By Norm Bour
Tom Pierson offers sage marital advice after almost a half century of being married. He sums it up in just a few words. “No matter what she asks for or says, my answer is the same: ‘honey whatever you want to do is fine with me.’”
And that policy has worked since he and his wife, Pam, married in 1971, and in less than one year had their first baby.
Not a child, but the start of Kaleidoscope in Springfield, the most prominent smoke and head shop in the state of Missouri. They didn’t have to support this baby, and instead, this baby has supported them!
They wanted to open their own shop, so they found a small house for a record store and lived upstairs. Later they turned the upstairs into a head shop, and even in the very conservative Bible Belt, never had any push back.
Tom shared that he always considered being the captain of his own ship to be the most important decision in his business life.
His policy of giving leeway transitioned into the shop, and he has had great managers over the years. He gives all his employees latitude to learn and grow on their own.
After six years they tried to duplicate the success of the first Kaleidoscope shop and opened a second one on the other side of town.
“It was a failure,” Pierson confided, “and not worth the trouble. For two years we hoped that the customers on the other side of town would go to our new shop, but they ended up coming back here! Expansion is tough, and one is enough! Fun and adventure is even better!”
That was in the late 70’s and they kept their same single location until 2004, when they finally moved into larger quarters with about 6000 sq. ft.
“I joke and say we only moved 32 feet after 32 years since our new location is literally next door.”
When you think of head shops, Missouri does not appear at first glance to be an optimal state. And with a population of just under 200,000, Springfield is not your typical “college town,” since two of the three major universities are religious schools.
He trusts his wife’s opinions, and does the same thing with his people, which is now number 28. “I know because I counted 28 Easter baskets,” he said.
“We also give bonuses throughout the year,” he shared, “and I try to create a sense of fun at the store.”
Since his daughter, Whitney, and manager, Kim, are both decades younger than he, he follows their insight on products and lines to carry.
In 1998 they added body piercing, and later tattoos, but piercing remains the most profitable department at Kaleidoscope. They also recently added an adult section.
“Everything you want, but not everything you need,” and “Toys for Heads” are two of their slogans, and along with the thousands of SKUs they carry, they also have glassware from the cheapies to high end custom work.
The smoke and head shop do well on their own, and Pierson shared that it grosses about one million annually, and commends managers Dalena Camper and Rick Z. for maintaining that stability.
Tom is no longer a smoker, but enjoys his wine, and even though he “tried” to retire at age 77, he finds himself in the shop daily.
“The last week of March was the busiest week ever in over 50 years,” he exclaimed, “and the week before was the second, so retirement may not be in the picture anytime soon.”