house, and she didn’t want to play golf,” Webster said. “So we decided what we really had passion for was retail.”
They knew that companies made 40% of their retail sales during the holiday season, so they decided to take an investment from friends and neighbors to operate a seasonal retail business based on South Carolina-inspired merchandise. They chose Citadel Mall and a spot outside of American Eagle Outfitters to grab that store’s foot traffic.
“The concept was if these people in the state of South Carolina loved the state so much that they would buy products with the palmetto and crescent embroidered in it,” Robert Webster said, “then we might be able to take that concept and be able to put it on a coffee cup or a tie or anything.”
With their daughter at Clemson, the Websters also realized there was a pent-up demand for collegiate merchandise for Clemson and the University of South Carolina. By a natural extension of their location, they added Citadel and College of Charleston merchandise as well.
After that first holiday season in 2002 and with customer demand still high, the mall invited Palmetto Moon to stay through the spring season.
“The business just kept exploding,” Robert Webster said. “Customers kept coming in, asking us why don’t we move to their community so they didn’t have to drive all the way to see us.”
In 2004, Palmetto Moon opened in Towne Centre in Mount Pleasant, and by 2012, had locations in North Charleston, Summerville, Myrtle Beach, Florence and Greenville.
Today, the company’s headquarters remain in Citadel Mall, with a retail location, corporate offices and a distribution and warehouse operation inside the mall to streamline the flow of merchandise to their stores based on point-of-sale data.
Webster said the company keeps its focus by maintaining a natural sense of curiosity that most entrepreneurs have along with attention to detail and customer service. He said the only time he sees co-owner Karen Webster unhappy is when she’s on the sales floor and someone asks for something Palmetto Moon doesn’t have in stock.
“She is driven by making the customer happy. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur in this business, you’re all that way,” Webster said.
As Palmetto Moon continues to grow, Holzer said the company strives to remain loyal to customers who contributed to the ongoing success of the business. He said whether a business owner is operating a small startup or a multimillion-dollar corporation, it all started with a customer who chose to buy from them.
“The good ones don’t forget,” Holzer said.
Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.