Backstory

Backstory: The Duck Shop in Durham wins when the Duke Blue Devils win

vbridges@newsobserver.comMarch 31, 2014 

Darren Byerly owns The Duck Shop, the Durham store that sells licensed Duke University merchandise.

VIRGINIA BRIDGES — vbridges@newsobserver.com

  • Advice from Darren Byerly

    • Be persistent but patient.

    • Identify and cater to your customer.

    • Have good people around you.

— For Darren Byerly, a Blue Devils’ men’s basketball championship is like Christmas in March.

That is among the reasons Byerly, 43, was stunned after the Duke University team didn’t advance past the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament.

“I kind of felt numb because I never dreamed they would lose in the first round,” said Byerly, owner of The Duck Shop, a Ninth Street staple that has been selling Duke hats, T-shirts, and various accessories for nearly 25 years.

The loss follows an increase in rent and overall investment in the store for Byerly after he moved the shop down Ninth Street March 5 to a larger renovated space that shares a parking lot with a new Harris Teeter.

“The thing you can’t predict, when you do something like this, is how much your sales are going to increase,” he said.

Danny and Pam Jones, Byerly’s cousin and his wife, opened The Duck Shop in 1989 on Perry Street in Durham. The store was originally titled The Duke Shop, but the name was changed after university attorneys sent a letter protesting the use of the school’s moniker.

The couple asked Byerly to work for them part-time to help handle the demand after Duke’s NCAA basketball championship win in 1991.

In 1993, the store moved to Ninth Street. The couple closed the shop in 1997 after a related catalog business failed and an investor took over their assets.

The investor called Byerly and asked him to reopen and manage the store. In the fall of 1999, Byerly borrowed money from his father and a bank and bought the operation.

The first year, Byerly couldn’t afford to stock the store adequately, he said, after he borrowed money to start the operation and reached his credit limit with some merchants.

After Duke won a basketball title in 2001, however, the demand for Duke merchandise was high and some suppliers offered unlimited credit during the hot market.

“And then I was on my way,” Byerly said.

Sales remained consistent until the recession hit in 2007. Byerly prioritized his expenses, paying his employees and rent first, and stretching out payments to suppliers.

“You communicate with them, and most of them are willing to work with you,” he said.

Sales started increasing and he caught up on his debt during the 2009 holiday season. Revenue spiked again in 2010, after Duke scored another championship.

For years, Byerly’s landlord planned to knock down and rebuild the Ninth Street complex that housed his store. So he didn’t spend any money on the space, which by 2010 was crowded with clothes of various styles stacked together on the same racks. One-third of the inventory was stored in a back room.

The plan changed when Regency Centers purchased the shopping center and developed the west side of Ninth Street into the Shops at Erwin Mill. The company offered Byerly incentives to move to a much larger renovated space with a mezzanine. The opportunity excited Byerly, he said, but he also worried as it included rising expenses for rent, more merchandise and a costly buildout.

Byerly did his due diligence and signed the lease in November 2012, three months after the offer.

Byerly celebrated his grand opening March 8, the same day Duke beat North Carolina 93-81 to close out the regular season. On March 21, Duke lost to Mercer in that first-round NCAA tournament game, and the excitement and sales momentum vanished.

Byerly, however, is looking on the bright side.

“I’m not relieved that they didn’t advance,” he said. “But now we can get back to business and focus” on the rest of the year.

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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