Aug 28, 2006
Welcome to my first of many to come, postings on what it is like to own a little store. For you boutique-owners-wannabe's, these series of posts over the next several weeks, are being written for you. I will cover basic business, bacis "how to's" and very basic shop owners hints. I just need to put in a disclaimer: I am not a "professional." I learn by doing, which includes, yes, mistakes. I try my best to learn from others, books, researching, and so on. But basically, the things I will write about just simply come first-hand experience - rewards and mistakes both.
This first volume is not meant to be discouraging - but rather to help those of you who are, right at this very moment, trying to open or start your business. It is meant to let you know that you are not alone in your fears, doubts, lonliness, stress, and just simply "what in the hell am I doing?" moods.
Recently, I witnessed two instances that directly relates to this topic. I have two good friends that are trying to start their businesses. Although their businesses are very different, they both had the same doubts and fears. My good friend #1 called me on the phone, near to tears, and told me, "this it just too hard." He is very close to opening up his store. He vented to me how tired he was, how broke, how the permits were taking too long, how he doesn't have enough space for his stock inventory, how the inventory isn't enough, right, or what he imagined. He vented that he is behind on so many things and can't seem to catch up and that his "to do" list keeps growing with no end in sight. He vented that this is taking so long to do and then he yelled at me: "Why didn't you tell me how hard this is????!!!! Why didn't you tell me about the long hours???!!!! You make it look so easy....how do you DO IT???!!"
Then not too long after that conversation, friend #2 is also very close to starting her business. She was very, very stressed, discombobulated, overwhelmed, behind on orders, can't seem to get ahead, works morning, noon, and night and still not close to getting done what she needs to get done, and still isn't sure how wholesale buying works, the permits, the taxes, the sales tax, and because she is going to ship items, she has to figure out shipping costs, how much time it takes to get something ready to ship, advertising, PR, website issues, little start-up capital, and how to make a dollar stretch until is screams like the jeans worn by Anna Nichole Smith's, pre-diet days. She cried on my shoulder that she is so tired. So very tired. And she did laugh a little at herself, knowing full well that she didn't say a single thing that she hasn't heard me say many, many times before.
Now I want to be clear about something: Both good friends #1, and #2 are smart, capable, and did their research. They didn't just "jump into it" and they both have vast experience in the industry of their choice. But, they just simply have not ran their own businesses before. And even though they are in two different industires, they both have the same concerns and fears.
But they also have something in common: they have passion for what they do and they believe in what they are doing.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more important than having passion and believing in what you are doing. All the capital in the world, all the advertising you can possibly get, all the great employees you could ever hire, all the great contacts you make to help you through those permits....all of that...will amount to nothing in the end if you don't truly, truly have a passion for you are doing and if you don't truly believe in it.
Why so important? More important than money?
Yes. Because think about it. How many shops have you been in that were just filled with crud? No flare, no taste, no originality? But it was filled with inventory. Inventory you could find just around the corner, and also down the block, and even across the street. Would you go back and shop there? No, because you can get their stuff anywhere, and probably cheaper too. That is a shop owner who has the capital, not the passion. And it shows. It shows badly.
Now, how many of you walked into a little shop that just took your breath away? That you wanted to stay longer, but had an appointment, but told yourself on the way out, "I am coming back here my friends, when I can take my time"? How many times have you entered a little shop that inspired you, that excited you? And if you really, really looked around, you would see that the little shop really didn't have a whole lot of inventory, but it did have some really cool things. And the little shop didn't have exactly what you needed, but darn it, you were determined to find something to buy, even it is only a little candle. Why? Because you wanted a little piece of that experience, of that feeling you first had the moment you entered that store, to go home with you. Now that is a store built with passion! And I can guarantee you without an ounce of doubt, that the little shop owner wants so badly to have more inventory, to "really do it right" and do it they way she really wants to, but she has little capital. My bet would be that she will be in business longer than the first store.
Now don't misunderstand me, capital is important, but it will do you no good if you just don't have the passion. I get lots of ladies in my store that want to know how I "do it" and that they always wanted a little shop of their own. I always try to encourage and inspire others - but with just a tad of reality sprinkled in.
What I ask those ladies who tell me they want to open a shop is this: "Would you do what you want to do for free?"
