How We Transformed Our Store From An Empty Box to A Fun Retail Space On A Small Budget


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When you walk into a shop–not a grocery store or big box store, but a boutique or mom and pop shop, or specialty shop–what do you notice first besides the merchandise? The lighting? The fixtures? The way it smells? Or maybe the way it makes you feel? Is it welcoming? Cozy? Bright and exciting? Sleek and modern? We’ve all been in stores that make us want to come back, and unfortunately, we’ve also been in stores that we have no interest in going back to. Maybe it’s messy, or disorganized. Maybe it smells funky, Maybe the store is fine, but the vibe is off. Building a brick and mortar space entails a lot more than just putting products on shelves and opening the doors!

When we moved into our current space, it had been vacant for 7-8 years and had previously been a Hallmark store. When the previous tenants left, they removed their fixtures, spackled the holes, and split. We got a big empty rectangle that desperately needed paint, but was in otherwise great condition. In comparison, the space that we had occupied for three years had mold and asbestos, holes in the flooring, half the light fixtures didn’t work, the windows and floor shook when a truck went by, and the floor was rotting in the back room. Oh–and the back door was held closed by a large wooden beam since the lock barely worked. Can we say upgrade? Oh yeah.

While I would love to have afforded new fixtures that actually match, wood floors, and great lighting, that wasn’t possible. Besides, the mix of fixtures that we have is fun and quirky and suits our style! Someday maybe we can get the floors and the lights, but in the meantime, we kept the basic but durable carpeting and the fluorescent lights.

The first thing that we did was buy paint–a LOT of paint. We chose a super pale gray that changes the look of the walls depending on the time of day and what kind of light is coming in the windows. Sometimes it’s gray, sometimes it’s blue, sometimes it’s lavender. It’s magic paint!!! Seriously–it’s just a nice neutral that looks great with the fixtures and the merchandise. The old store was painted eggplant. I loved it, but it was dark and didn’t showcase the stuff we were trying to sell very well.

Once the walls were finished and the store lost that musty, unused smell, it was on to building the stage. We host music, storytelling, Celtic nights, meetings, and other events, so we wanted a dedicated stage area in the back of the store. We had risers set up in the front corner of the old store that worked alright, but this is so much better.

half finshed stage

We bought sheets of paneling at Home Depot that look like pallet wood and nailed them to the back wall. See what the right side looked like before the paneling went up? That’s what the whole store looked like before we painted.

finished stage

We also bought 2×6 boards and plywood to build the stage, and covered it with thin carpeting. We painted the door in chalkboard paint to blend in better with the paneling. The plan eventually is to have a local artist decorate it, which is why we went with chalk paint instead of plain old black paint. The sign was actually the exterior sign from our first location, that the city said we couldn’t use at the second location. We planted it in the middle of a sheet of plywood and covered it with vinyl records (NOTE: no playable vinyl was used in the making of this sign). Voila! Stage sign. With the help of some strong friends, we got it hoisted up onto the wall and attached it with strong fasteners.

Then we moved on to figuring out where all the fixtures were going to go. We have a collection of fixtures that we bought new, things we bought secondhand, things we were given, a few family pieces, and things that people just dropped off out of the blue. We even have an old hospital gurney holding crates of records! It’s perfect for holding the weight of the albums. Luckily, all we had to buy for the new space was gridwall for the art wall, and wooden crates for the records (we upgraded from cardboard boxes and it looks so much better). Even though we’re in a bigger space, we didn’t need to buy much because we inherited some awesome fixtures from a store that had gone out of business and got a some from a friend who had renovated her store.

These photos show roughly what the store looks like today, a year after moving in, though we’ve added more art to the walls.

The other side of the room holds vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, comics, our sitting areas, and the register area. It also has our featured artist of the month section, which is in the front corner of the store.

So that’s it! I wrote this post because I LOVE looking at store fixtures and signage and displays on Pinterest. It’s great to see a beautiful store that was put together by an interior designer and looks amazing, but most independent store owners don’t have the same resources that chain stores do. I like taking inspiration from what others have done on a shoestring, and I hope that what we’ve done can inspire someone else the same way!

If you find yourself in Williamsburg, Virginia, come by and say hello! Retro Daddio is located at 6610 V Mooretown Road, Williamsburg, VA 23188. (757) 220-1876 or check us out at




January Convention Report: IllogiCon & MarsCon

January con programs

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I usually vend at two to three conventions each month. Science fiction, horror, comic cons, library cons, literary cons–I love all of them. In January, I vended at two sci-fi conventions: IllogiCon in Raleigh, NC and MarsCon in Williamsburg, VA.

