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“Betty is the owner,” Bill said. “I’m the floor sweeper and polisher.”
Vendor Outlet Mall opened Oct. 1 at 204 Grand Ave., site of the former Grand Beauty Supply. The Browns took over the building in August and spent a couple of months cleaning and getting the large space ready.
“Lamar County has a lot of people who are very talented,” Bill said. “They manufacture everything from home décor to quilts and blankets. We want them to have a place to sell their products.”
The outlet mall works like this: A person comes in with something to sell and rents a spot at a cost of about $1 per square foot. A number is assigned to that vendor, who brings in the product to sell. The rest is up to the store, from sales to sales tax.
“We’re already getting a big variety in here,” Betty said.
That variety includes electronics, clothes, books, toys, home décor, Mary Kay and more.
At the end of the month, each vendor gets a check for the amount sold. Vendors Outlet Mall charges no commission on sales; their money comes solely from rent. Their price is competitive. A vendor moving her operation from Greenville to the Browns’ store has been paying $2.50 a square foot.
“So far, it looks pretty good,” Bill said. “We had one vendor Oct. 1, and we have 11 now.”
Four more are expected by this weekend. At this rate, Bill said the mall could well be full before Christmas. Little wonder as many antique stores and similar businesses downtown are already full.
“One lady said she looked all over town, and she couldn’t find any place to rent a spot,” said Cindy Davis, who serves as the mall manager. “I see it as an extension of Main Street. We’re offering a lot to the public, and we’re offering people a place to sell their products.”
Most small merchants can’t afford to rent an entire building to sell a few things; an outlet mall such as this offers them only the space they need.
Another option many of these vendors take is to work out of flea markets, Bill said, but there’s a lot of work involved – loading up, setting up at the market, staying there all day, then taking things down and loading up again to go home. Vendors Outlet Mall saves them the headache.
“You’re inside,” he said. “You’re protected from the elements. It saves a lot of wear and tear on people.”
The Browns’ own backgrounds are quite different from their current venture. Bill worked for years as a law enforcement officer for Gregg County and the city of Gladewater. After that, he started his own business offering investigation and security services. From 2006 to about 2010, he worked as a legal fact investigator for defense attorneys specializing in capital murder cases.
His wife helped him on many of those ventures. Betty is a licensed clinical social worker.
“It was time to do something different,” she said.
The outlet mall is certainly different, and it might take some time to really get rolling, but the Browns seem to be well on their way.
“Nothing is accomplished overnight,” Bill said. “It takes awhile. I think we’re being recognized by local merchants and vendors very well.”