Think about that. Really think about that question. Now, there is no shame in answering "no" to that answer. If you are ever going to be honest with yourself, this is the time. You can still have a passion in addition to your life. Your passion doesn't have to be your life, it can simply be a part of your life. But if you truly know you would do it for free, then you found your calling. Many, many years ago as a teenager and young adult, my friend's parents owned a bookstore that also sold little gift items. My friend would work the store for her parents, and many times I would meet her there near closing time so we could go out and have fun. However, I found myself going there earlier and earlier because I just loved to arrange, display and move around the merchandise. Luckily, her parents didn't mind when they came in the next morning and saw that "Elizabeth was here again." But, I did it for free, because I loved to do it. And way back then, I had no idea that I would ever own a shop.
Now, back to my friend #1 and #2. They both wanted to know how in the world do I do it? The honest answer is simple: Many times I just don't. I don't make the deadline. I don't remember to return that call. I don't have time to get to that fabric store. I don't have enough money to order the really neat line of soaps that I 've always wanted to carry. I don't get to make changes to the web as often as I would like. I don't get to advertise in color in the local magazines. I don't get to do a lot of the things a lot of the time.
I do what I do with passion. I do what I manage to do with true love. I would also do what I do for free (and sometimes, depending on the sales that month, I do). I just do. And I do it with my soul.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't experience at least one of the fears that my friends #1 and #2 are experiencing right now. You just learn to live with it, learn from it, and move on. In fact, I have been told by several people that I am "fearless." So, so, so untrue. To be fearless means to have no fear. I do have fear. I would like to think I am couragous. To have courage means to continue inspite of your fear.
And I wish you all the courage to either live your passion or live with a passion. And the courage to know the difference.
from my house to your house,
Aug 21, 2006
For those of you who have had the pleasure of getting to know my right hand, right foot, and even left foot for that matter, Sharon, then you will understand my extreme sadness of seeing her leave the Elizabeth House family. Sharon has been working on developing her own online business, www.secretleaves.com. She is a very talented paper artist that designs and makes custom cards and journals. Her fine items are sold at Elizabeth House.
What is so ironic about her decision to work on her card business full time is that she told me it was my blog that inspired her to leave! After she read my "Dream, Plan, Do" posting, she told me decided right then that she needs to "shit or get off the pot" as my delicate little flower of an employee so colorfully said. She had been planning this venture for some time and now is the time to just "do it" as the phrase goes. So she is.
While I will miss her greatly, I am so very happy for her! I have no doubt that she will be a huge success along with her business partner, Anne. I might have lost a gem of an employee, but I gained so much more: a business collegue and the opportunity to have had some influence on a very talented woman taking a chance to live her passion. And that is what Elizabeth House is all about. To inspire others to step out and live their passion. And what a great honor to have inspired someone that I admire greatly. Because Lord knows, her guidance, counsel, and compassion have done more good than words can describe.
Sharon knows that no matter what, she always has a place within the Elizabeth House family. I hope she will be able to help out on special events, such as my annual Christmas Open House, held the first Friday of December. This photo was taken at our last open house, in which Sharon and I shared and celebrated with an entire bottle of pear wine, upstairs in my apartment, before we went down to the store to "do our thing" with our wonderful customers. I had champaigne punch during the open house, and by the time this photo was taken, we were happy!
So, that leaves me without a gem. Elizabeth House is in need of someone to at least attempt to fill Sharon's shoes. No one will really, but a close fit would make this business owner very happy. To see the job duties and requirements, please visit Craig's list at http://stlouis.craigslist.org/ret/196970559.html for details. If you know of anyone who may fit the bill, please pass along their name.
Sharon will be "sparkling" at EH until mid September or so. Stop by and wish her well. Oh, and get on her website and order some stuff...the woman is trying to make a living, dang it! And I already know that Sharon would want me to tell you all that the website is under construction and it "isn't the real thing yet." Yes, Sharon we get that. :-)
from my house to your house,
Aug 20, 2006
Details, details, details! It is the details that make all the difference in my opinion. Here are more shots of my work in Chicago. There is a shot of the headboard pillow that I designed for the French bed - it is ironic...that design is my most requested pillow. And to think I designed it years ago when I had neck surgery and I had to wear a neck brace for almost 5 months. I had to sleep in the brace and I had to sleep sitting up practically. So, I came up with this design to help me sleep actually. My friends saw it and it just sort of took off from there.
The French Toddler Bed is my favorite! This solid iron piece with all original paint, is just to die for! I have had a lot of beautiful French youth beds before, but this one takes the cake. I had a very sturdy platform made so a big adult would be able to really use it and sit on it. The seat cushion and pillows are of humble fabrics and my simple design. I designed it so that it may be used in the center of a room and sat on from either side. Or, it may go against a wall with pillows backed up against the wall on which to lean. If I had room in my apartment, it would be there right now.
