Jul 28, 2006

Phone call from the future....You know those rare moments that "just happen at the right time" that are so reaffirming? Well that moment happened yesterday for me. I was having a particularly tiring week (with expansion to Chicago) and several things just didn't go right or even close to as planned. Then I get a phone call from the future.

Yes, the future - literally. I got a call from Australia, and it was 5:30 AM the next day over there - so I was literally talking from someone who was already living in my tomorrow. Kind of reassuring - to know that there will be a tomorrow and a chance to start again.

My new friend, Cathy, initially contacted me via email to let me know she read about me in Romantic Homes, been to my website, and even read my blog. She wrote just about the sweetest email anyone could ever get. Plus, she is first Australian to email me. Cathy has a wonderful website that I encourage you to visit ...www.cathypentondesigns.com. She sells wonderful, artful charms and she is just starting out.

She sent me some wonderful custom Elizabeth House pieces as a gift and shortly after receiving them, St. Louis had a terrible storm that caused a huge power outage, and then immediately after that, I was out of town in Chicago. So, Cathy calls me yesterday to make sure I received her "parcel" as the Australians so charmingly say. What a nice surprise to get her call.

I instantly felt kindred spirits. To hear her happy voice, her excitement with her new business that is so "tiny and new" as she puts it...and what an "honor" it was to talk with me. Believe me, the honor was all mine. I am still very tiny and still very new as well. But to hear her passionate voice over the phone was just the medicine I needed to remember, and hold on to, those same feelings that I once had, but can get easily overtaken with worries, power outages, broken down car, not enough time to meet some deadlines....Cathy's call meant more to me than she even knows.

After I hung up, I sat and thought for a moment about how absolutely fabulous it is to have a total stranger call me all the way from Australia because she saw something in the article, my website, or this blog that inspired her to contact me. I would have never, ever thought that something so wonderful as that could really happen to me when I first opened my doors almost four years ago.

And that is what I want you boutique-owner-wanna-be's to realize. That when you are finally ready to open your doors for business - know that there are many, many doors you will be opening and you won't even realize that not only did you open a new door, but you walked right through it. And while all those doors are new and exciting and even necessary for growth...don't ever lose that feeling of pure excitement and sense of accomplishment you felt when you opened that very first door - your new business.

There will always be power outages, virus-filled computers, shortage of time and resources. But there will be only one time that you will experience the joy, thrill, pride, and pure excitement as a brand new business owner. Enjoy it. And never forget that feeling. And when that feeling escapes you - it is the calls from those "Cathy's" in your life that will jolt you right back where you need to be - back in business.

Thank you Cathy for the call from "down under." You lifted my spirits and that is a cherished gift that is "parceled" through time - a lifetime.

From my house to your house,


Jul 27, 2006

Posted by Picasa Dream, Plan, Do. Owning a business requires a lot of things: money, vision, ambition, passion, support, research, skills, and of course goals. But no matter how much money one may have, or how passionate or goal-oriented one may be, without the courage to take risks, a business will never even get off the ground, or if it does, it may just never meet the owner’s expectations. I have several wipe boards in my design studio listing all my bedding and furniture projects, orders, and active clients. The list can be overwhelming and the boards are filled to capacity. But at the top of each board, I have my mantra: “Dream, Plan, Do.”

When wanting to start something new – whether a business, going back to school, or maybe even just moving to another part of the country - the dream stage is the easiest and safest. How many people have you met over the years that have big ideas and big dreams, but just never seem to get beyond the dream stage? For some, just dreaming is fulfilling enough. For others, it is only the first step. That is me. I am a doer, plain and simple. For example, how many of us dream of taking an exotic vacation? Maybe climb the Great Wall of China, explore remote islands of Hawaii, or even cruise along the Italian coastline? It is fun to dream, wish, and wonder what it would be like. So, then we start to plan it out. We get maps, make hotel reservations, buy new clothes, get our airline tickets, update our passport, and pack our suitcases – only to never leave home. How silly is that? We couldn’t imagine going through all that planning and then just never leave for our dream vacation. It is exactly same with owning a business. Dreaming is great; planning is great, but unless we take risks, the business will never materialize.

