It may seem like there’s a lot of options on the Internet, but whatever strikes your fancy online can be done better – and usually for a better price – downtown.
That’s a promise made by Julie Gunn, owner of Style, who hopes you’ll visit her shop when you’re looking for custom cards and invitations this holiday season. Style has artists on staff at its in-house design studio and an eclectic variety of gifts and décor, as well as a custom framing shop.
“If you’d asked us when we opened this business, we would’ve thought we’d be basically a framing business with some gifts here and there. It’s totally different now,” said Gunn, who’s amazed at how the shop has evolved to serve her customers since then.
“If you look back four and a half years, it’s all very consistent in listening to our customers tell us what they wish we would carry and trying to respond to that need, and it has taken a totally different direction than anything we had ever thought.”
That direction has included things like furniture and lighting – stuff customers used to buy out of town because they couldn’t find it in Kingsport. Framing is no longer the biggest part of the business, and custom design has taken off into a whole new dimension.
Style has become an example of how local and online businesses can feed off one another – and how it all comes back to a brick-and-mortar downtown shop with a strong local customer base.
Before Style absorbed The Paper Tree, a 13-year-old downtown business that’s being moved to a connecting storefront, most of its invitation business was in pre-designed, “boxed” items, said Gunn. But the proliferation of online craft sites has brought a big change: People don’t order out of books anymore.
“We started noticing a huge shift,” she said. “With Pinterest and Etsy, now everybody’s coming in with all these samples they’ve got and pictures on their phone, and they want to make ‘something like that,’ so it’s really changed into more of a craft business.”
To adapt to what customers are looking for, Gunn said, Style carved out a whole area of the store for design space set up to offer a special experience for customers who come to create custom-designed items.
Instead of hours spent alone poring over scattered, impersonal Internet sites, she said, a bride-to-be and her mother can spend the time here, bonding over real-life samples and sticky notes, with the guidance of expert design professionals who are eager to help them get the invitations just right.
“We do custom banners. We do all kinds of party favors. We do basically everything you can find on Pinterest or Etsy,” Gunn said. “We sew, we stamp, we do metal stuff, we do vinyl on glasses. Anything that anybody comes in for, we certainly will do our best at being able to provide it for them here.”
And unlike websites, Gunn said, Style is willing to work with customers to help them get the look they want in a way that fits within their budget.
“There’s a misperception out there that we’re more expensive; we’re not,” she said. “We just re-did our price structure to incorporate a lot more of our design features, and we thought we should compare ourselves to the Internet. We were always cheaper and sometimes way cheaper, especially when you get into custom work.”
The Internet has also broadened Style’s business in other ways. For example, clothing that’s going to be sold there in the near future will also go online via Instagram, allowing people to buy items from the local store electronically.
As it continues to evolve, Style is also looking to expand back into the realm that inspired its local success. A website is being developed to sell its made-in-Kingsport designs online.
Gunn said she’d like to invite everyone – especially those who haven’t been downtown in a while – to come and see not only what she has to offer at Style, but what all the new businesses have brought to revitalization.
“The downtown’s changed so much,” she said. “In the four and a half years that we’ve been here, a huge waiting list has developed for lofts, there are new restaurants coming downtown, and new businesses are coming in, and that’s all been pretty new since we moved down here. It’s been fun to be a part of, and it’s been fun to watch it grow.”