When Marcus Sloan and Shannon Hall opened their lifestyle boutique in Houston 20 years ago, neither had any retail experience, but they had a shared vision. They wanted to sell greeting cards and small, special gifts shoppers simply wouldn’t find anyplace else. They wanted the space to be as exceptional as the items on the shelves, and the shopping experience to be personal and intimate.
Two decades later, the Sloan/Hall store they envisioned has become a destination for sublime treasures, designer apparel, fine jewelry, and quirky greeting cards — but the Sloan/Hall offerings of today are bit different than what was on the shelves in 1998.
“We started as a glamour Hallmark with small, personal objects. An in-and-out-the-door experience with free gift wrap, but we also wanted to have a more intimate transaction. This wasn't the mall,” Hall says.
Those early days were a bit of trial and error, figuring out everything from price point to product selection. Sloan’s purchase of $100 necklaces threw Hall for a loop, but so did the idea of selling Diptyque candles.
“Who was going to spend $100 on a necklace from Sloan/Hall? I just couldn’t imagine it,” says Hall. “When we first started carrying Diptyque candles, I made them $26 instead of $30 because I was afraid people wouldn’t spend $30 on a candle. It was a different time.”
As the duo grew their businesses in Houston and San Antonio (site of the original Sloan/Hall), their tastes and those of their customers sharpened, affording new opportunities. They began carrying Comme des Garçons fragrances and expanded to jewelry. An opportunity with Prada Sport ushered in a capsule shoe collection, which they displayed in the jewelry cases.
“That opened the world to us as to what the store could evolve into,” Hall says. “It’s interesting to me that we started like that. I’m so grateful our clientele were willing to take that journey with us. They were used to spending $2 on a greeting card with us and they were spending $400 on a pair of shoes or $300 on a piece of jewelry.”
Since part of their business model was to establish a presence in affluent areas in the heartbeat of the city, their customers said yes to Diptyque, Prada Sport, cashmere, fine jewelry, and designer collections. They also were quick to RSVP to the legendary fêtes they threw at the store. Everyone from Chelsea Handler to Lady Bunny have graced the Sloan/Hall party circuit and Hall has made sure the parties were more than just a sip and shop experience.
“I hate store parties. It’s usually standing around holding a glass of champagne. I always want to do something different with a kick,” Hall dishes. The bashes typically start later so guests can get in a pre-party mood and there’s always some kind of entertainment. One of the most memorable parties featured Maximus, a rock-and-roll cover band comprised of 13 to 15-year-olds.
For two guys who didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into when first opening the store, Sloan/Hall has evolved. Neither are content to stick with the expected, especially as the retail landscape continues to change.
“We focus on creativity in an Amazon world,” Hall says. “It’s more and more about personalization and what is unique. We aren't limited by what people think a store is supposed to look like.”
Sloan and Hall are celebrating the store’s anniversary Wednesday, August 22 from 9 pm to midnight. The free event is open to the public.