In 1998, before Pinterest, before anyone ever posted one word to a design blog, or knew what the word 'repurposed' meant, there were two people with an idea - a wonderful, brilliant idea. Jim and Stacey Anderson combined his work ethic and superior managerial skills with her shrewd mind for business and love of antiques to create a job for themselves. Talk about DIY! Fifteen years later, their dogged pursuit of their dream has led to jobs for about 600 others as well, with waiting lists holding the names of sometimes 70 or more people lining up to be a part of the three Queen of Hearts Antiques & Interiors stores.
With about $7 Million in sales each year, the Queen of Hearts Antiques & Interiors stores are possibly the largest-grossing antique mall business in the Southeast. Stacey is a UGA alumna and has made the Bulldog 100 list of most successful businesses owned by a Georgia alum for the last three years. The Queen is home to a staff of 45 and 550 dealer-merchants across their three stores. The business they started in 1998 is a roaring success, and on July 5th, the Queen will celebrate FIFTEEN amazing years at their first store location, in Alpharetta. It hasn't always been easy, but nothing worth it ever is. Here's their story.
Queen of Hearts Antiques & Interiors, Then & Now
In 1998, Jim needed a job that would keep him off the road and closer to Stacey and their two boys, who were eight and ten years old at the time. They had a little money set aside. Jim had retail experience and had spent some time running an antique mall. Stacey had an antique collection she had begun at 16… and a calculator.
Though her degree was in Journalism and Advertising (and she did have a go at that business, working for McCann Erickson Advertising for four years), Stacey is a natural numbers person. Jim is a visionary. And they are both naturally gifted at getting things done. So the couple visited antique malls across the country and started crunching the numbers. When they discovered an Ingles grocery store sitting vacant on Main Street in Alpharetta, they recognized it as the perfect opportunity.
They leased the space, hired a contractor and built out for an antique mall, naming each aisle with street signs from their favorite antique-shopping destination, Charleston, South Carolina. Twelve dealers committed to join them, and they hoped for more to come. They incentivized staff to bring in dealers, offering them $50 for every dealer-merchant they could get to commit to a lease.
Jim Anderson and a staff member, in 1998
Jim ran a tight ship. He handled everything from ringing up sales to advising customers. And he kept the staff on task. Everyone had to be on the floor and moving at all times. “Scatter!” he would command, if a group of employees congregated to talk. Employees say it is not uncommon for them to walk three to four miles during one shift!
While running the Alpharetta store, Jim was constantly building out new areas and finding ways to rent more space. Stacey says the business is “as much about real estate as it is antiques.” In the early years, it was always Jim’s job to decide if a dealer would be good for the store. “He could pretty much tell in about 10 minutes of meeting a potential dealer whether they would be successful or not and gauge what size and location of space they needed. He was almost always right on the mark!” said Peggy Jones, a store manager and director of marketing, at the Alpharetta store.
The way the store looks and feels was mostly Jim’s doing. He handled design and construction as well as supplies and maintenance, in addition to managing and training the staff. Jim still attends managers’ meetings once each month to provide perspective for the leadership of the store.
They were well on their way to attaining their dream that first year when Stacey was diagnosed with breast cancer. Stacey’s response when she received the diagnosis? “I don’t have time for this. I am way too busy. This is ridiculous!” She shaved her head and said, “Let’s get rid of this, and let’s go.” In support, her whole family shaved their heads, and backed up her decision to continue working in the store alongside her husband.
Cancer could not beat her, and after chemo and radiation, Stacey was declared cancer free. She is still a huge supporter of cancer research. In 2009, she worked a team from the Queen as hard as she works her stores, requiring mandatory eight-hour days every Saturday in preparation for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk, covering 12-15 miles of ground, including hills! The store hosted a “boobieque” and a “boobie bake off,” and raised a total of $27,000 for the Komen Foundation for Cancer Research.
Peggy Jones and Stacey Anderson
Two years after her recovery, in 2001, they experienced a different kind of setback. One sunny Sunday morning, the automatic doors were left open to let the warmth and the breeze blow through. But something else made its way through the doors that day. A little boy spotted him first and shouted to his mother, who didn’t believe him. Next, two men spotted him and one of them jumped up on the sales counter at the front of the store, pulling his knees to his chest for protection.
