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“It’s not only individuals, but also cause-driven businesses that can make a lasting impact.” Star Store . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Blessings Christian Gift Store serves Seguin, Texas, customers from its historic location.
Don’t hide your light
rom writing the Store Focus news story in many issues of Christian Retailing last year, my suspicions were confirmed—Christian retailers have some pretty great stories to tell. And there are some in this issue of Inspirational Gift Mart, too.
Consider this issue’s Creative Company. A lace-making supplier founded by two guys who played high school football together was an unlikely start-up business, but when their Iowa town was transformed into the replica of a quaint Dutch village, banking on Old World tradition was what made sense. Their approach to starting a new business demonstrates the value of wisely capitalizing when opportunity knocks. Then, in Star Store, we learn of Bambi Rucker, a retailer who started Blessings Christian Gift Store in the midst of tough economic times. But it wasn’t long before her store had moved to a larger location in a historic building in downtown Seguin, Texas, catering to clientele from college students to the county judge, and showing what it means to fully engage for the betterment of the community.
Iowa-based Heritage Lace produces most of its products at its own North Carolina mill.
Personal Portrait . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Steve Slaughter, co-founder of Halle Joy, has helped to create a cause-driven company.
Gift News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Catch up on the news with our roundup of promotions, new gift lines and key products.
Inspirational Gift Mart is a supplement to Christian Retailing magazine Steve strang
‘Points of Joy’
Personal Portrait shares the story of Steve Slaughter, founder of Texas-based Halle Joy, a jewelry and handbag company named a “Brand to Watch” by Giftbeat magazine. Slaughter teaches fashion students at Texas Christian University, and while he offers his expertise to them, their designs are used to create products at the company that also gives some of its profits to missions and relief agencies around the world. In doing so, the company offers “points of joy” to those Jesus called “the least of these.” Such engagement with missions and charities exemplifies how it’s not only individuals, but also cause-driven businesses that can make a lasting impact for the kingdom of God. The growing emphasis in the Christian products industry on Fair Trade is one way that gift suppliers can raise awareness and maximize giving. Retailers and suppliers of faith-based gifts all have something to offer—their products, yes, but also themselves. Slaughter’s giving students a hand-up with real-world experience is one example, as is Blessings’ decision to provide space so that massage therapists could offer their skills free of charge to breast cancer survivors. In these uncertain times, we all have our concerns, and some are struggling more than others. That’s why it’s more important than ever to depend on Christ and turn on your light for Him in a dark world. After all, how do believers endure in places around the world where conditions are never optimal? They lift their eyes to the Eternal One who gives a renewed perspective on life’s day-to-day grind. “Hide it under a bushel—no!” Remember that Sunday school song? Let’s be inspired by the retailers and suppliers covered in this issue to be a light, one not hidden or wasted. Let’s encourage one another to shine for all the world—or at least your small part of it—to see. Sound good?
2 ins p i r ati o n a l g i f t m a r t february
Creative Company . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Joy F. strang
Chief Operating Officer
christine d. johnson Editor
Joe De leon
Design & production
media ad traffic supervisor
AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT DIR
firstname.lastname@example.org Inspirational Gift Mart, a Charisma Media publication. Copyright ©2013 Charisma Media. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. Editorial and Advertising offices: 600 Rinehart Road Lake Mary, FL 32746 Tel: 407.333.0600 www.charismamedia.com
A historic retail space
Blessings Christian Gift Store Seguin, Texas BY GINNY McCABE
lessings Christian Gift Store may have a fairly common name, but the 5-yearold store has found a prime location in the heart of Seguin, Texas, the county seat not far from San Antonio.
After two years of serving its community of 25,000 in a lease location in “the little white house” on the corner of King and Ireland Streets, Blessings Christian Gift Store relocated to a historic building downtown.
