There’s one thing to get straight from the get-go about this new store called Purrfect Vinyl. The name.

Owner Monica Hilliard explains it this way.

“We have cats, eight cats. And we love our babies, me and my husband too. His name’s Jeff Hilliard. Those are our only children right now. The cat up there,” she says, pointing at the image of a cat on the store wall. “He actually looks very similar to one of our favorite cats, so we wanted to spell it very similar to like when they purr, so P-U-R-R is where that came from.”

All right. Got it so far.

“The vinyl represents, obviously, what we’re doing, which is selling vinyl,” Hilliard says.

Which raises other questions. Something Hilliard already realizes.

“When I said I was opening up a vinyl store, a lot of people thought I was either opening up a flooring vinyl store or a vinyl store like for seat covers,” she says.

“One guy thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to come to you because I’m going to need my car covered.’ And I’m going, ‘No, that’s not what I’m doing. That’s not anywhere close to what I’m doing.’

“He’s like, ‘Then what are you doing?’ So I had to explain to him, and he’s like, ‘Oh. Then I’m going to have to come to you to make shirts.’’’

Which is on point. Purrfect Vinyl isn’t a shirt store, exactly, but it does do custom T-shirts with vinyl decoration applied.

How’s that sound

Then there were the audiophiles.

“A lot of people thought I was opening up an album store. I had a lot of music people come to me going, ‘What kind of music are you planning to carry? Like Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, Beatles, something like that?’

“‘No, I plan on carrying 651, 631, Cricut,’” Hilliard told them, laughing then and laughing now. Which no doubt confused that matter even more.

A 651 vinyl is permanent, like the store’s name on its window. The 631 has a clear, water-based removable adhesive that won’t damage walls. Cricut is vinyl that’s machine cut.

Then there was that mall walker at Foothills Mall in Maryville, where Purrfect Vinyl is located. Hilliard had just signed the papers for the store lease and was getting her shop in order for the Sept. 15 opening.

“And this sweet man, about the fourth or fifth time he walked by, he just opened that door and he goes, ‘What are you guys gonna be?’” Hilliard says.

“So we were trying to explain it to him and my mom said, ‘You know, the stickers you put on your car, like bumper stickers.’ After he left, I said to my mom, ‘You now realize he’s going to go around saying we’re going to open a bumper sticker store.’ And my mom started laughing and she goes, ‘Well, if that’s what he wants to think, you let him think that.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’”

Growing market in vinyl

Which raises the biggest question of all. How can a mall store make a go of it selling craft vinyl and related custom work? Hilliard has an answer: “There’s a huge market. Huge, huge. It’s a huge market.”

A little background is in order. Hilliard’s mom, Deanna Martin, is a crafter and into scrapbooking. Her daughter didn’t fall far from that tree. She thinks of vinyl crafting as a modern evolution of scrapbooking — something that sells.

“Ever since I was little I’ve been a crafter. I love doing it. I have been evolving into where I’m a crafter, a baker, I’m everything. But the vinyl became my passion.”

Crafting guided her retail career, having worked nine years at Hobby Lobby and four years at MidSouth Sewing in Knoxville. It was at MidSouth that that her passion really took hold.

“They have vinyl there and they started with this teeny, tiny section, and then then all of a sudden it just exploded.”

The sewing store’s vinyl cubicle became a room and Monica Hilliard became an entrepreneur. She’d noticed a lot of customers for craft vinyl coming from Blount County. It was especially popular with stay-at-home moms who do crafting while the kids are at school. They want to earn from their craft, as Hilliard puts it, “mad money” to spend.

“I decided it was time that Maryville had a vinyl store. So when I told (MidSouth Sewing) that, they were very supportive and very nice. They said, ‘Go spread your wings and open up a vinyl store.’”

Family Tradition

So she did. So did her brother, Nathan Martin, only he’s not doing vinyl. He’s sharing store space with his sister and has his own business, Bhanned Clothing Co.

There’s that name thing again. (A family trait perhaps?) Only Martin’s explanation is simpler.

“I do screen printing. I also do what’s called sublimation, which is taking a picture and putting it on a coffee mug or mouse pad or shirt or water battle. A picture of grandkids or if they have a family crest, something like that. We can put it on just about anything,” Martin says.

Custom T-shirts is a big part of his business, which explains the clothing part of the name. But the Bhanned part?

“Me and my friend work at (Newell) Rubbermaid together, and we were trying to figure out a name for the company. He all of a sudden came up with that one and thought the spelling was interesting, so we decided that would be the way to go,” Martin says.

Now that Martin has set up his side of the shop, customers are buying custom T-shirts from both businesses behind the same store front. Screen-printed from him, shirts with vinyl decoration from her. The store itself is decorated for Halloween.

“I’m so looking forward to the trick-or-treaters that come to this mall. We plan to have candy,” Hilliard says.

Once that’s over, it’s full speed for Christmas.

“Thanksgiving will be skipped. I will immediately go into Christmas,” Hilliard says. “I go all out for Christmas. This place will be decked out.”

Bob has served in a variety of roles since joining The Daily Times in the 90s. He currently is editor of the business section. When someone gets promoted, retires or gets hired at a new job in Blount County, he's the man to email.

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