Something Special partners say they’re ready for a change
By Bernie Schmitt
It’s time. That’s what Dan Osborne and Chris Hertel are saying about the closing of Something Special, one of downtown Main Street’s first-rate businesses.
Osborne, 43, and Hertel, 48, have made Something Special, 423 Main St., a creative enterprise from the start. Always working toward newer and greater ideas, they decided earlier this year that it would be their last. They want to look for new challenges and opportunities.
“We’ve had it great for the past 15 years,” Osborne said. “We are appreciative of all the support people have given us over the years.”
Something Special is expected to close sometime before Christmas.
Both admit that it is becoming more difficult to maintain their level of creativity with fresh ideas. And, times have changed. Osborne said social networking and the proliferation of Internet retailing
have changed the retail landscape.
“It was kind of like the perfect storm of things,” Osborne said. “Either we change our whole thought process in the way we operate, or we let someone else
try. And, after coming up with newer and greater ideas all these years, I think we kind of lost our passion,” he said. “It’s not as enjoyable as it once was.”
Plus, many – but certainly not all – of Something Special’s customers were 55 and older, Osborne said, and unfortunately there aren’t as many of them these days. Some people are into a minimalist
trend and aren’t buying, and others — thanks to social media and the Internet — are going to Amazon.com or other online retailers.
“We didn’t want it to have to keep the store open and deal with an online business,” he said. “We could have. But that would have taken the fun out of the business.”
The store still a large clientele and its average daily sales are still high. So are the numbers of purchases customers make. So Osborne and Hertel aren’t closing because they “have to.” They are closing because they want to. They want to go out on top.
“Chris and I are out of creative retail ideas,” Osborne said.
Both men put tremendous effort into style and presentation of a carefully selected inventory that made it one of the classiest stores in town. The store became especially known for its beautifully-crafted
Christmas decorations and its exquisite displays of its teeming inventory. The store has had Christmas open houses and spring open houses since 2001.
“We’ve done so much,” Hertel says, “what do we do next?”
“Yeah,” Osborne said. “How do we create a magical wonderland again?”
‘It was fun’
Neither of the men have any intention of leaving Vincennes. They like it here. They have a wonderful loft apartment in the downtown area, in another building they own. Hertel still has his
fulltime job at Old National Bank, and Osborne plans to spend some time on his family’s farm in the South Knox area.
“We need to step away and figure out what to do next,” he said.
Osborne and Hertel have worked diligently to be a part of the Vincennes Central Business District, the merchants group that continues to work toward the betterment historic downtown. He is a past president of the organization. Helping to improve Main Street was a challenge, but one he and Hertel dove into with gusto. They were responsible for the hanging flower baskets on Main Street. There has been some success, though maybe not as much as either would have liked.
“I love downtown Vincennes,” Osborne said. “All of our merchants are dedicated. But together, there seems to be conflict sometimes. Not everyone feels the same way about things.”
Still, he and Hertel have enjoyed their years of downtown retail experience.
“People and merchants love our downtown,” Hertel said. “That’s a good thing. We have been fortunate that we had the ability to leave our associates here at the store and be involved with many things downtown. We’re lucky. We’ve been able to help with the Christmas parade, we’ve decorated trees downtown, helped decorate Santa’s House a few times, and we’ve helped with other decorative planters and other things.” “It was fun,” Osborne said.
Evolving into retail
They began in June 2000, when Osborne bought the business from Ronda Thompson. It was already named Something Special. The original store opened on Fourth Street in the mid 1980s by Gay
Murphy and Anita Blice, and focused on gift baskets. Osborne got the retail bug, he says, when Thompson asked him to work part-time in her store at Christmas.
He thought he’d be able to work parttime in the store and then spend most of his time working on his family’s farm. A Purdue University graduate (agriculture and economics), Osborne realized he liked working in retail. When Thompson decided to sell, he was interested. But he quickly realized that managing a retail operation was a fulltime job.
Osborne and Hertel became friends about that time, and they began talking about displays and Hertel began helping out now and again with the store. Their friendship grew and they soon developed a relationship in which both became consumed with devising imaginative ideas for displays and products.
Osborne’s mother, Judy, has been a tremendous help at Something Special, keeping the store’s books for the last 15 years, as well as the financial books at the family farm. Hertel, with his banking
experience, worked with her.
“The first few years we paid the bills together,” Hertel said. “It isn’t a one-person job.”
Unlike Osborne, Hertel had experience working in retail, having been a manager with the Kmart Corporation for a few years. He also spent 11 years working for Disney. He and Osborne spent countless hours working to make Something Special, well, something special.
“We’ve had a blast going to market at Atlanta, Chicago, and other places,” Osborne said. “We’ve gone to New York a few times, and Dallas a few times, but most of what we found and bought for
our customers we found at Atlanta.
“In the beginning we were worried about costs,” he said. “We were worried about spending $500. We didn’t know what would sell or what wouldn’t. After
we got going, instinct took over. But it was hard at first.”
That first purchase for merchandise pales in comparison to the store’s 2007 initial investment for Vera Bradley (an Indiana company) merchandise. The $27,000 investment — at the right time
— dramatically pushed Something Special’s business up to the point it required a fulltime employee to keep up with it. But that trend is fading. Osborne and Hertel aren’t sticking around for the next one.
“You know, we would see things at market that we knew we couldn’t bring here until the Midwest was ready for it,” Osborne said. “The Midwest is usually about three years behind the coasts with regard to trends. We were always cautious of that.”
From the start, Osborne and Hertel tried to implement one major project each year to help improve the store’s efficiency and appearance. One year they replaced all of the store’s fluorescent lighting with adjustable spotlights that can highlight various displays. One year they installed, with great help from employee Marsha Fleming, a state-of-the-art point-of sale system that records every customer’s purchase and keeps a meticulous accounting of sales and statistics.
In the beginning Osborne and Hertel worked “day and night” creating displays and determining how to make their inventory look appealing enough to buy.
“The way we display items is much more than just putting a product on a shelf,” Hertel said. “We worked to get all of the senses involved. I think that’s what people will miss.”
Much of their work was done after hours, because Osborne was adamant that employees not stock shelves or work on displays during store hours. Sometimes, especially with Christmas displays, they would work through most of the night.
“It takes a lot of time,” Hertel said.
Osborne and Hertel established a popular Bridal Registry, too, and over the years delivered hundreds of gifts to a variety of wedding showers and other events. They got to meet and know many of their
customers, most of them have become their friends. Most of their business has been local, though there was some regional traffic, too.
They are appreciative of their customers, and have enjoyed working with over 68 different people over the years. The store normally had 14 to 18 employees during the Christmas holiday season.
“It’s amazing how many people have worked here,” Osborne said. “We’ve done well. We’ve been lucky.”
The going-out-of business sign was put up on Oct. 9. Osborne said he is entertaining the right potential buyer — and there are a few serious inquiries — but they are working to sell much of the store’s inventory, allowing a new owner to start fresh.
“What we have in place is a turn-key operation,” Osborne said. “Someone could walk in and take off. It’s all set up. One just needs dedication and time.”
Osborne says he plans to spend some time on his family’s farm, helping his brother and sister-in-law with that operation (his parents are semi-retired), and clearing his head. He wants to do
something different, but he’s unsure what that might be.
“There’s more out there than spending every night and every Saturday and Sunday at the store,” he said. “We’re ready for a change. We just need someone to come in and take this to the next level.”