Top: Molded ceiling tiles and hardwood flooring give a warm, nostalgic feel to the store located in a historic, town-square building; BOTTOM LEFT: A variety of crosses, family picture frames and angel figurines are displayed with care in the Blessings store; BOTTOM RIGHT: A former church administrator, Bambi Rucker started working with her church’s gift boutique before opening her own store.
The new store sits in the center of town on the square with the courthouse and fountain. Owner Bambi Rucker and her husband purchased the building in February 2010. In May 2012, the larger location opened, giving the store the opportunity to expand its selection of merchandise and retail space. Now in a 2,700-square-foot building, approximately 1,800 of the store is devoted to retail space. With sales amounting to $135,000 in 2011, gifts account for 90% of the inventory. About 8% of its sales are made up of books, Bibles and music. The store makes about 14 sales a day, and each customer spends an average of $25 to $30 per sale. “When we bought the building, we fell in love with it,” Rucker said. “I love the nostalgia and the feel of being downtown. At one time, my particular building was a drugstore. I have one customer who is up in age who has memories of her father coming here on Christmas Eve to buy their Christmas gifts.” The interior has been renovated, but maintains its historic feel with vintage doorbells, hardwood flooring and molded ceiling tiles. Customers won’t find an inch of slatwall or pegboard. Rather, all of the merchandise is displayed on decorative shelves.
Called to Community Rucker believes she was called into this ministry. Prior to starting her store in 2008, she served as a church administrator for two years at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Sidney, Texas. Volunteers from St. Andrews operated a 200-square-foot gift boutique out of the church’s facilities, which served the community for 35 years. “At the end of 2007, the committee that managed the gift store decided to disband the project because they lacked volunteers, Rucker said. “I remember sitting at my desk. The moment I received the report from the
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store committee stating that they were going to close as of that December, the idea came to me that I should open a Christian gift store for our community.”
The store also offers handmade and handcrafted items from individuals. One example is the Texas Foundation of Hope, which is a program for handicapped and mentally challenged individuals. They make crosses, jewelry and rosaries.
The store is “always donating and participating in fundraisers for nonprofits and church organizations,” Rucker said. “We help
An Atypical Store Blessings Christian Gift Store will celebrate its fifth anniversary in May. “This is definitely a ministry,” Rucker said. “It is a service to my community. I think the number-one comment we have received from our customers is that they are so glad that they have an option, a store like mine to come and shop at. In this economy, and in this time right now, Named on the basis of James 1:17, Blessings Christian Gift people are relying on their faith. Things Store aims to help customers share God’s love through gifts. aren’t desperate like they were in the them to raise money for whatever cause they Great Depression, but things are looking are supporting. down. Everyone is depending on God to make “For example, our Children’s Advocacy it through.” Center just did a ‘Designer Purse Bingo’ Manager Jolene Akery agreed. fundraiser and we donated two purses to “This is a ministry in itself,” she said. “It them,” she said. “We also work closely demands a lot and it takes special people to with the Downtown Business Alliance and be able to handle it. You definitely have to the Chamber of Commerce.” be called to this. It is not just a typical retail In addition, the store opens the storefront store. I’m honored to be here.” to any church or school group that wants to Rucker added: “A gift is a blessing. I chose use the space to sell their items. the name for my store based on James 1:17, The store’s top suppliers include Day‘Every good and perfect gift is from above.’ Spring, Dicksons, Precious Moments, Halle The store’s vision is to help our customers Joy, Mariana Spirit of Design, Bob Siemon share God’s love by providing a unique selecDesigns, Carson Home Accents, Pavilion Gift tion of Christian gift ideas. Co. and Kerusso. “We have some customers that we walk “I am really excited about Halle Joy, which hand-in-hand the entire time they are in the I brought in a few months ago,” Rucker said. store and we help them make decisions on “I had been searching for a faith-based handwhat gifts to buy,” she said. “We have other bag designer and I am ecstatic that I came customers who like to shop on their own and across them. They are from Texas, which, of we leave them alone. We also have a lot of course, appeals to my customers because we regulars who come into the store just to be are also in Texas.” surrounded by God’s glory and God’s love.”
