As a buyer at The Paper Store, the specialty gift shop chain based in Acton, Meg Anderson Lavoie selects merchandise she hopes will offer a one-stop shopping excursion, including collectibles, fashion accessories, stationery, books, gourmet foods, home decor, toys, and games.
“It’s all about timing — getting the right product at the right time, said Lavoie. She grew up watching her father, Bob Anderson, build the business from a single stationery store to a chain of 42 outlets in New England.
How do you manage such a diverse retail collection of products?
We carry familiar brands like Vera Bradley and Hallmark, but we layer these with third-party unbranded products as well as proprietary products developed over time. We set up our shops so we can execute in a very nimble way.
Who’s your target customer?
The typical shopper is a 35- to 65-year-old woman, probably a busy mom or working professional who wants to get some errands done and would rather not get stuck in a mall. Our stores do best when they’re located near a grocery store — it’s a convenience issue.
What drew you to this family business?
My sister and I are both buyers, with my brothers handling development, IT, e-commerce, and other aspects. I like to joke that my dad somehow got us all involved by asking us to help out for “just a couple of weeks.” I started in the books department and then began traveling to gift shows with my mom, who was also helping to manage the business.
What’s an example of how trends come and go?
There was a time when Webkinz — those toy stuffed animals with a playable online counterpart — were huge. But we had Webkinz too early and got out of them. Then sources started telling us to get back into it, so we did, and this time, sales were awesome.
Everyone guesses wrong. What did you think would be hot and busted?
Remember the rubber band craze last year, Silly Bandz? They were the fastest overnight hit, and we had fluorescent ones, animals, alphabet shapes, and more. Then all of a sudden schools started banning them, summer came, and the fad just hit the brakes. I’ve never seen anything die so fast.
People who love shopping would say you have a dream job. Do you agree?
A lot of people think being a buyer is just picking out the products, but it’s a lot of numbers and analysis. They’re shocked at the level of work we need to do.
I like to say that retail chooses you; you don’t choose retail.Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.