Custom-made hat boxes for some of Sarah’s Hat Boxes commercial clients are on display at the businesses new Peterborough showroom. MEGHAN PIERCE
PETERBOROUGH — The grand opening of the Sarah's Hat Boxes showroom was a family affair Saturday for owners Peter and Debbie Mills and their grown children Phil Mills of Washington and Sarah Lawrence of Auburn.
Emily Lawrence, 8, of Auburn, pulls out a rainbow hat box that she likes.
It was also the day the third generation of the family was trying to get in on the business: Phil's daughter 10-year-old Abbey Mills and Sarah's daughter 8-year-old Emily Lawrence asked for summer jobs at the new showroom.
Cousins Abbey Mills of Washington, 10, and Emily Lawrence, 8, of Auburn hold up their favorite hat boxes at the grand opening of Sarah’s Hat Boxes showroom in Peterborough on Saturday. The cousins hope to join the family business one day. MEGHAN PIERCE
The handmade custom fabric box business started more than two decades ago in the Mills' Hancock home.
Phil Mills said manufacturing of the hat boxes will continue in the 15,000-square-foot Hancock location, where he works with his parents and three employees.
The headquarters in Hancock has a showroom that will remain open, but because of its location, it doesn't get a lot of traffic.
"If we got five customers a week that was a good week," Phil Mills said.
The business has been expanding rapidly during the past few years, thanks to strong custom-order business that includes weddings, corporate gifts, award shows and wholesale.
The new showroom in the recently renovated 36 Grove St. building in Peterborough is a result of that, the owners said.
"If this works out like we hope it is, we'll probably be opening a third location in Portsmouth or who knows, maybe Boston," Phil Mills said.
The showroom got a lot of foot traffic Saturday as the Mills had expected. And Debbie Mills plans to draw on the customer feedback for inspiration as well as sell hat boxes made from materials and fabric left over from custom orders.
"It's more of walking town. People come down here and walk and talk and get something to eat," Debbie Mills said. "Down in Depot Square there's a lot more foot traffic and stuff. We do the wholesale thing; we do the retail online. Doing a store like this not only does it give me an idea of what people want, but it's a way to get rid of some of the stuff that is left over. I have so much fabric from some of the jobs. And people love them."
Customers buy the round boxes that range in size from three to 20 inches in diameter and range in price from $8 to $100 for a variety of uses, from storing keepsakes or knitting projects, sending gifts or even storing hats.
Custom-order clients include Campbell Soup, Nordstrom and Victoria's Secret. Television and movie production companies also order from Sarah's Hat Boxes. The company recently completed a custom order that is expected to appear on the TV show "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,'' Phil Mills said.
"The Sundance Channel is opening in South America so we did boxes made to put different swag in there to send to the networks down in South America," Phil Mills said.
Boxes can also be order online at www.sarahshatboxes.com.