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VOL. 126 | NO. 20 | Monday, January 31, 2011

Purple Pickle Born From ‘Crazy’ Idea

SUSAN AGEE | Special to The Daily News

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Khristy Stephenson is all about survival.

Khristy Stephenson is owner of the Purple Pickle, a one-stop gift shop at 8295 Highway 178 in Olive Branch. The shop carries clothes and purses, home decor, unique picture frames and jewelry. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

The DeSoto County resident has owned DeSoto Paint and Design for 19 years. When the bottom dropped out in the construction business over the last two years, she and her husband, Johnny, adjusted by laying off staff, but were worried about holding onto their building.

Enter Khristy’s “crazy” idea about how to financially cover their overhead.

She wanted to open a specialty boutique. Her husband thought that was about the most impractical idea he’d ever heard. He teased her about it whenever he heard her talking about it to other people, and even came up with a name, born of sarcasm, for her venture. “You could call it ‘Puffer’s Purple Pickle,’” he said.

“Puffer” is Khristy Stephenson’s family nickname, and when Johnny used it to tease her, she turned it around by agreeing with him. She eliminated the “Puffer” but kept the rest, and The Purple Pickle was born. “He‘d say, ‘You don’t have to keep this up,’ but I was serious,” says Stephenson.

The first time Stephenson went to market, she was overwhelmed. Having never been in retail before, she had a lot to learn and was glad later that she’d chosen the smaller Chicago market as opposed to the Atlanta market for her first trip. That first trip didn’t yield a lot of purchases, but it started her on the path to educating herself about the retail world.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what market is like,” she said. “It’s so overwhelming. I came back home and researched the product lines and then didn’t go back until July.”

Her shop contains baby items, gift items ranging from candles to journals to jewelry, unique clothing and specialty food items. Besides the Atlanta and Chicago markets, she attends the Mississippi Market, which is for vendors in Mississippi who handcraft their wares. She also sells items made by her own family, including paintings by her 19-year-old daughter and woodwork by her husband. Some of the tables that hold merchandise in the store were handmade by Stephenson and her husband.

“When customers can tell it’s handmade and that you’ve put a lot of work into it, it sells faster,” says Stephenson.

While they haven’t done any paid advertising, Stephenson says they have taken advantage of the exposure gained by low-cost alternatives like craft fairs and making donations to benefit auctions.

The Purple Pickle also has its own Facebook page and that has helped accelerate the “word of mouth” advertising that is essential for new small businesses. New customers come in and are amazed at her prices, as well as the volume of inventory she puts in the front half of the construction business’s building. The store is located at 8295 Highway 78 in Olive Branch. It’s not a prime location for retail, so Stephenson tries to make the drive worth it by keeping her prices low and her inventory as unique as possible.

Both Stephenson and her husband grew up in construction-related businesses, so it was natural for them to continue on that path. But that experience has also taught them the hard realities of the business: It’s either really busy or not busy at all; there’s no middle ground. Their last good run defied the seven-year cycle that Stephenson had observed in the past and lasted for 12 years. But then 2008 and 2009 came around and things slowed down to the point to where they had let go of all but one office employee. They see the relationship with their contractors as a partnership and do everything they can to keep them busy, even if it means taking jobs where they make very little profit.

Stephenson is optimistic about the future of their construction business, but in the interim, she’s enjoying seeing her “crazy” idea flourish.

She tells how on a recent Saturday the store was packed and her husband was at the register all day. When they were leaving that evening, he turned to her and said, ‘You’re going to be famous. You’re going to be known as the Pickle Lady.’”

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