A detail shot of my little French chair (set of four) that I painted and had covered in silk. The bulap and ticking pillow is sold separately, but I thought how fun to put the two textures together. Sort of like wearing socks with ballet slippers. Not really done, but still interesting, and makes one stop and think a moment.
Those little tiny bags are housing my business cards. It is funny how that all came about. Way back when, like in 1998, when I first started my little antique booth in San Antonio, Texas, I use to print up my own cards with my little home printer. The ink and quality weren't so great and I found that if you touched the card a lot, the ink would eventually smear. So, I found these little bags to put them in to leave in my booth. Well, one day I finally could afford to have them printed professionally and no longer needed the little bags. Well, good grief, you'd think the world was coming to an end when my customers expressed their disappointment that my cards were no longer in the little bags! Little did I know that the ladies who visited my booth (I never worked in the booth, so I never heard their comments) complained loudly to the mall owner "what happened to the little bags!!!" The next time I went in to stock my space, I was quickly told by the employees that I had better get those little bags back! So, now that I am "big time" in Chicago (as a friend likes to say), my business cards are still very humbly housed in little bags. A nice reminder, actually, of my very humble beginnings.
Finally, yes, those are very old (1868) pages that I gleefully ripped out of an old book and shoved in places around the space. Why? Oh, I don't know, I just felt like it. Besides, I do freak out quite a few people when I will take something "so old!" and rip it to shreds. I like the texture. I like paper. Actually, I love old paper. And I like the color. I have paper all over the space. Glued on walls, in the glass cabinet, hung from the rafters, and shoved in little cracks in the brick wall - look carefully, you can see it in other photos.
So, even though not apparent, there is a method to my madness. I can't explain the method, but I can demonstrate my madness quite well. I do love what I do and I hope what I do inspires you to do what you love as well.
Thank you so much for your interest.
from my house to your house,
More photos of my Chicago space!
I wish I could figure out how to move these photos into my copy for my postings. My friend, Debbie has emailed me how to do it, but my blogger home page is definitely different from hers and I have no idea why. My home page doesn't even allow me to post titles of my articles. It use to, but that option is no longer available on my page for some weird reason. If anyone out there can tell me how in the world to get my photos into my articles I would love it. I am computer literate believe it or not!
Anyway, these photos show you the gist of my space. The antique French bed is a queen. New side rails have been made to make it a queen. The original rails are still available though. The bedding is made of linen, chenille and taffeta. Those are windows/shutters from a home in France. There is a pair of them. They are both the same, I just flipped one around so customers could see both sides. That is a little French chair that I painted and covered in silk. There are four of those. In my next posting, I will put detail shots.
Thank you for looking!
from my house to your house,
Chicago Space is no longer just a space - it is Elizabeth House!
As you can see, the space has transformed into what I saw all along in this crazy head of mine. I am always excited when what I "see" in my head becomes a reality. Now, if only the success and fortune I "see" in my head would become a reality....but I must say, my life in my head is pretty fun. This Chicago space houses all of my custom work, higher end European pieces and a vision that is hard to express in my store, located in St. Louis.
I painted everything you see painted, except the wonderful antique French bed...that is all original. The bedding I custom designed as well as the chairs and love seat. While working for 3 long, long days and nights on this, one can lose perspective and appreciation. I just wanted to get it done and back to my store. After much needed sleep and rest, I downloaded my photos and it wasn't until that very moment, looking at my computer screen did I really see what I accomplished. I get tired all over again just looking at the photo! But, I am happy. I am fulfilled. I am content. What more could I ask for? I am blessed - my gift to create was given to me...it doesn't belong to me. I am suppose to share it. I only get to borrow for now until I am called to do something different. My biggest blessing? Having friends like you who cheer me on.
Thank you so much for your encouragement, support, and well wishes. I will post more photos after this posting, as again, this dang site wouldn't let me do it on this posting.
Okay, I will answer some questions that people have been asking me:
Why expand to Chicago?
Well, I wanted to try another market. Now, I have no idea if my style or vision will take in Chicago, and if it doesn't then I will just move my inventory back to my St. Louis store. I also wanted to try a higher end market. As much as I love St. Louis, it is pretty dang hard to make a living here. The cost of me producing my custom bedding, furniture and so on is not cheap. I must price accordingly to cover my costs and to make a living. That is hard to do here.
Are you going to move to Chicago?
To be honest, I just don't know. At the moment, I have no plans. But, there is one single philosophy that I truly live by: I am open to any and all opportunities that may come my way. Now, I always do my best to weigh the effects of such opportunities, but I have finally decided that it is really okay not to have all the answers before moving forward.
