This year, the Queen of Hearts celebrates its 20th anniversary, with a celebration in all three stores (Alpharetta, Buford & Marietta) on September 15th, 2018, featuring outdoor shopping, food vendors, in-store live demos and gift certificate giveaways. It hasn’t been easy getting here, but Jim and Stacey will both tell you that all the hard work has definitely been worth it. Here’s their story.
Building a Brand
With a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Georgia, Stacey had worked for McCann Erickson Advertising for four years, but was always a natural numbers person. Jim was the visionary. With this idea in mind, 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 to start their store.
Queen of Hearts Alpharetta
Jim and Stacey leased the space, hired a contractor and built out their vision for an antique mall, naming each aisle with streets from their favorite antique-shopping destination, Charleston, South Carolina. The Queen of Hearts Antiques & Interiors, they called it, because “it just sounded like a fun place to shop!” Twelve dealers committed to join them, and they hoped for more to come, incentivizing staff to bring in new dealers by offering them $50 for every dealer-merchant they could get to commit to a lease. Seven dealers are still with them today – Lynn Eckart, Fred Edwards, Joyce Haney, Mary Lawson, Jollie McCaleb, Art Metzgar and Kurt and Leslie Phillips.
Jim ran a tight ship. He handled everything from ringing up sales to advising customers, and he was a stickler for keeping 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!
The look and feel of the store 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 several times a year to provide perspective for the leadership of the store.
Even Cancer Can’t Stop Her
Jim and Stacey 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, donating money each year to the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen. 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 3 Day 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. In 2015, the Queen matched customer, staff & dealer donations and gave $2,000 to the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk as well as participated at the event.
In 2001, they experienced a very different kind of setback. One morning in December, the automatic doors were left open to let the air in, but something else made its way through. A little boy spotted the large buck deer first and shouted to his mother. Soon, 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. 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, nearly five years in, the store was completely full.
Expansion of Queen of Hearts Marietta & Buford
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. In January 2004, they built out another Ingles grocery store, which is now known as the Buford Queen of Hearts and is home to 185 dealers. In 2008, the Queen of Hearts of Marietta opened and then was relocated in 2012 to its current location with 150+ consigners and a wait list. In just 10 years since they opened in Alpharetta, the Queen had expanded to two other locations. 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. 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.
Reaching Customers through Social Media, Store Events & Community Outreach
In the same year, the Queen ramped up its efforts on social media organically growing their followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest from a few hundred to over 20,000. Each week they share a sampling of photos from the 550+ dealer-merchants in their Weekly Feature Album, highlight fun days during the month like “Best Friends Day” and “Take Your Dog to Work Day” and love to share photos of the fun they have in the store.
“When you love what you do, it makes working fun,” says social media manager Jenny Jones, who consults with dealer-merchants to help educate them on how to promote themselves on social media. Currently about 200 dealer-merchants have their own Facebook & Instagram pages, using them to promote Queen of Hearts events and drive customers to their booths.
In 2013, the Queen celebrated its 15th anniversary, and each year hosts quarterly events including the Holiday Open House in November, the Spring Fling Annual Garden Party (going on its 10thyear in 2019!) and Fall Harvest Sidewalk Sales. In the last 5 years they’ve also held blogger brunches, a Wedding Inspiration Expo, and hosted the team from Good Day Atlanta, Jeff Foxworthy, multiple movie production companies and local artists and authors.
The Queen gives back to the community through their work with Cobb County DFACS, North Fulton Community Charities, and Village of Hope. Team Helping Hands with lots of “Heart” is always ready to lend a helping hand! Stacey & Jim have won awards for their stores including the Bulldog 100, City of Alpharetta Business of Excellence, Best of Gwinnett, and Best of the Big A, to name a few. They have been featured in many publications, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNN Living, Northside Women, Atlanta Magazine and SE Antiquing and many bloggers, decorators, realtors, and set designers have their number on speed dial.
The Queen of Hearts Today
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. 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.
While Stacey still works about 50 hours a week, her and husband Jim try to spend some “down time” visiting their sons in Beaufort, SC and Steamboat Springs, CO. They’re excited to celebrate the last 20 years at the Anniversary celebration on September 15, 2018 with staff, dealers, customers and those who have supported them along the way! Here’s to 20 more years of the Queen!