Business 2 Business
Recently, we sat down with two retailers, Jamie Darling of Darling’s Fine Things in Newport, Arkansas and Marti Tolleson of Two Friends, in St. Simons Island, Georgia. They have formed a unique friendship over the years and have become a sounding board and cheerleader for each other as they each navigate and succeed in the world of specialty retail.
Darling’s Fine Things is a women’s clothing, gift, and accessories store. Darling’s family has owned an independent pharmacy for many years in Newport. “As times changed, many of the small shops in our town disappeared,” Darling said. “There was nowhere to shop. Gradually, we added more gift items and lines in our pharmacy. My mother had impeccable taste. She had a natural eye and gift to mix and use new and old, expensive to affordable in décor and accessories. She led the way as we began this adventure,” Darling added.
With the sterling silver jewelry business that was booming in the early 1990s, the pharmacy bought jewelry display cases and began to fill them with fabulous sterling silver jewelry. “We had some of the best resources in the country and people came from all over to shop our jewelry and unusual gift selections. We became a destination shop in our little town,” Darling said. “The people in our area craved a great place to shop and were tired of always having to drive to buy clothing, gifts, and accessories. So, our gift and accessory business grew,” she said. In 2005, Darling’s Fine Things opened when they purchased the vacant home next to the pharmacy and added a 2,000 square-foot retail space.
Tolleson’s Two Friends store began in Perry, Georgia then opened a second location in St. Simons Island, Georgia. Hers is a lifestyle store with almost every category imaginable. “I buy things I love,” Tolleson exclaimed. Tolleson began her retail adventure with a friend and partner in 2000. “For us, we started by doing shows in our home and our friends and customers kept begging for us to open a ‘real’ store,” Tolleson said. “We were both young moms and we decided that we could do this if we had the proper staff. We found the right gal to help us so we took a leap of faith. We were able to both be moms and fulfill a passion at the same time!” They grew the business for nine years until they both moved out of the area. Tolleson kept the Perry store for three years after moving before selling it to her former manager. After moving to St. Simons Island, Georgia, she opened a location there in 2010.
Despite unique and interesting paths into the industry, both Darling and Tolleson shared a lot of similar traits as business owners. The two met at Atlanta market, but kept running into each other at the Southern C Summits. “I love to collaborate with other business owners. Often times we share lines, we share info on staffing/pay/policies, and often times we are each other’s cheerleaders to just keep going when we are tired and weary,” Tolleson said.
Darling added, “We followed each other’s social media and realized we carried many of the same lines and had similar taste. We, more or less, collaborated by accident. Just sharing ideas and info about lines, reps, and selling strategies.”
“It was easy,” Tolleson said. “It’s so unnecessary to re-create the wheel so sharing helps each be successful … it’s natural when others feel the same way,” she explained.
The benefits of their collaboration are fresh and new ideas for each of their stores, both tangible and intangible. “We’ve shared and discovered new lines among ourselves and it has made me be a better retailer,” Darling said. The fact that they aren’t so close together geographically is good for several reasons. Attending different markets allows them to share more information that the other may not have been exposed to.
Tolleson adds that one of the best benefits has been lifelong friendships and trust. “We are all here to help each other,” she said.
When asked if they would do anything differently, they both agree that using caution when sharing is wise. “Some people have very different intentions and I have been burned for sure,” Tolleson said.
When asked what they have learned from each other, Darling says she has learned to never be afraid to explore new avenues. Tolleson emphasizes that they all have the same problems and issues.
The best advice these two retailers have for others wanting to collaborate and work with another business is to find someone you admire, trust, and have similarities with but that still is different than you and go for it. “Don’t be afraid to fly off your perch. You don’t need to mirror what another store is doing, but if you can work to be a balance for each other your collaboration will be a great success,” Darling said.
Tolleson adds, “Be willing to share, we are all in it together…be honest…be sincere!”