Top-selling gifts at Blessings Christian DaySpring: boxed and individual greeting cards, gift bags Bob Siemon Designs, Mariana Spirit of Design and Kerusso: jewelry and accessories
6 ins p i r a ti o n a l g i f t m a r t february
Precious Moments, Dicksons, Carson Home Accents and Pavilion Gift Co.: keepsake figurines, including angels and nativities Halle Joy and other suppliers: purses
Prayer and Priorities The store serves the entire community—from brand-new Christians and college students to ministers, the mayor, county judge and the store’s next-door neighbor. “Customer service is a number-one priority for us,” Rucker said. “When customers come in to shop, we offer them assistance along with different gift ideas. We also help them think outside of the box, especially when it comes to buying for young people. They don’t necessarily have to purchase a cross necklace because it’s a confirmation. A young person would enjoy a Christian T-shirt just as much or a devotional book that they can save as a keepsake. Scripture journals are good gift items, too.” In addition to Rucker, the store’s staff is comprised of three part-time employees— Akery, Julie Hunter and Audrea Herrera. Akery recently served a customer who had a special need, finding a gift for her best friend who was diagnosed with cancer. “She came into the store and was looking for something not related to the disease that would cheer her up, bring some light into the situation and offer a bit of humor,” Akery said. “We spent time searching for a card and we picked out a cute, fun cross. It was a nice, lighthearted statement. We enjoyed picking out the items, and in the process, I was able to pray with her before she left for her trip. I also encouraged her and we read some scriptures together as well.” Now that same customer comes in often for prayer when she faces other circumstances in her life. igm
Ginny mccabe is a best-selling and award-winning author, speaker, teacher and media professional. She has also written a wide variety of articles for publications, including Christian Retailing, Yahoo.com and Examiner.com
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Old World style
Heritage Lace Pella, Iowa
family-owned business in America’s heartland, Heritage Lace grew out of the transformation of a small town. Founded in the mid-1800s by Dutch immigrants, Pella, Iowa, was not alone in seeing its central business district decline in the 1960s, so Pella set out to recapture business by returning to its roots and transforming downtown storefronts into a replica of a village in The Netherlands. Its quaint, Old-World feel eventually began attracting visitors from across the country, and out of this European tradition, Heritage Lace began. The company got its start after Bruce Heerema visited Europe in the early 1980s and noticed the distinctive-looking lace curtains that decorated many of the houses there. Returning home, he realized that the high-quality lace décor items could be a hit in Pella and across the U.S. too. He and longtime friend Mark De Cook became partners in Heritage Lace and began importing the lace products to sell to retailers and other dealers. Within a few years, the pair was importing a broad range of home décor textiles from suppliers in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and Lichtenstein. Heritage soon became known for quality imported products, the handcrafted look of its lace and the many patterns that were either incorporated into the knitting of the lace or embroidered into the fabrics. The items became a hit with customers in the U.S. and in other countries as well, appealing primarily to women between the ages of 34 and 64, “particularly those with a sense of unique personal style and strong interests in home, decorating and family,” said Kathryn Mahr, the company’s corporate communications specialist. “For them, our products have strong aesthetic and practical appeal,” Mahr said. “Like most beloved things, lace has a story. Traditionally, each piece was handmade with loving care for a specific person or occasion. At Heritage,
8 ins p i r ati o n a l g i f t m a r t february
BY NATALIE GILLESPIE
Top: The new ‘Petits Fours’ line includes towels and soap packaged to look like coffee and cocoa cups; BOTTOM LEFT: Co-CEO Dan De Cook manned the company’s booth at the 2012 International Christian Retail Show; BOTTOM RIGHT: The Last Supper round tablecloth is one of the company’s lace products.
we strive to develop designs that allow women the opportunity to mix and match our products with their favorite styles and home décor finds.”
