THE PLAID PLACE
Preppy plaid is making a comeback this year, according to fashion magazines, and New York runways are ablaze with big square plaids of all colours. Plaid pyjamas and boxers have long been de rigueur in the comfy, cozy market, but look for plaid in sweeping evening gowns, dramatic pieced skirts, flared pants and accessories galore.
It is exciting news for Nova Scotia businesswoman Lisa Risley. However, as owner of The Plaid Place, a specialty shop in Halifax, she takes the ebb and flow of international fashion in stride.
“We’re always very glad to hear when plaid is on the upswing on the runways,” she notes. “Here at The Plaid Place, plaid is always in fashion and always in demand.”
Located in a hotel in Halifax’s Barrington Street shopping district, The Plaid Place has been around for almost half a century, providing traditional woolens, plaids and tartan clothing, as well as giftware, jewelry, music and books. With its tin ceiling and polished barn board floors, it is a welcoming space packed with traditional and unexpected items, all reflecting the Celtic heritage.
“We’ve done quite a bit of renovating because we wanted an open, comfortable space where people can come in, look around and ask questions,” explains Risley. “Customer service and repeat business are critical to a specialty business. We find even our online customers will call and want to talk with a human before purchasing. “
Risley, who grew up in Halifax, took over the store 15 years ago. “My father approached me and told me he’d been offered a business deal but he was only interested if I’d go in with him,” she says.
At the time, Risley was selling advertising and not enjoying it. “I grew up in a business family, in the restaurant business, specifically, so going into business was not completely new to me. This sounded like a dream opportunity and I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I just jumped in.”
In her early days her entrepreneurial spirit may have been stronger than her passion for Celtic history, but she credits a knowledgeable staff for educating her.
“My father’s middle name is Campbell and he has Robertsons in his family, and my mother’s clan is MacNichol. So you could say I had the background, but I had a lot to learn in the first few years.”
Not surprisingly kilts are a big part of the business – custom-made formal kilts, but also less expensive versions of the traditional dress suitable for kilted golf tournaments and more casual events.
“We recognized a need for something that was not going to be ruined if you spilled beer down the front of it,” says Risley. “Along with kilts, we have the Prince Charlies (traditional black, silver-buttoned jackets) and vests, but we also provide a lot of tartan cummerbunds, bow ties, scarves and sashes for people who don’t want to go the full kilt but still want something authentically Celtic.”
Risley once ordered a Nova Scotia tartan kilt from Scotland and shipped it to a customer in New Zealand. “Some of our kilts have really gotten around but we think that one holds the record for most miles.”
Perhaps more surprising is the volume of dog fashions she sells. “That market has grown incredibly in the last 15 years,” she notes. “People think dogs and tartans are a great match. We sell raincoats, warm coats, cool coats and tons of kerchiefs for dogs of all shapes and sizes.”
As she gained experience, Risley eliminated some products and brought in others until she was satisfied with her vision of the store. “We’ve got key items that people want such as clan giftware, but also beautiful wool and cashmere capes for ladies. Irish and Scottish sweaters for ladies and gents have also become very popular.”
About 90 per cent of what she sells at The Plaid Place is imported so she pays close attention to exchange rates and shipping costs.
“We attend international trade shows in Scotland and Ireland to see what’s available and we try to match that to what people will want to buy in the store, the cruise ship pavilion or at the Celtic festivals we attend during the summer. The festivals attract people from all over and are a great place for making friends and customers.”