Nicki Pierce loves Christmas ornaments. She remembers the first Hallmark ornament she bought in 1981 called “Topsy-Turvy Tunes” featuring a little possum hanging upside down. The Johnson County woman soon was hooked on collecting ornaments.
“I learned you could go back and purchase a past ornament you may have missed,” said Pierce. “I became more interested in the secondary market and how you could find them.”
After years of collecting, Pierce opened her own business in 1996 called Hooked on Ornaments. The Olathe-based business specializes in re-selling the tree decorations from the Hallmark Collection.
“I never intended to open a business,” Pierce said. “I had the opportunity to buy a large collection from an estate, keep the ones I wanted and sell the others through garage sales. I sold enough to get my money back … and I thought it was a one-time deal, but I had so much fun I kept at it. It grew so fast that I left my corporate job to do this full time.”
Hooked on Ornaments has more than 100,000 pieces in its inventory with ornaments being sold only through its website. Pierce has a total of five full-time employees and some part-time help in the holiday season. The ornaments, the majority of which are Hallmark designs, range in price from a few dollars up to $1,000; Pierce said the ornaments seldom cost more than $300.
Q: Where do you get the ornaments?
Pierce does all of the purchasing for Hooked on Ornaments extensive inventory.
“I buy direct from manufacturers and collectors or I buy out competitors,” she said. “We don’t buy directly from Hallmark because they won’t sell directly to us.”
Pierce does buying year ‘round to keep her inventory up to date. The company sells a few additional items “that complement and fit in with the Hallmark ornaments we collect,” Pierce said. Products include items from Overland Park-based Demdaco.
Q: Isn’t yours a seasonal business?
The busiest time of year is October through the holidays, she said, so she and her two sons started a second business, Big Time Cruisers.
“They sell bicycles that are fun, with wide tires and retro styles,” Pierce said. The business is based in the same building as Hooked on Ornaments, and its sales are primarily through the Internet.
“But they are getting more walk-in business,” she said. The sons are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the bicycle business.
“This is a way to bring in more cash during the off season and keep employees,” Pierce said.
Q: How did you get started?
Pierce started the ornament business from her home. She outsourced her website to a woman who was a fellow collector but who lived out of state.
“We started a relationship in the beginning that continues today,” Pierce said,
Over time, Pierce reached out to the Olathe Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center for advice.
Eight years ago, the business had grown so much that Pierce decided it was time to move it out of her home. Hooked on Ornaments first landed in space at 92nd Street and Quiviria Road. Just two years ago, Pierce decided to move again.
“We were able to purchase a warehouse space in Olathe with 9,000 square feet,” she said.
Customers seldom visit the warehouse with the exception of a twice a year sale to refresh inventory.
Hooked on Ornaments has increased its sales every year, but Pierce said there is more competition than ever for business.
“Ebay is a huge factor,” she said. “There are a lot of sellers that do what we do on a smaller scale.”
Q: How do you compete?
“We offer extremely good customer service,” Pierce said. Hooked on Ornaments provides its customer photos of the items as well as video if it is a moveable ornament. Each item has a detailed description.
“We compete by offering a rewards program where they get points with their purchases, special sales, gift wrap, gifts with purchases and free shipping with a minimum purchase,” she said. “We also have ‘Top Ten Reasons’ to buy from us on our website.”
Orders for ornaments have come from all over the world, said Pierce, including “remote countries and islands in the South Pacific we have to look up.” The company does a considerable amount of business with customers in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“Being Internet only makes the whole world your customers, and that’s what has allowed us to grow,” she said.
Q: After almost two decades in the ornament business, are there still challenges?
“Keeping up with the ever-changing technology and the decline of collectibles,” Pierce said. “The Internet has driven the price of collectibles down, but we’ve been lucky that people still like ornaments.”
Pierce also works hard to keep her overhead costs down.
“We’re always looking for better ways to do things,” she said.
Pierce doesn’t collect ornaments the same way she did before her business but says: “I continue to love the ornaments. I used to decorate to the hilt during the holidays but I don’t now. There isn’t time. I get to enjoy them 365 days a year.”
Pierce likes the customer contact, as well.
“I enjoy the people who collect ornaments,” she said. “It’s a really fun thing. They buy something they really want and that has meaning to them.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Hooked on Ornaments
ADDRESS: 1380 S. Enterprise, Olathe