The Oklahoma-based retailer specializes in handcrafted bags and accessories — and exceptional customer service.
Editor's Note: As statewide rules and regulations continue to change, please contact retailers for their latest store hours and delivery capabilities.
In a year where everything is changing so fast, it’s good to stay ahead of the game. We talked with Harley Rhodes, a young designer and the owner of Dancing Cactus Designs who has his finger on the pulse of the Western industry and online marketing, to find out how retailers should stay in touch with their customers and at the forefront of today’s uncertain market.
Was your storefront shut down? Has it reopened?
Yes, the reason we had to shut down was not because of the pandemic. It was a result of the pandemic that really made things kind-of change for us. Believe it or not, everyone was worried about toilet paper, and I’m standing over here like, ‘I can’t get zippers,’ and so we were without zippers for about two weeks. And actually our vendors for our cowhides and leather that we use, they had to shut down. They were shut down for about a month, so it was kind-of touch and go, stop and everything for a little while. We weren’t sure how we were going to do it. Luckily, we had enough capital at one point to just make a really large purchase and survive throughout the pandemic. I can see where smaller vendors than myself, or even sometimes bigger than myself, where it was going to be a challenge to survive the pandemic if you didn’t have the capital.
What does your current business environment look like? Is it different than normal for you?
It’s kind-of back to normal and actually a little bit different too. The way we’ve adjusted our sales, we’ve always been heavily online. Even having a storefront we were much bigger online, and that’s because we use Facebook Lives. We’ve integrated Facebook Live from the get-go. So we do a weekly sale every Wednesday at 7 [p.m.] Central Standard Time [on Facebook Live], and we sell anywhere between 30-45 bags or accessories in that live sale, so that’s been really convenient for us.
What has been the biggest challenge in adapting to this “new normal” the retail world has taken on?
I would have to say the biggest challenge right now for us is so many unknowns. The unknown part of ‘What is NFR going to look like?’ ‘What is holiday season going to look like?’ ‘What is this fourth quarter supposed to be?’ Because we’ve never experienced something like this. We’re only in our fourth year, and I would say every year we’ve grown tremendously, and looking off the third-quarter numbers compared to last year, I would have to say we’ve blown it out of proportion. We’re still seeing record-breaking numbers, and we saw that in the first quarter, second quarter, and now the third quarter. [We’re] praying for a solid fourth quarter. I think it’s because people want to support small business. They’re tired of trying to buy from big-box retailers that have outrageous shipping lead times, where if our stuff is already on hand we ship out next-day. And then they also know about the person behind the brand. That’s been the American way of just cowboy-made stuff. It’s a close-knit group, and I would have to say that’s what really holds things together for us as a small business is referrals and just network marketing through social media platforms and going to trade shows. So if you haven’t been to any trade shows that’s kind of a real kicker, because you’ve only been able to use Facebook as your marketing platform. These trade shows, getting to know so many more makers and getting to collaborate with them has helped me tremendously.
What is resonating with your audience?
I would have to say integrity. That’s going to be the big thing. The authenticity of the brand, knowing who’s making it, makes it all the more different. Getting to know the person and saying, ‘Hey, they also run their customer service,’ that’s huge, because they’re not speaking to “Joe Blow” that’s 17th in command and to having to deal with the wait times or anything. If they send a Facebook message they receive an answer directly from us. That’s a big deal. The other thing is, we put on a show. I’ve always said that our Facebook Lives are a show. It’s more than just buying bags and trying to earn another dollar. It’s getting to know your customers, getting to interact with them, them getting to see you face-to-face and enjoy your character on a Facebook Live. I wouldn’t say my character is any different than my personality. It just is expressed a lot more. You just see it a lot more one-on-one, so I think that’s really why I’ve found that the Facebook is working so well for us.
What other highlights have been big for you?
We actually just released two brand new bags. We have our Taylor and our Miranda. If you’re familiar with the Neverfull by Louis Vuitton, our Taylor is very similar, except it’s a Western spin off on that, and it’s all leather on the exterior, so it’s going to age with time. The other one is a clutch cross-body wristlet, very convertible, style bag. It can also act as a wallet. Those retail for about $125. The Taylors retail for about $300.
What are shoppers looking for right now from Western businesses? Have you noticed any buying trends?
It goes back down to the Facebook Live concept too. I don’t think that they’re just looking for any product. They want to know the story. They want to look for something original. They want something that no one else has. Not necessarily custom, and that was something that I tagged on for so long. I was like, ‘I’m going to push customs.’ But really what they’re looking for is just something that’s one-of-a-kind. They want something that no one else has that they can cherish, because if they’re going to spend that kind of money that’s what they’re looking for. Another buying trend for what NFR is supposed to look like this year—I know it’s very vintage Western, not so much a glitzy Western we’re used to in Vegas. I think we’re going to go back to the old [style] when Oklahoma City carried the [NFR]. But when it boils down to gifts and the holidays, we’re looking at more one-of-a-kind. This has been kind-of a rough year, so let’s make one that’s more memorable and finish it out with a bang.
Do you have any tips for other Western businesses looking to take their business online right now?
Online is where it’s at right now. We’ve been pushing as an industry as a whole to get everyone online as quickly as possible. If you do not have an online business you are not thriving. You are not seeing the sales dollars that you should be. I would even have to say, not even just online, but social media. Any person I ever talk to that has a Facebook, I’m like, ‘Go live at least once a week. Go live. Let your customers see you, because then they get to see you behind the brand.’ Every Western industry, I don’t care if you’re Ariat. I don’t care if you’re American Hat Co. I don’t care if you’re the smallest boutique in the world. Your customers want to know who you are. That’s why they’re going to buy from you.
Do you plan on attending in-person markets or tradeshows in the next six months?
I’m very excited. I’m actually part of Cowtown Christmas in the Stockyards, so we’re going to be located at the [Fort Worth] Stockyards this year. We’re going to be taking over 7,000 products with us, so we’re super excited. We will be there all 10 days. Beyond that we’re also going to be providing during Christmas and our holiday season if you’re not able to attend NFR. Starting on Black Friday, so the day after Thanksgiving, we’re going to start a 25 Days of Christmas. That is going to be available online, as well as in-store and at NFR, and it’s going to be exclusive to one style of product, whether that be a tote, cell phone cases, they’re going to be heavily discounted on that day. That’s your opportunity to purchase that item at a super discounted price, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. So we’re making sure we have a marketing capacity for that, and we are set in place.
This interview is part of an ongoing series that W&E is conducting with retailers. Click here to peruse more stories and interviews from the retail industry.