Divine Direction The fact that two men decided to team up to sell lace goods that would mostly appeal to women could only be a “God thing,” said Dan
De Cook, current co-chief executive officer. “My father, Mark, and my co-CEO Tim’s [Heerema] father, Bruce, grew up together, went to high school together and even played football together,” De Cook said. “Who would have thought two football players would end up in the lace business together? That had to be God.”
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“Lace textiles require lots of complidinnerware and textiles from The NetherAfter years of importing, Heerema and cated machinery,” De Cook said. “There lands known as Pip Studio, Miss Blackbirdy De Cook decided that Heritage would start may be 7,000 spools of yarn feeding one and At Home with Marieke; and Baobab, a creating its lace products in the U.S. In machine with 7,000 needles. Just one of French-designed line of bohemian-style cotthe early 2000s, the company acquired those machines costs $1 million. We have ton scarves, apparel and handbags. an established textile mill in North Car70 of them.” De Cook said there are many factors that olina, making lace items from start That means Heritage can create to finish—from the production and about 95% of its lace products in the knitting of fabric to the fabric dyeing United States. It also does the finishing and finishing of each piece. of the “Petits Fours” line in Pella. Heritage Lace also hired its own “We’ve broadened our color pallet designers and has kept its creative with our new product lines,” Bruxvoort edge by continuously making dissaid. “So now we have the beauty of tinctive lace products and patterns, lace textures paired with the colors of offering items that follow current complementary product lines.” trends and classic designs. Since its early beginnings, Heritage “It’s exciting to see lace designs has incorporated inspirational and reliinfluenced by a new generation of gious products in its lines, from door trends and patterns,” said Desha panels featuring the holy family to wall Bruxvoort, one of the product design TOP: Heritage Lace has its own textile mill, which includes 70 lacehangings with scriptures. According to team members at Heritage. “Lace making machines; BOTTOM: The corporate office is in Pella, Iowa. De Cook, wall décor is the top-performtextiles have a long and rich history ing category for Heritage in Christian and will continue to be an important retail stores. part of future fashion and home “The Heritage design team has careinteriors.” fully crafted this category by marrying meaningful scripture with interesting ‘Family Feel’ lace details and colorful graphics that When their fathers retired at the are appropriate for today’s tastes and same time, sons Dan and Tim stepped decorating styles,” Mahr said. in to run Heritage Lace as co-CEOs, a “We are certainly passionate about move that might have proved difficult the mission and message of Christian for many businesses, but one that De booksellers and, more importantly, Cook said is part of the company’s continuhave kept Heritage Lace thriving despite ecoabout Scripture itself,” De Cook added. ing success. nomic ups and downs. One part of its success The “Petits Fours” line is an example of “Tim and I both had an interest in the he attributes to the “family feel” Heritage how Heritage tries to marry beautiful gifts business, and we complement each other strives to maintain throughout the company. with a biblical message. The products include very well,” De Cook said. “We’re 10 years “We just had a company potluck dinner, hand towels folded or rolled to look like slices apart and very different. I tend to be more and it was so much fun that we’ve been asked of pie, milkshakes and rolled cakes, featuring global and creative. Tim is into finance and to have another one,” he said. soaps molded to look like swirls of whipped the business side. God brought us together, Heritage aims to keep the personal touch cream, strawberries and other toppings. The and for us it works perfectly.” in relationships with customers too. At a time packaging of each item in the line includes a Now, after three decades in business, when many sales reps are being replaced by Scripture verse, and the products retail for Heritage Lace is charting new territory in the telephone operators and Internet orders, under $20. gifts industry, introducing several new EuroHeritage keeps sales reps on the road. The “I am looking forward to the fusion of pean lines that won the company the Best company also is reaching out to new customthese new brands and lots of new concepts of Show award at the 2012 Atlanta Interers by updating its website and ramping up in all of our lines,” De Cook said. “This really national Gift & Home Furnishings Market. efforts to launch social-media campaigns. is an exciting time for us.” igm Heritage continues to create fresh designs Careful Crafting in lace home-décor items, but is also findThe biggest factor in Heritage Lace’s abiling new success with several sub-brands of natalie gillespie has covered ity to survive and thrive likely is its own textile imports. These include “Petits Fours,” gift the Christian retail market for mill, which De Cook said is the last of its kind soaps and towels from France packaged to more than 10 years. She is also an author and editor. in North America. look like desserts; three Mimex brands of
10 insp i r a ti o n a l g i f t m a r t february
‘Purchase with a purpose’
Steve Slaughter’s Halle Joy offers ‘a lifestyle brand with collections that tell a story’ BY RHONDA SHOLAR
teve Slaughter has a good thing going with his new company, Halle Joy. In return for his teaching at Texas Christian University, offering students guidance in product and textile design, Halle Joy gets new designs from fashion merchandising students at the acclaimed school. Product design students create a collection for Halle Joy, and textile design students create a new base fabric for handbags. At the end of each semester, one product is selected to become a part of the Halle Joy offering. “The students get real-life experience and they give us their trend boards that contain their research on customer knowledge and who they would sell their product to,” Slaughter said.