IllogiCon is in its eighth year and was held January 11-13 at the Embassy Suites Raleigh Durham/Brier Creek and the Hampton Inn next door. Gaming and author readings were held at the Hampton and the rest of the programming was at the Embassy Suites. This year’s theme was Pirates vs Robots. It’s a small convention, with approximately 350 attendees and a strong literary emphasis. There were authors everywhere–it was fabulous!

illogicon dealer room

The dealer room is medium-sized, and the dealer room coordinator is awesome (that’s my booth in the center of the photo–prime real estate!) Merchandise included books, jewelry, stickers, art, steampunk gear, laser-engraved chopsticks, wands, adorable clay creations, and more.


Guests of Honor included authors Annalee Newitz and Tracy Deonn Walker, and musical artists Valentine Wolfe (AMAZING, by the way…)


Other entertainment included Metricula and the League of Extraordinary Belly Dancers (both pictured above), a costume contest, burlesque show, and more.


There was even a marriage proposal between two of the longtime convention staffers (and really wonderful people! Congrats Avery and Alex!)


Panels included lots of writing and publishing discussions, readings, LGBTQIA in fandom panels (this year, the badges had a space for you to fill in your preferred pronouns, which I thought was kind of cool–hadn’t seen that before), talks about Star Trek, various films, gaming, comics, disabilities in fandom, and so much more! There is also a charity auction, a con suite that provides snacks for the attendees, a dedicated gaming room, and of course the vendor room.

jett and chris

This is a great convention to kick off the year. It’s small and laid back and has a family feel to it (not just family friendly, but as if everyone is family). If you don’t have friends in attendance already, you’ll make new ones over the course of the weekend. Everyone I encountered was super nice! This was my second year vending at IllogiCon, but I hadn’t been able to vend the two previous years since it was the same weekend as MarsCon. They’re not supposed to overlap again for a number of years, so I’ll definitely be back!

january booth setup

MarsCon is in its 29th year and was held at the Doubletree Resort in Williamsburg  January 18-20. This year’s theme was The Land of the Faerie and the decorating team did an amazing job of transforming spaces into fairyland! MarsCon had approximately 1450 attendees this year and while it has a sci-fi/fantasy focus, tons of fandoms are represented.

There is a huge dealer room and a smaller artist/author alley, as well as a large art room where works up for auction were displayed. There were books, games and supplies, elf ears, steampunk gear, crocheted goods, wands, potions, etched glass, pillows, adorable clay dragons, purses and totes, leather goods, corsets, art, jewelry, apparel, and so much more. MarsCon has a really well-rounded room that offers something for everyone, at a variety of price points.

Guests of honor this year included authors Seanan McGuire and Catherynne Valente, artist Meredith Dillman, game designer and editor Carinn Seabolt, and Musical artists Valentine Wolfe. Yes–there is some crossover in guests at these two conventions, so if you miss them at one convention, you have a chance to see them at the other!


Other entertainers included Mikey Mason (who is freaking hilarious–do yourself a favor and check him out!), Metricula, The Misbehavin’ Maidens, a burlesque show, filking, Flabbergast the Wizard, Luna-C and their own brand of geek humor theatre, White Plectrum, the Blibbering Humdingers, and more.


There was also a costume contest, a charity auction, a con suite that feeds three meals a day plus snacks to the attendees, children’s programming, a craft corner, water quidditch, mermaid swimming lessons, steampunk teapot racing, a jamboree with carnival games, music, etc, Nerf gun wars, a dedicated gaming room, video game room, anime room, and SO MUCH MORE. Dozens of panels on every topic you can think of, discussions with the guests of honor, readings, workshops, a vaudeville show, trivia challenges, a Doctor Who Tea Party—there is seriously no possible way to be bored at this convention! This was my fifth year vending at MarsCon, and I think I’ve been on the staff for three years? I just started helping with stuff and ended up on staff! It’s definitely one of my favorite conventions of the year!


Please check out the websites and Facebook pages for both conventions–you need to start planning your cosplay for next year! and https:// Dates for 2020 should be January 10-12 for IllogiCon and will be January 17-19 for MarsCon.

Psst..that’s me waving in the background. Travis said “Hey Jen–wave!”

Photo credits: IllogiCon staff, James Rippe at Ripptowne Photography, and Steven Lee Munger.




Five Simple Ways to Support Your Favorite Small Business


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Since we moved our brick and mortar store across town a year ago, I’ve had tons of people coming into the new location saying “We found you! We thought you had gone out of business!” Thankfully, we didn’t go out of business, but it made me think about ways that anyone can help support and promote a business that they love.

ONE: Like or follow their social media pages. Almost all businesses are online these days and most have a social media presence. It seems like a no-brainer, but follow their pages! I have to wonder how many of the people that thought my store closed, checked Facebook, or Instagram, or Trip Advisor, or Yelp, or Google. If you follow a social media page, you’re more likely to know about events, news, sales, or big news, like relocations or closures.

TWO: Share their social media posts. Again–very simple and takes almost no time. If your favorite store is having a sale, or a concert, or a party, or is sharing some other news, share it with your friends. The more people that see the post, the more likely it is to be successful. Besides, you might just convert your friends into fans of the business as well!

