Program Report: Jennings Brody – Parker and Otis

I was taking notes for this write-up when Jennings Brody, the force behind Parker and Otis at Brightleaf and Chet Miller and Tiny on Parrish Street Downtown, abruptly ended her remarks at 1:00 o’clock. But anyone who was worrying that they might have to go back to work a half hour early, had nothing to worry about.

That was not a problem. The audience of Rotarians was filled with many of the legion of fans of Ms. Brody and her retail savvy, and they were full of questions.

One of those fans was new Police Chief and newer Rotarian C.J. Davis who had discovered Parker and Otis before her family had joined her from Atlanta. She implied this helped her convince them that Durham was a good place and she liked it.

Chief Davis also made it clear that her guys were not responsible for enforcing the parking limits on Parrish Street. This was in response to Ms. Brody’s criticism of the new one hour limits for her new stores on Parrish St. Her point was that such a short limit was counterproductive to creating a vibrant retail environment Downtown. She pointed out that they always encourage their customers to visit other stores in the area and have lunch in many of the new cool places.  A three-hour limit would be her recommendation.

Ms. Brody received many compliments on the selection things in all three stores and was asked how she selected them. Her answer was that she personally selected everything and went on buying trips to nine to eleven trade shows a year.  Just coincidently, Steed Rollins was next to me at my table and our reaction was similar and we looked at each other with big grins. Steed and I once were partners with two other guys in a company that was trying to sell our lines of figurines at these shows.  We weren’t terribly successful, but these shows, if you have never been to one of them, are quite an experience. Ask Steed about the shows and were we stayed in New York, Atlanta and Dallas. Anyhow, we have an appreciation for Ms. Brody’s ability to create the environment she does in her stores with the thousands and thousands of options that she has at these shows.

Ms. Brody also deftly and candidly fielded questions about the business side of starting a retail store. One break that came with its own risks was that she could take over the Fowlers space that had closed after its third owner had given up and was already up-fitted for what she wanted to do. She also praised Self-Help for not only taking a risk in and near Downtown but also for requiring a detailed business plan.  She talked about the proceeds from the Self-Help loan and another $200,000 on credit cards that brought a gasp or two from the audience.

The initial inventory in a new store is a big lump to swallow, of course, and she pointed out how helpful it was to have landlords like Past President Arthur Rogers, who introduced her, that give a break at the beginning of a lease.

On how she got in the retail business, she talked about first selling shoes then as a rep for a candy company and then three years working for Sara Foster running the Fosters in Chapel Hill.

Since I’m a notoriously bad note taker, I usually go to the web to try to fill in the gaps. What I found was an interview of Ms. Brody on the Durham Magazine’s podcast, where she tells a lot of the same story. That can be found at http://durhammag.com/2016/11/18/episode-35-parker-otis-and-chet-millers-jennings-brody/.

If you’re new to town or have never been to Parker and Otis, their website gives you a good idea of what you’ve been missing. It can be found at http://www.parkerandotis.com/store/.

One thing I did find hard to believe was Ms. Brody’s claim that Parker and Otis went through 71 gallons of Duke’s Mayonnaise every week making their signature pimento cheese.  Come on, really?

Submitted by Jay Zenner

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