ToP LEFT: Rewarding Heart charm bracelet from “Virtue Collection“; ToP RIGHT: Thanksgiving tote from the “Grace Collection”; BOTTOM LEFT: Halle Joy met the need for faith-based handbag designs at Blessings Christian Gift Store in Sequin, Texas.
12 ins p i r ati o n a l g i f t m a r t february
A Brand to Watch Slaughter and his wife, Brenda, have spent a lifetime selling products that make women feel good about themselves. That goal has not changed, but the way in which they accomplish it has. They are convinced that fashion and mission must go hand in hand. The Slaughters are owners of Halle Joy, a women’s accessory company launched in 2010 that gives customers the opportunity to direct a portion of their purchase price toward the Points of Joy program, which gives food, water, clothing and medical relief to missions around the world. “It gives customers a purchase with a purpose,” said President and CEO Steve Slaughter. “People want to invest their income in things that make a difference. It’s not just a commodity anymore, but it’s a commodity that they can wear and feel good about.” And according to company sales, a lot of people are feeling good about themselves. With the boost of exhibiting for the first time at the 2012 International Christian Retail Show in Orlando, Fla., Halle Joy closed the year expecting to more than double its sales. The booth maintained heavy traffic throughout the show. “We weren’t sure what to expect,” Slaughter said. “We came home with so many new friends and so many new orders. It was amazing. People were kind and patient as we tried to get everyone’s orders.” They’ve gotten the general market’s attention too. In February, Halle Joy was named “The Brand to Watch for 2012” by Giftbeat, a leading gift magazine. According to Slaughter, branding is really what sets this new company apart from other jewelry and accessory companies, some who have been in business for much longer than Halle Joy. “We are trying to create a lifestyle brand with collections that tell a story,” Slaughter said. “Bags coordinate with jewelry and attract customers who are familiar with general market brands such as Prada or Vera Bradley. We offer a broader idea with a brand that a company that specializes in one thing can’t do.”
Praiseworthy Products While branding is a newer concept to the Slaughters, fashion is not. Just out of college in 1976, the husband and wife duo launched their own chain of shoe stores in Texas. They successfully grew the company, added accessories to the mix in the mid-90s before selling out in 2005 with the idea of starting the Halle Joy brand. Next, the couple designed and manufactured women’s accessories for charities and nonprofit groups before moving to independent direct sales through the company’s website in 2010. When people started asking them why they were creating products for everyone else, the idea for a wholesale business was born. In 2011, the company began a new direction with its retail venture by testing the general-market waters at shows in Dallas and Atlanta. The company’s name serves two purposes. The two words—Halle and Joy— are shared by two of their granddaughters. Joy also represents what the company hopes to spread across the world through the company’s products. Halle is short for hallelujah. “We knew as soon as the named rolled off our lips that that’s what we needed to call it,” Slaughter said. “It represented what our product was and how that we wanted to help people around the world.” The brand is for people that love owning and wearing beautiful things. “Customers have something that they love to wear, but it also has a story associated with it,” Slaughter said “Every component of every collection is inspired by the greatest story ever told.” Each of the 150 items in eight collections contains the “HJ” logo, a hangtag that describes the collection and a scripture that brings it to life. Best-selling collections include: “Grace” (denim and nylon bags embroidered with their signature heart along with heart jewelry); “Hope” (cross designs embroidered in nylon along with cross jewelry); and “Virtue” (a collection of bags and jewelry with the fruit of the Spirit).
