BRANSON, Mo. —
Kathy Velvet grew up in museums.
Not art museums filled with Monets, Manets and Rembrandts, though. The collections Velvet remembers were filled with all-American Elvis memorabilia. The King's cars, bling and jumpsuits are a cherished part of her past.
"Our family got into the museum business in 1978," said Velvet, owner of the Celebrity Car Museum in Branson. "We started the Elvis Presley Museum across from Graceland. We collected Elvis' cars, rings, jumpsuits and all kinds of memorabilia."
At their peak, she said, the family had the largest collection of Elvis memorabilia outside of Graceland, Presley's iconic estate. At one point, the family owned and curated half a dozen Elvis collections around the country.
"We were the only licensed (Elvis) museums outside of Graceland," she said.
The family had a 15-year contract with the Presley estate and, at the end the agreement, they looked for a different type of business plan.
"We sold Graceland five of the (Elvis) automobiles with which they started their auto museum," she said. "We had Elvis' white Rolls Royce and his extended, navy blue Mercedes and the 'Spinout' car."
The Elvis Cobra 427 "Spinout" car was used in a 1966 movie musical of the same name, in which Elvis portrayed a singing race driver.
'Sell the sizzle'
The Velvets' obsession wasn't limited to Elvis memorabilia. It has always been a family obsession.
It continues today: Since June 1, 2012, Velvet, her son and a loyal group of staff operate the Celebrity Car Museum in the Dick Clark American Bandstand complex on the Branson Strip. The museum houses more than 80 vintage cars, trucks, custom rods, cycles and movie machines made famous by Hollywood and the stars who drove them.
"We're all sort of history buffs," she said. "When we go to any museum, we are looking at the research and how do they attach all of those things to the walls. It's all about presentation. We had The Blues Museum on Beale Street (in Memphis) and then we started with the Celebrity Car Museums."
Velvet said she and her clan of collectors know what people want to see and, more profitably, want to own.
When it comes to moving memorabilia of any kind, Velvet said, you must "sell the sizzle and not the steak," as the classic marketing phrase coined by Larry Slater goes.
"Having dealt with the Elvis business all those years, the deal is if you don't have sizzle it doesn't really sell," she said.
At their Branson museum, Velvet said she can see what makes visitors sizzle.
"The 'Back to the Future' car is really popular," said Velvet. "We call it The Time Machine. The Batmobile is really popular. We are now showing the '89 Batmobile, because the '66 we sold."
Velvet is always looking for new inventory for the ever-changing collection. They sold the vintage '60s Batmobile at a Cox Auto Auction in April. The Cox Auction, the largest automotive sale in the nation, is where the best of the best roll onto the auction block.
"We have our eyes on another Batmobile," she said. "If my son can convince me that we can make money on it, then it's a buy. He really does know what sells. We've had other Batmobiles.
While Velvet didn't say how much she got for Batman and Robin's ride, she did admit: "We sold ours too cheap. The last one went for $250K."
Almost all of the vehicles housed at the Branson attraction are for sale Ñ for the right price, that is. Currently, Velvet said, they are in the market for one of the industry's most rare celebrity cars.
"The 'Eleanor' from the 'Gone in 60 Seconds' movie is a rare find," she said. "That's really hard to get a hold of, but we are looking for one."