Jul 6, 2015
Easley’s Fun Shop

Spotlight On: Phoenix

Four generations in the ‘big yellow building’ still a Phoenix fun spot

With a history steeped in family fun, Easley’s Fun Shop in Phoenix is where the celebrations won’t be slowing any time soon. With four generations contributing to its retail history, what is “affectionately referred to as ‘the big yellow building’ on McDowell Road,” according to co-owner Debbie Easley, is seeing a bright future that continues to blossom in inventory, rentals and community presence.

Evolution by the era

When Easley’s opened in 1947, Bert Easley, a vaudeville magician, stocked the store with magic and novelty products. With a history spanning four generations, the Easley family has been witnesses to the evolution of the party industry and has been adapting fast along with it.

“In the ’60s, the merchandise mix included Don Post masks, capes and box costumes. In the early ’80s we started renting costumes,” recalled Carol Easley, Debbie’s mother and company president. “Halloween was shifting from a children’s holiday to and adult holiday. In the early ’90s, we knew that Party City was in California and (would) most likely be coming to Arizona.”

With Easley’s foresight into the implications corporations can have on the future success of small businesses, Easley’s knew it had to evolve and form its identity in a way that a corporate entity could not.

“Not having the space to compete with the large inventory that big-box stores carry, we decided to carry more costume accessories in place of increased paper goods,” Carol said. “When (Party City) came, most mom-and-pop party stores closed.”

Now closing in on seven decades in business, Easley’s continues to specialize its merchandise to offer customers products that would be hard to find elsewhere. “Our sheer variety of quality products and our specially trained staff set us apart,” Debbie said. “We’re always ready to offer suggestions on how to perfect your costume. Our makeup department stocks the complete line of Ben Nye makeup along with select products from Mehron, Graftobian, Kryolan and Cinema Secrets. We concern ourselves with providing the highest quality products, something that big-box stores don’t take the time to do.”

Rental results

Many retailers are finding the overhead costs of rentals difficult to maintain these days. The cleaning, storage and general maintenance of costume rentals can seem costly, but Easley’s proactive approach to inventory maintenance and a people-person attitude is what the Easley family credits their rental success with.

“Rentals are definitely more profitable but they are more work,” Debbie said. “They look so much better than the packaged costume and the level of customer service that goes along with rental versus sales is so much better. You get to know your customer, and then see them again when they return. Rental customers are guaranteed repeat customers.”

Carol explained that as high quality costumes became more available on the market, “rental income surpassed costume sales.”

“We have sold and trimmed our rental inventory and maintain more upscale costumes and unique items,” Carol explained. “Our focus is on quality, not quantity. Our computer system tracks the number of rentals on each costume. Every year we review our rental inventory. If a costume isn’t renting, we take a closer look at it to find the reason. Sometimes it’s a matter of overstock due to a decrease in popularity.”

Carol cited a decrease in the number of white-jeweled rock star jumpsuits, which they replaced with new character costumes, such as “Avengers.”

Staying on top of what is trending is important to reflect in rental inventory as well. Animals, Santas and Easter bunnies are the most popular rentals at Easley’s, Debbie noted. But, she said it is also difficult to credit one category of costumes as the most popular: “A crazy story on the news, a famous person does something, a local bar decides to have a ’70s night – that is why we keep a nice variety in stock of rental costumes. During Halloween, I definitely advocate for selling, but every other month? Rent.”

One note of caution Carol shared was to always make sure you’re able to track the rental item.

“It takes more service and knowledge of inventory to find the right costume for the customer. You must also be careful that the customer has the proper identification so that the rental can be tracked,” Carol explained. “But, it’s like one of the oldest professions: sex. You have it, you sell it, you still have it!”

Creating community

While Easley’s develops and transitions from generation to generation and trend to trend, being involved in the community is one thing Debbie said makes Easley’s a Phoenix success.

“Down the road we’ll continue to see fourth generation expanding our web presence (and) following the trends,” she said, “while keeping Easley’s involved in the charities and local community that have made us such a success.”

Being charitable in your locale not only helps the community, it helps the community see your store as a resource.

Even if your sales are struggling, there are tons of ways to give back. Saving extra costume pieces and minimally damaged items are just a couple ideas of items that could be donated to the community, Debbie said.

“We have a couple of donation boxes and we just collect stuff in them all year, all the time – that way when someone comes in for a summer camp, or donation at Halloween, I usually have boxes of what is incomplete and unsellable to me, but treasures for them,” Debbie said.

As a retailer, many people likely reach out to you for donations or discounts, so putting aside a charity fund can be a useful way to allocate money.

“There are so many in need these days and EVERYONE asks for donations, discounts, etc., so I pick and choose what I do and who I help,” Debbie explained. “I always ask for requests in writing so I have time to look into who is asking if I don’t already know them … I love to work with people that are focused on children and special needs adults. I like the honesty of these groups and they appreciate anything you can do for them. We do tours through the store, (which is) not a big deal, but they love to put on heads, hats, crowns, things like that and take pictures. We have a magic department and I can only do about three tricks, but they love that.”

On top of reaching out to charity organizations, Debbie believes in reaching out to her community of retailers as well.

“I remember the days of sitting around with good friends and great shops, and sharing any and everything. There were no secrets, but it seems like these days we all think we are in competition with each other. We are all so wonderfully unique and have so much to offer to each other that I hope those days return,” Debbie said.

One way to stay connected with one another is to share information about each other’s shops if you don’t carry an item a customer is looking for. It creates great relationships and trust between your store, your customers and other local retailers.

“I’ve got a sheet on every counter with all of the other little independents like me that are here in the valley, and I tell people if I don’t have what they want, ‘Do me a favor – before you shop online, at least try to shop local and call these guys and see if they’ve got something that might work for you,'” Debbie said. “Isn’t that our whole goal? We all need to stick together so we can stay in business all year long.”

– By Leigh Jajuga, Assistant Editor

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