Where do you get your stuff?
Ha! Wouldn't you like to know??? :-) Actually, I get it through hunting, contacts, and just plain ole work. I lived in Europe for 6 years, know the markets pretty well, and I have contacts to help ship my furniture.
Are you going to open a store in Chicago?
That is something I've thought about, but again, I have no plans at this time. For now, I just need to see if this even takes off. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. I will just adjust accordingly. I know absolutely no one in the Chicago area and it would be hard to start all over in a new place. But then again, I didn't know a single person here in St. Louis either.
How are you going to manage both St. Louis and Chicago?
Good question. Actually, the store in St. Louis is up and going. The space is in Chicago is located in an existing store, Vintage Pine, which is ran by the owners. They will handle my sales. I will need to keep it stocked. Now that would be a great problem to have: having to make numerous trips to Chicago to restock!
You design, consult, own a store, have a space in Chicago, do professional photography, and now you are a contributor to Romantic Homes magazine...shouldn't you just pick one avenue and just concentrate on that?
A good friend, whom I respect highly asked me this question. Believe me, I think about that very thing every single day. But you know what? I always come to the same conclusion: I just don't want to choose. I want to do it all. I really do. Now, actually doing it all is a whole different story. That I haven't figured out yet. But my interests and passions are sprinkled in many different areas: design, writing, photography, selling.....I have always, always been this way. I do wish I could change it. In fact, I actually envy those individuals who just knew in high school that they wanted to be a lawyer or a banker, or an engineer. I really had so, so many interests, so many passions, that I just could never, ever just pinpoint my interests down into a single profession. I always joked that I will have to live to be 150 to do all that I want to do.
When do you sleep?
Yes, I actually get this question more often than any other question. I do sleep, really. But, I live on less sleep than most. I always have. As I age though, I find that my energy level is dropping some, which bums me out. And about every other month, I have a "recharge" day. I can flop on the sofa, watch TV, nap, and snack with the best of them. I will do that for about 24 hours, no phone, no socializing. And then I am recharged and ready to go again!
So for now, I will try to post more photos of my Chicago space. Please share my blogsite with your friends. Out of all the goals that I may have, I have always had one goal that is at the top of the list: To inspire women to live their passion through my designs and my adventures. Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me happier than when I get an email, phone call or letter from a total stranger telling me that my website, newsletter, blog, or magazine article inspired her. What an absolute honor to be in that position.
And what an honor to have you take time out of your day to see what else is going on with this little store owner.
from my house to your house,
More Chicago pictures are on the way! I tried for almost an hour to get more photos on the darn blog, but it wouldn't let me. And it won't let me place my photos where I want to on the posting. This site is not easy at all to upload my postings. Now I know I told you on my last posting that I would show you "after" photos next. After some thought, I decided that it is really the "during" that the work, creativity, and passion are found. So, I wanted to share some "during" photos prior to showing you the "after" photos.
As you can see from the first photo, I got the brick wall aged to my signature color: aged ivory. This was not easy. Bumpy brick does not make a great canvas, but the results are satisfying First, I must say, there was NO air conditioning in the space and those days were very, very hot. The ladder you are looking at is ten feet tall. I had to stand on the top rung to reach the ceiling. And the rafters were covered in about an inch of crumbly dust that continually fell into my eyes and hair as I hung chain, cheesecloth, and wire. Not fun.
I tried to up load a photo of my two friends, Cassandra and Phil who drove up and helped unload and put into place the larger pieces. Phil hung chandeliers and patiently waited on top of the ladder as I examined the location and to decide if it "looked right." They drove up on day two, worked hard for about five hours and then headed back and I was then left to do my "magic" as so many of friends like to call it.
As soon as I was left on my own once again, I got busy. I can't explain what happens to me when I get into my zone, so to speak, but I can honestly say that a tornado could rip right through the building and I wouldn't notice. I am truly in my own world. Many times, Sallie, one of the owners of Vintage Pine, would walk up to me to tell me something and I would just jump out of my skin because I was so unaware of her presence. After doing this several times, she told me that whenever she saw me on a ladder, she wouldn't approach me because she was afraid of startling me while up there.
People also always ask me how do I come up with my ideas? Again, I don't have an answer. They just come in the moment. I can "see" the final results in my head, but the fine details don't emerge until I am in my "zone." While I work in this mode, I rarely eat, rarely sleep, and work non-stop. Actually, I went 38 hours without sleep. I worked in my store in St. Louis and then loaded my van on a Tuesday, worked all night prepping for the move, then got in the van, drove 4.5 hours to Chicago on Wed, unloaded, and began painting until the evening. I highly don't recommend this, but sometimes, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do what needs to get done. And I am blessed to have an enormous amount of energy. I've pulled all nighters before (actually several times a year), but again, I honestly try to avoid doing this whenver possible. But, I guess you could say that is when my passion for what I do comes to true fruition.