THREE: Leave reviews on Google. Leave reviews on Trip Advisor. Leave reviews on Yelp. Leave reviews on Facebook. SPREAD THE WORD. Let people know they exist and that you love them. Let people know WHY you love them. Use specific examples so that other people will get excited about the same things that you love!

FOUR:  Attend their events. Buy tickets. Tell your friends to buy tickets. Attend their free events, but not ONLY their free events. We work really hard to bring a variety of interesting programs to our store–music, storytelling, holiday events, burlesque– and rarely break even after paying the performers. Performers don’t work for free–supporting them means spending money. If you want interesting programs to continue, the store has to pay for them, and you have to buy tickets. If there’s no return on investment, there will be fewer offerings. If we consistently lose money by putting on these shows, there will be no future programming. It sucks, but that’s the reality of the situation.

FIVE:  This seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but if you want a business to stay IN business, shop there. Shop regularly. Not necessarily every week, but regularly. Need a holiday gift? Anniversary gift? Birthday gift? Shop there. Need a greeting card? Shop there. Need a secret Santa gift, stocking stuffer, or little surprise present? Shop there. Make it your go-to place. As an add-on to that, when people ask you “Where did you get that?” tell them. Let them know some of your favorite things. Have friends who like the same things that you do? Tell them! Become a brand ambassador for the places and things that you love.

Obviously, since I own a shop, these points are skewed toward a retail store, but the same applies to any kind of business–restaurant, food truck, hair salon, pet sitter, groomer, auto mechanic/detailer, whatever. The point is the same–shop, share, and show up.



How to Create A Retail Credit Sheet for Your Small Business

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When I got hired for my first retail buyer job, it was for a museum store at a brand new historical attraction. I was the buyer and store manager and there was NO ONE else on staff with retail experience. I had no idea how to go about requesting terms from wholesale companies and the museum’s management didn’t want the buyer to have a credit card, as is standard for most companies. Luckily, I had some awesome wholesale reps who walked me through the process and I’m going to share what they taught me with you!

You have a few options for paying for merchandise from a wholesaler. You can pay with a credit card, you can ask for a total and prepay with a company check, you can SOMETIMES pay cash on delivery, or you can submit a purchase order and pay on account.  Most companies (though not all) offer retailers terms known at Net 30. This means that you have 30 days from the date that the merchandise ships to pay the invoice.

Many wholesale companies have their own credit application that they want you to fill out, but most just request that you send your credit sheet. Also, when you attend gift shows to find new product lines, you’ll need a stack of credit sheets (preferably with your business card attached) to streamline the ordering process. So how do you create one? In many ways, creating a credit sheet is like creating a resume for your business.

At the top of the page, list your business name, address, and telephone number. I then break mine down into categories. I list my company’s mission statement so the wholesaler has an idea of what Retro Daddio is all about.  I then list the administrative staff.  Currently, mine just has my name, title, email address, and phone number.  Depending on the size of your business, you’ll want to list your CEO, Director of Retail, Buyer, Accounts Payable officer, etc.  and their contact phone number and/or email address.

Next, list the business’ Federal Tax ID and state sales tax ID number.  Next up is your bank reference.  Include the name, address, and telephone number of your bank, your banker’s name if you have a specific person that you work with, and your account number.  Because I’ve had my identity stolen and my accounts hacked more than once, I prefer to not make it any easier than absolutely necessary for anyone to gain access to my information, so I only provide the last four digits of my account number on my credit sheet. Only once, have I been asked for the entire account number, and I gave it over the telephone to a well-established company that I trusted.

The last section that you absolutely need to include is Trade References.  List at least three companies that you already have Net 30 terms with. Don’t have terms with anyone yet?  No worries. Once you’ve ordered and paid with a credit card a few times, most companies will allow you to establish terms.  They might give you a relatively low limit at first, but you’ll have credit.  After you’ve ordered and paid your invoices on time for a few months, use these companies as your trade references.  Include the company name, address, telephone number, fax number if they have one, and your account number.

I also list my social networking links–my online store/website address, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. You can also add LinkedIn, Twitter, or other accounts if you choose. It’s entirely up to you whether you want to include this section or not–I do because if the wholesaler chooses to check them out, they’ll see that we’ve had an online presence for several years and they can check out our photos to see similar product lines that their products will mesh with.

I definitely recommend that you keep the sheet to one page. As I said earlier, if you attend a gift show and meet with wholesale reps, you’ll want to have a stack of credit sheets with your business card attached and a copy of your tax ID certificate stapled to the back. These can get heavy when you’re toting around a stack of them AND catalogs, AND business cards that absolutely everyone is going to hand to you, AND line sheets, AND samples, AND whatever else reps hand you to entice you to order their products. Do yourself a favor and keep the weight to a minimum!