Purple Puddle & Puddle Baby

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kathy buck purple puddle

Kathy Buck, 66
Sarah Buck Casey, 45
Emily Buck Walters, 33
Owners, Purple Puddle & Puddle Baby

How did your gift, flower and stationery store Purple Puddle come to be? What about your adjoining children’s store Puddle Baby?

Kathy: I was the ultimate shopper, and for seven years [I was involved with] the country store for the Chapel Hill Service League. When the term was up, I wasn’t ready to quit buying. I convinced my husband to invest in me instead of the stock market. The rest is history. We started out with just a concept of cards and stationery, and we had a children’s corner, flowers and gourmet food. We thought we’d just run with whatever seems to work for us. I’ve always been in the same spot. I had a garden center [Plum Garden] for five years, but it didn’t change my bottom line, and it was a lot of work. In 2008, I changed my focus because stationery bottomed out. A couple years after the recession, my husband said, “You either get rid of that side or reinvent yourself.” That was good timing for Sarah … [who] developed the logo and did all the initial buying [for Puddle Baby].
Sarah: A year into it, I found out I was moving to Singapore. I opened a business and threw it on her. Mom took over going to market for me and now we’re back doing it again. We’re shopping buddies, [and] we both have a problem.
Kathy: It’s always in the same breath – Purple Puddle, Puddle Baby – but we’re all just under one umbrella basically. We got rid of the one door so people can just come in and feel like it’s one.

Who does what?

Kathy: Sarah did a really good job with branding [Puddle Baby].
Emily: We have our different roles. They go to market, [and when] they come back, I do the inventory. [Longtime employee] Barb Spenner puts the tags on. I go and deliver the flowers and come back to do the stationery part. We all wear our different hats, and it works.
Sarah: Including Dad.
Kathy: I asked him yesterday, “Would you come do the trash?” He’ll deliver [orders] while Emily is on her honeymoon.

Emily and Sarah, when did you get involved?

Emily: I grew up here. People ask how long we’ve been open. How old am I? Subtract five. We worked as soon as we could count.
Sarah: We all worked here, and we were always in and out of here after school delivering.

What’s the biggest change in the past 28 years?

Kathy: Cards used to fill the whole front of the store.
Emily: With stationery, so many people go online these days with Paperless Post and Evite.
Sarah: But I also feel like it’s coming full circle where people are now coming back to the personal note.
Emily: I feel like [each custom stationery or invitation job] is mine. I invest so much in it, trying to make sure it’s right for me.
Sarah: She’ll make sure it’s perfect, and if it comes back and it’s not right, she’s working all hours of the day.

What’s the best part of Purple Puddle and Puddle Baby?

Sarah: That we’re able to work together.
Kathy: Seeing everyone on a daily basis. You share in everyone’s excitement. It’s a treat when a big box of vases comes in. There aren’t any worries. The biggest thing is to make sure the front door [of the store] is locked.

What’s something you’ve learned over the years?

Kathy: Location is everything in Chapel Hill. I’ve had two or three chances to move from here. But we’re very convenient for Durham. We’re very convenient to get in and out. People say, “Oh, you need to be in a mall to get the walk-in traffic.” But we’re destination oriented, and that’s worked for us. The other thing I’ve stayed away from is a second store. Too many stores like mine do a second store and as soon as the lease is done, they are back to their [original] store. I think the secret is hands on, and you can’t have two stores and manage how you should. That was a lesson learned without doing it.

Kathy and John Buck moved to town 32 years ago and live in the Steeplechase neighborhood. Oldest daughter Sarah and her husband Paul Casey live in The Oaks with Riley, 6, and twins Reese and Tripp, 3. Youngest daughter Emily and husband Josh Walters reside in the Oakwood neighborhood. (Middle daughter Amy lives in Bali.)

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Jessica Stringer

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