I also have a photo of the three of us eating our lunch out of the cargo van in the side alley next to the trash dumpster. But this blog site wouldn't take it. I laughed as I snapped the photo telling Phil that I hope (and pray) that someday this will be a "remember when" photo. As in, when I am a huge success, eating my catered lunch in my fabulous, well-designed art studio in a trendy art loft in a hip city and I can point to that photo and say "remember when I was just starting out how I had to move furniture myself, and eat lunch out of the cargo van in the alley??" as I personally sign my design books for my publisher to distribute to Borders. See how my dreams are just about as big as they can get? It is fun to dream. Yup, when it comes to that really successful state, I am only in a dream stage. I need to find a way to move on to the plan stage. But one step at a time, I guess.
If I can get more photos up from the "during" stage of the move, I will. But for now, for those of you who have projects or big plans to accomplish, the best piece of advice I can offer is really simple. Enjoy the process. No matter how long the hours, how difficult, or tiring it may be, the process is really the fun part.
Sort of like hiking up a really steep and long hill side to reach a beautiful stream that starts at the top. How many times have we done something like that? We finally see the wonderful stream, admire it, and even drink from it. But what do we then do?? We sit down, next to the stream, and we don't really look at it, but rather, we look down the hill from where we came and ponder the challenge that we just accomplished. And we relive that hike in our minds, every stone, every slip, and every tree branch we gabbed onto to steady ourselves, the little cuts on our fingers, and even the all the bugs we swiped away during our hike. And as we sit next to that stream thinking about the long hike - we don't dwell on the challenges, we instead admire how we overcame them. That's the secret to just about anything in life. Seeing the challenge as something to solve and not as something to stop us.
Thank you again for allowing me to express my thoughts to you. And thank you to Phil and Cassandra. You were definitely my "tree branches" that I grabbed onto to steady myself. And my very good friend Annie, is someone that not only encouraged me on this "hike" of mine - she made the hike a real adventure. May you enjoy your adventures.
from my house to your house,
Aug 19, 2006
Elizabeth House meets Chicago!
Well, I finally took my own advice. Remember how I advised about Dream, Plan, then Do? Well, this Chicago venture has been in the planning stages for about a year and finally it was time to "just do it."
Elizabeth House has expanded and now housed in an upscale gallery called Vintage Pine, located in the Lincoln Park district. Very "warehousey" area of town, but yet, only two blocks from Crate and Barrel, Anne Taylor, Bed Bath and Beyond and more.
The address is 904 Blackhawk. The website for Vintage Pine is www.vintagepine.com. Now, the website is not representative of what they have to offer and they are working on updating the images. However, the site will give you directions and contact information should you find yourself in Chicago.
This first post of my Chicago adventure is about passion. Here you see the "before" shot of the space. It is very small, about 20 x 20. However, my very first space I ever had, located in Texas, was only 5' x 8' and little did I know that my "hobby" would someday turn into having a space in Chicago! But I digress. Back to passion. Those of you who know me know that I can "see" things very, very clearly way before it ever happens. I just knew this little space could be something special. And while my life may seem "glamorous" it really is anything but. These photos were taken about 10PM after a very long day of prepping, painting, taping, aging, and countless times up and down a ten foot ladder. I will say though, my passion for what I do and how I express myself, makes me feel glamorous, even in my paint clothes. Why? Because, in my opinion, there is nothing more beautiful than seeing someone in their element, doing what they do best, and loving every minute of it.
Look at very young children...how beautiful the little girl is who is so very content coloring in her coloring book and quietly humming as she does it. She does it so effortlessly, with confidence. She doesn't hesitate at which crayon to pluck from its box - she just knows which one. And when she is done, she confidently shows her art to her mother, who in turn, proudly posts it on the fridge with a special magnet. I guess I could say that you, special readers, are my special magnet to which I proudly post the results of something I planned for, dreamnt about, and then confidently hummed and navigated my vision into a reality. As we age, our "box of crayons" get more complicated. Criticism, examination, and doubt prevent us from just "plucking from our box of crayons" with confidence.
Thanks for letting my "post" my creation for you to see. And remember, we all get a box of crayons...we just need to remember to color our passion once in a while. Next posting will be my "after" photos!
from my house to your house,