Halle Joy owners Steve and Brenda Slaughter pose with their family.
This Peaceful Heart necklace is part of Halle Joy’s “Virtue Collection” of fashion jewelry.
‘Not In-Your-Face’ As the story behind the product gets shared, the company continues to grow. “Hope, grace and virtue are stalwarts of the Christian faith,” Slaughter said. “In Christian bookstores and hospital gift shops—where we are seeing the greatest growth—retailers understand these and know to sell the story to customers and display them effectively.” Each collection includes two handbags, two necklaces and an assortment of earrings, bracelets, key chains and key fobs. Jewelry retails from $20 to $100 and handbags from $40 to $60. People like the wild animal (zebra and giraffe) prints in the Noah Collection, but it is harder to understand the story of God’s faithfulness. “Halle Joy is not an in-your-face Christian brand,” Slaughter said. “People that don’t
get it still think it is beautiful and are exposed to the story that is on each hangtag.” Packaging is a great asset at retail. “We are designing it more and more so that retailers just have to unpack it and sit it on the shelf,” Slaughter said, adding that his time as a retailer helped him understand what is needed to help with sell-through. The jewelry comes gift-boxed with clear covers ready for gift-giving. Effective merchandising aids include signage and shelf markers that explain each collection. Slaughter is also proactive in using social media to get the company’s message out to consumers. The website (www.hallejoy.com) includes a short video that describes the company’s mission. When time permits and details are posted on Facebook about a particular collection or product, the Slaughters have seen a spike in interest and ultimately sales. They also use Facebook to update customers on ways that their dollars have served to fund specific projects. Slaughter travels to China four to six times a year to work with a manufacturing facility there. “Our key contact is a believer and it is enjoyable to work together,” he said. “We are able to keep our pricing down and pass it along to customers.” To help with efficiency in the U.S., the five-employee family business is moving from Fort Worth to Dallas to be near a thirdparty distribution company. Slaughter’s vision for the company is to have retailers create Halle Joy shops inside their stores. He believes stores in the Southeast and Southwest, where sales are highest, have the greatest chance of success. He has also not ruled out standalone Halle Joy stores in the future. “We anticipate moving forward with great product for years to come,” he added. igm
RHONDA SHOLAR has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She passes on her love of writing by teaching in elementary schools and summer camps.
february 2013 in s pir a tion a l
gif t m art 13
Keeping up with the gift world New personnel, partnership and product make giftware news Scanning recent happenings in the gift world, we see an important new hire that could bode well for the expansion of Divinity Boutique, a fashion jewelry company launch and the introduction of a key partnership. Learn more in our gift news roundup: Cook, Kerusso, African American Expressions and Gospel Light.
semi-precious stones and other media, to create fashionable necklaces, crosses and more.
New Company Pro-life Partnership Key Hire Susan Paulson has joined Divinity Boutique as key account and international sales manager. Paulson has represented companies such as David C
PRAY, an offshoot of Cathedral Art, combines metals, jewels,
Tapestry Productions has announced a partnership with
LifeWay Christian Resources to present new artwork from Ron DiCianni, Before I Formed You in the Womb. The initial product offering in LifeWay stores will include signed, numbered, limited-edition paper fine-art prints, open-edition paper prints and bookmarks. Tapestry has committed to donate a significant percentage of the proceeds to the new Before I Formed You Foundation. igm
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