Retailer Interview: Taking Your Specialty Online

Historical Emporium

Q&A with Chris and Alicia Allen, Owners of Historical Emporium

As the world wide web has changed over-the-years, the Historical Emporium hasn’t been afraid to keep their online store of authentic period clothing up with the times. Visit their awesome website at

You’ve been in business since 2003! Have you always existed as an online retailer?

Chris: My father was a Civil War reenactor for a long time, and he also sold at Civil War events. We started out-of-the-gate in a garage as an online version of what he was doing. We quickly evolved from a Civil War-focused seller to a historical, Victorian-focused seller for men and women. We’ve never actually existed as a brick-and-mortar.

What made you decide you could reach your customer base online?

Chris: I think it was more of a hobby! My wife and I were both fully employed and we were just selling on-the-side. We didn’t do any market research, we let the market tell us what they liked or didn’t like. That’s the nice part about selling online, you can see what people like and where they click on your website.

How did you decide to make the jump to being full-time e-tailers?

Alicia: We have two children and as our business grew, keeping up with our business on-the-side wasn’t possible anymore. After about a year-and-a-half, I decided to work full-time, and Chris helped out where he could. After another year-and-a-half, Chris decided to come on full-time too.

What have been some of your biggest lessons learned?

Chris: In the beginning, we supplied a lot of the products my father sold in-person—which were mostly point-of-sale items and low-dollar purchases. We quickly discovered that if you sell a $5 item in a store, it’s a $5 sale. But if somebody buys a $5 item from us online, we have to cover the overhead of picking, packing, and shipping that same item. It’s not so different than picking, packing, and shipping a $100 item.

When Alicia started full-time, we were able to prune our stock back to products that worked better for us online, which was pretty distinct from some of the products that worked for my father. For example, we sold inkwells and bottles of ink. When you ship a bottle of ink across the country, it’s exposed to a lot of potential damage—so we had to pull that back because it didn’t make sense for us at the time.

Alicia: Something that I was guilty of was having the impulse to buy a product at a trade show because it looked nice. Retailers have to be okay with evolving their business based on what’s selling. We’ve learned to be pretty strict with ourselves and evaluate if our shoppers are looking for that product when they come to us, and also if the price is where it needs to be. When at a trade show, we walk around to every booth and then go back to make purchases so we don’t make impulse decisions.

How do you draw new customers to your website?

Alicia: We’ve had a very strong presence on Facebook for quite a while. But when Facebook changed its algorithm, we were going to have to pay to reach all of our followers. So that’s when we started to try other ways of reaching out. Our blog on our website is really great for search engine optimization (SEO). It gets more data and more webpages in front of Google and other search engines. It helps Google search engines see us as experts in the industry. Other search engine marketing has also been very successful for us, like Google Shopping, Google AdWords, and Bing Shopping.

How do you use your website to build customer trust?

Chris: The hard thing about online is you’re a long way away from your customers, they don’t know where you are, and they may have never heard of you before. At the bottom of our homepage, you can see our customer photo gallery. When someone sends their picture dressed up in our merchandise, looking great, doing something fun, we can put those images in front of a visitor who might want a similar experience with their purchase from us.

We also publish every review we receive, even if it’s not favorable (but most of them are!). We read every review, and we react to them. It helps to establish that not only have we been around for a while, but we have real customers—real people, like you!

Which products do you find at the OFFPRICE Show?

Alicia: Most of the merchandise we find at the OFFPRICE Show is for our ladies’ wear. We’ve found blouses, skirts, dresses, goggles, parasols, fans, and more. A lot of the cotton manufactured goods from overseas are often suitable for our business. A vendor could be marketing a product as beachwear because it’s soft and flowy, but it could be a great ladies dress or piece of lingerie for our line. The OFFPRICE Show gives us great value and a lot of great products that are rightly priced—for a half or a third of the cost at other trade shows.

Where has your merchandise ended up?

  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Men in Black III
  • Cirque du Solei
  • The Globe Theatre in London
  • The Stephen Colbert Show (Stephen wore our cape!)
  • Valley of Violence (dressed John Travolta)
  • Jumanji (Jack Black wore our vest!)

The Takeaway

“I would say if somebody is getting into online right now, you need to have a reason for someone to shop with you!” - Chris

Pictured: Chris and Alicia in the Historical Emporium Warehouse

To begin taking your retail speciality online, source increadible deals and fashions your customers will love by attending the OFFPRICE Show, August 11-14 in Las Vegas. Registration is now open online. 

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