December 2008

Palmettoes: Where Shopping is a Party!

Author: frank dunne, jr. | Photographer: photography by anne

Remember the days before you became a local, and you came to Hilton Head Island once or twice a year to play golf or tennis, go to the beach, fish, kayak, drink at the Tiki Hut, and make life miserable for the drivers behind you in the traffic circles? That’s what the island is here for, right?

Imagine then, the challenge that the proprietor of a local apparel store would face in persuading you to wedge shopping into that list of things to do. Dennis Jaworski and Chuck Hall of Palmettoes in Sea Pines Center have come up with a formula to do just that. As the store’s tagline—Fine Apparel & Accessories for Fun Loving Men & Women—suggests, it’s all about making shopping a fun activity rather than a distraction. Call it “destination shopping.”

“People who come to Hilton Head have a multitude of choices of things to do with their hours during the day. If they will give us some time to come shop in our store; we feel that we owe it to them to make sure that they have a fun experience, and going shopping will fall into their routine whenever they come to visit,” said Jaworski. “If they have a really great time when they’re here with us, which most of our customers do, they become family members here.”

So the concept is to put this idea in someone’s head when planning a visit: “I’m going to Hilton Head to play golf, go to the beach, and go shopping at Palmettoes. “That’s what we’re after,” said Jaworski. “We want to be the destination when they go shopping.”

Jaworski and Hall have created a distinctive shopping experience to keep their tourist clientele…strike that…to keep their “guests” coming back. “You want to keep the quality at a certain level, but at the same time have a friendly atmosphere. We tell all the girls in here: when people come in the store, you want to greet them when they walk in the door, but you don’t want to overrun them,” said Hall. “I want them to relax, and that’s why when we designed the store, we made it feel like you’re in a home with the Turkish rugs, the chandeliers and the couches. The main thing is we want you to feel comfortable.”

Palmettoes adds a layer of intrigue by maintaining an exclusive, almost idiosyncratic merchandise mix. The guys have two basic rules when buying: Never buy more than three of an item, and never repeat an item. “We like to do special collections that range from medium- to high-end, and when something is gone, it’s gone. That makes it special for the individual, because you’re not likely to see it on the street,” said Hall.

“You’ll never see ‘yourself’ coming or going on the island!” added Jaworski. “The same thing holds true for our jewelry. We have five local or semi-local artists who make all of our jewelry. They’re all one-of-a-kind pieces, and all genuine stones or silver or gold. We never repeat it. We leave it up to the artists to be creative and do what they want, and they’re really good about creating pieces that represent us and our style.”

It may seem ironic that a large portion of store’s core business comes from people who do not live in the local community, but the facts back it up as Jaworski explains: “The strength of those out-of-town customers is that they become even more regular than our regulars who live here. Prior to my coming here, there was no effort to develop the guest trade. But when I got the figures and saw how much of the business was coming from out-of-towners (we know for a fact that over 80 percent of our repeat business is out-of-towners), I thought it would make sense to go after more Island visitors and make that the crux of the business.”

“It’s because we’ve somehow instilled in them that they can have a good time and a great shopping experience whenever they come here. That’s how our party-type atmosphere began. We put a bar in the store, which we continue with today. It’s that party atmosphere that we try to develop. and it’s worked well for us.”

And they throw a lot of parties at Palmettoes. Whether it’s a trunk show, an anniversary, holiday cocktail party, or any other occasion, there’s always good food and drink and a jazz pianist tickling the ivories on the store’s baby grand.

“I’ll never forget the story that a customer told one time,” said Jaworski. “This lady told her husband that he had to make sure he wasn’t busy one night because there’s a party at Palmettoes. He looked at her and said, ‘Party at Palmettoes? So what?’ She brought him to that party, and afterwards he came up to me and said, ‘Now I know what my wife was talking about, and I’ll never miss one again!’”

Underneath all of the fun and frivolity, Palmettoes is a retail business, though, and a retail business is a people-focused endeavor. If the customers are going to feel like family, it has to start with the staff. All members of the Palmettoes team; Jaworski, Hall, Maxine Newkirk, Maryrose Lucarelli, and Liz Hull, have been with the store since its inception as Palmettoes or longer. This includes Zack, Hall’s 14-year old standard poodle. “Some people come in just to see Zack, and we’re okay with that,” Hall said.

Is there a typical Palmettoes customer? Not really, according to Jaworski, who describes the clientele as a cross section. “We have customers who are 20 years old and we have customers who are 80 years old. It’s the 20-year-old who wants to look grown up and the 80-year-old who wants to look young and hip. I would say that the age group we buy for ranges from 30 to 60,” said Jaworski, adding that women account for about 70 percent of the store’s business. “When we go to market, both Chuck and I take five people with us in our heads. So we’re basically buying for ten customers—actually twelve because we’re also taking ourselves, and we draw on our own tastes.”

Should it happen that a guest does not find something to meet their need, Palmettoes strives to remain a good neighbor to the island’s other establishments. “We like to work with everybody on the island,” said Hall. “We know we’re not the only store on the island, and we want to help you find what you want. So we’ll send you to another store and say, ‘Tell ’em we sent you.’”

What’s that? Oh, of course…the name. You’ve been wondering why Palmettoes is spelled with an “e” before the “s” instead of an apostrophe. The answer is, toes, as in the digits at the end of your foot. The original plan was for Palmettoes to be a shoe store. “Our original thought was just to do shoes and handbags,” said Jaworski, “but customers convinced us that there was too much need for a shop that does apparel as well.”

So get your toes moving and check out Palmettoes. It is located in the Shops at Sea Pines Center, 71 Lighthouse Road, Suite 414. Or call (843) 363-6800. Ask for Zack.

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