For many college sports fans, showing off their team pride is more of a duty than an option. The sheer volume of bumper stickers, flags and team jerseys you’ll see during football season can attest to that.
That may be one reason Palmetto Moon has become one of the fastest-growing retail chains in South Carolina. Catering to Southeastern sports fandom has been a boon for the family-owned company since its first store opened in 2003.
But the retailer’s success also stems from its ability to steer trends, gauge customer desires and seize the right opportunities for expansion. Once a T-shirt stand in the mall, Palmetto Moon now has eight stores across the state, plus an online store to be launched next month.
Eric Holzer, who recently was named president of the company, remembers when his father-in-law, Robert Webster, first pitched the idea to set up a kiosk in Citadel Mall to sell college team T-shirts in the fall of 2002. Webster had just retired from a 40-year career with Belk, and was looking for a fun yet fruitful side project.
“He thought there was a demand for collegiate products that wasn’t being met,” Holzer said.
Webster’s hunch was right, and it brought so much business that he and wife Karen decided to open a store in the West Ashley mall in 2003.
Two years later, Holzer moved from New York with his wife, Whitney, to help grow her parents’ business venture. Without any prior retail experience, they began managing the second Palmetto Moon, which opened in Mount Pleasant Towne Centre in 2005.
Holzer said his in-laws, who were retail veterans, helped him get acquainted with the industry quickly. But it was during the height of the recession that he proved his penchant for leadership with the company.
Facing one of the worst economic climates for retail in recent history, Holzer not only helped sustain the business, but kept growing it.
“We got out of that period, but not only that, we were able to start expanding our business, which was virtually unheard of,” he said. “We could find good rental rates at great locations because so many stores were going out of business.”
Palmetto Moon stores opened in Summerville and North Charleston, and the expanding chain spread to several cities around South Carolina, including Greenville and Myrtle Beach.
The most recent expansion project is the new store in Mount Pleasant Towne Centre. Belk’s plan to double in size prompted Palmetto Moon to relocate to a new space in the shopping center.
“Because of the Belk expansion, we were forced to make a decision on what we wanted to do. So we took it as an opportunity to expand,” he said. “We’re really making it a flagship store.”
The store is moving to the opposite side of Belk to the space where Mrs. Cappers, Wine Styles and Genealogy were operating before Belk’s announcement to expand. With the move, Palmetto Moon will gain about 25 percent more floor space. The store will reopen at its new location this month, well ahead of the holiday shopping season.
Holzer’s ability to seize every opportunity for growth has served the company well. But it’s the company’s emphasis on customer service that has made Palmetto Moon so reflective of South Carolina’s culture, he said.
Each week, the company holds conference calls with employees from each store. They talk about what customers were looking for that week, and those discussions often end in Holzer picking up new product lines. “We con-tinue to work at finding out what the consumer wants,” he said.
Building off its successes with collegiate apparel, the company was able to tap into other regional trends.
Not only is Palmetto Moon a go-to spot for fan gear, it’s now a major supplier of top brands such as Rainbow footwear, Costa Del Mar sunglasses and Guy Harvey T-shirts.
“We’re really a coastal lifestyle store, with lots of different brands and lots of different influences, and that’s clearly been driven by what we learn from our customers,” Holzer said. “For me, the most exciting thing is to be involved in that process and learning what’s driving their motivation.”