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Home News-Telegram Locally Owned Biz The importance of shopping local - Party Gear+ owners share their philosophy

The importance of shopping local - Party Gear+ owners share their philosophy

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When you first walk into Party Gear +, the family-owned business which replaced the Paper Factory on June 23, 2012, an almost overwhelming number of balloons greets you.

    One wall houses an assortment of birthday, thank you and get-well cards. The aisles are filled with hundreds of decorations from bridal and baby shower invitations to themed birthday party banners. On one aisle the amount of zebra, cheetah and leopard print décor could satisfy any young girl's dream birthday party. On another, a large plastic record might be useful for a high school reunion. Venturing deeper into the store, customers can find a variety of colored napkins, cups, plates and plastic ware to satisfy the theme of any celebration.
    Thad Gregory and his wife, Stacie, opened Party Gear + after the Paper Factory removed its Hopkins County operation in March 2012.
    Manager of the Paper Factory for 15 years, Gregory easily moved into his new role as owner of a party store.
    “In 2006, I decided it was time for a career change,” Gregory said. “In 2010, it was like I saw the writing on the wall. I started to say, I can do this. We can own our own store.”
    As manager, Gregory said he knew the Paper Factory would close even before the official word came to the employees. He also said the reasoning behind the closure was not the economy, but supply and demand. The larger company couldn't keep in stock what local customers wanted. Instead, they had to carry the products that were sent to them by their superiors.
    “The Paper Factory was owned by what we in retail would call a ‘big box chain’ party company,” Gregory said. “They couldn't deal with a small store.”
    “The supply that was here wasn't in demand,” he continued. “When we opened Party Gear +, I just kept listening to what the customers were looking for, and we tried to tailor it to that. A small business can adjust a little easier, where a big business has to go through the chains.”
    The Gregorys graduated from Texas A&M-Commerce. 
    Thad earned his bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in marketing, while Stacie  earned her bachelor's in accounting.
    They began working in the retail industry and met while working at Belk. They have been married 23 years and have two teenage children, 16-year-old Constance and 14-year-old Gideon. The children help their parents in the store.
    After a year in business, the couple said they have had to work through several issues. The biggest problem they have faced has been the shortage of helium worldwide.
    “It's been a challenge keeping helium on supply, but what we're learning is how to deal without it,” Thad said. “We have to either teach ourselves or use the web to learn how to make creations that don't require the use of helium.”
    Another issue they have faced has been retraining their customers. Many people expect the same products the Paper Factory carried to be available at Party Gear+, but the Gregorys said they can't get everything their customers expect.
     “Our customers were accustomed to the Paper Factory because it had been the same for so many years,” Stacie said. “We sell some of the same products so they think we just painted and changed things around. We have to explain that we can't get some items that bigger companies can get.”
    Despite the stress of owning a business, the Gregory family has seen no negative differences in their relationships with each other.
    “Our home life is better,” Thad said. “It's a different kind of stress. When you're working for the man, you've got a district manager, and he's got a boss, and he has a boss and you have to deal with other people's problems. Now, the customers are our bosses.”
    The Gregorys attribute their success to a combination of teamwork, knowledge of the industry and their relationship with Tracy Irby, counselor of the Small Business Development Center at Paris Junior College.
    “We’ve kind of leaned on Tracy,” Thad noted. “We don't pay her, but I've called her up for advice and she's been really cool about being helpful.”
    For small business owners, the couple gives two key pieces of advice: stay open and be willing to give time to your company.
    “Don't think that you're going to get rich overnight, and don't go into business to make money. Just go into it to make a living,” Thad said. “Stacie and I aren't wealthy; we don't expect to get independently wealthy from this. The number one thing is just to be open.
    “Be willing to give your time. Don't expect that you're gonna just own a business, hire someone to manage it ,and then you're gonna go off and do whatever. You've got to be involved.”
    Thad also said he and his wife seek to support local business, even buying their company shirts locally.
    “I know what it means to support a local business,” he explained. “We want people to tell us what services they offer and maybe they could help out and tell people what services we offer. Our money may not all be pooled together, but in reality, those of us that are local businesses are all in this together.
    “We have learned, in owning our own business, the importance of shopping local and keeping it local. It is unreal how important it is to a community to spend your money locally. That includes not buying on the web or not buying from a major chain. If you can get a product as an alternative locally, that's the better thing to do. It's gonna’ cost you more upfront, but in the long run it helps your community and the economy,” he concluded.
    Giving back is important to the couple. They agree their ultimate goal would be to give money to PJC or TAMU-C in gratitude for  their education.


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