He had walked past all of the china in the front of the store without doing any harm, but one of his antlers caught something in the back, and there was a crash. A very large buck had just sauntered into the Queen of Hearts, and even Jim couldn’t have trained them for what to do when that happened!
The brave store manager at the time, Jim Luftman, grabbed the buck by the horns to lead him out of the store. A courageous lady customer attempted to push the buck from the back. The buck…well…bucked, and ran right through the glass windows at the front of the store. The police declared it an “Act of God.”
There were a few bruises and a couple of unhappy customers, but they recouped and moved on. Stacey continued running the business behind the scenes and Jim continued working the store, each working six days a week to keep things running. And in 2003, five years in, the store was completely full.
In May 2003, Jim and Stacey entered a partnership to buy an existing antique/interior mall in East Cobb, which was later sold in 2007, and in January 2004, they built out another Ingles grocery store in Buford. The Buford Queen of Hearts is now home to 185 dealers. In 2008, the Queen of Hearts of Marietta opened in a 19,700 square foot facility on Canton Road. They were expanding and business was good!
As new stores opened, Jim accommodated, limiting his shifts at the Alpharetta store to three days a week, so he could spend full days in the other stores, training staff and building the business. And he was good at it. The business was thriving.
In 2008, when the housing bubble burst, the Atlanta area was not as hard hit as in other areas of the country. But one change hit the Alpharetta store hard. The company which owned their lease sold, and the men who bought the shopping center launched a large remodeling project. They boarded up the windows and covered them with sheetrock. The roof began to leak and a tornado nearly took them out. The faithful staff (who were already wearing hardhats in an attempt to use humor to cope) mopped up leaks and waved goodbye to the dealers who did not want to remain during the rough transition.
But when it was finished, it looked good. And the business grew…and grew.
Stacey Anderson, DIY at the Alpharetta store
In 2012, the Marietta store was relocated to a shopping center on Sandy Plains Road. Though the square footage was greater, the store was full by the time it opened, with 150 consignors and a long wait list for more.
No setback has been great enough to stop the Andersons’ business. Not reconstruction, not tornadoes, not the economy, not even cancer!
Today, the Queen of the Queen of Hearts uses her calculator to track the figures every day: overall sales, staff hours, percent over last year, dealer-merchant sales-to-rent ratios. But she also works the floor and seems happy to sweep a floor or help a customer. “I want to be on the level of everybody,” Stacey says. And she means it.
Stacey and Jim have worked hard to build the stores they are now so proud of, but they have also built a family. They are close to their staff, and their staff remains loyal to them. Together, they have built something amazing. “We found this place, and we went for it,” Stacey says.
Ask Stacey as she’s leaving any of her three shops if she’s going to go home to relax or read a magazine. She’ll probably laugh in your face. “If I go home and pull out a magazine, that will last five minutes. I’ve got a list of 50 things I’ve got to do, plus it’s check week.”
Stacey works about 50 hours a week on Queen of Hearts business, and that’s the way she likes it, at least for now. After giving 14 years to running operations in the stores, Jim is on a brief hiatus, renovating a beach house in Beaufort, South Carolina where the couple will retire…if they can ever stop working! They're looking forward to celebrating the last 15 years at their '15 at the Queen' anniversary celebration on July 5th, with staff, dealers, customers and many others who love the Queen of Hearts!
Stacey & Jim at the Bulldog 100, and rights, with their two sons, Tyler and Keaton
The Queen Gives Back! Helping Hands with lots of 'Heart' at the NFCC Toy Drive
This blog post was written by Jill Turner, a dealer at the Queen of Hearts Alpharetta, who conducted this interview with Stacey Anderson. Her booth, Art History Story (Dealer Code AHS), is located on East Bay Street. Art History Story offers custom chandeliers and custom painted furniture. Services include: chalk painting furniture from homemade paint, wood restoration on badly stained furniture, and chandelier custom painting/crystal replacement. Visit her Facebook page!