Owning and running my retail and interior design business, Elizabeth House, was a dream that I dreamt for years. Yes, years. When talking about my dream, I would always say “if I ever own a store, I am going to make sure I have items for sale that no other store has.” I would start every sentence with “if I ever own a store…” Then one day, very naturally, my “if” turned into “when.” "When I open my store, I am going to stay open until 6PM so that people getting off work can stop in.” Simply stating “when” gave me the confidence to really start to plan. Dreams are filled with “ifs.” Planning requires, no demands, a “when.”

Now, it is very exciting to plan and plan and plan. To wait until everything is right. Everything is in order. But be careful. One can plan so much that the dream is never fulfilled. It is easy to just plan. Planning is very important, and I wouldn’t advise anyone to jump in headfirst like I did. I did it out of necessity. I would have loved to taken at least several more months (maybe even a year) to plan and get ready, but instead, I did it all in less than a month. I don’t advise this. But on the other hand, I’ve met many store-owners-wanna-be’s that just can’t let go of the planning stage and never open their doors for business.

But at some point, the planning stage must turn into the “do” stage. And it is in this stage that everything is on the line: your investment, your taste, your vision, your reputation …you better have thick skin and just accept that you are not going to please everyone – nor should you. By the time you open for business, you should already know your market. Who are you selling to? I am very aware that I get some customers in the store that “can’t believe!” that I painted that mantle, chair, or Victorian settee. But that is okay…my designs aren’t for them. But then I get a lot of customers who come in and get so excited by what they see or they “can’t believe” they finally found someone who sells exactly what they love.

But it is during the “do” stage that risk taking continues. In fact, it should never stop. It is hard to work outside one’s comfort zone, but it is the challenges of working or producing outside your initial dream that keeps things fresh, alive, and exciting. That is why I have decided to expand Elizabeth House to the Chicago market. I am to be a part of an existing store, and while I am scared that this expansion may not live up to my expectations, I am also excited at this new adventure…the challenge of working outside my comfort zone.

In my next blog, I will tell you the story of my expansion to Chicago. Until then, never stop dreaming. Ever. And get busy and start your plans, and then finally “just do it” as the popular phrase goes. You’ll never regret it. Now that I can promise you.

From my house to your house,


Jul 9, 2006

"little bit" of Love

Recently, I attended a wonderful baby shower that was hosted by a dear friend at her lake house. It was a wonderful event, with great weather, perfect water, no bugs, and couples with their children all around. The parents enjoyed a day in which they could relax and let the kids run around, and we child-free adults enjoyed watching the children swim and play. I especially enjoyed playing with the children and taking photos of them.

The parents-to-be are about as nice as they come and their unborn child (a little boy) is the luckiest little boy to have such wonderful parents waiting to bring him into the world.

What an honor to find out that the mom-to-be coveted a custom crib set I had designed and was for sale in the store. It all that she wanted: sophistication and still the sweetness of a baby. Now this particular design (shown in the photo above in a nursery I designed) had been in my store for about a year now, to show customers an example of designs. And yes, it was for sale, but really, it was just example of my work.

Well, wouldn't you know it that no more than we (the expectant mother's friends) decided to go in together and buy it for her, a customer, a young mother of a three-month old came and and just fell in love with it and just had to have it. Actually, that was good thing because some of the fabrics in that design were no longer available, and I was sure that my expecting friend would want some coordinating drapes and other accessories for the nursery - which would be difficult to accomplish with some fabrics no longer available.

So, I go about and design a whole brand new set for the expectant mother. No one (not even the father) saw the crib set. Again, I have to say what an honor it is to be trusted completely with my choices of fabrics, design and details of such a special room. I decided to add more chocolate and a little more slate blue since we now know they are having a baby boy.

After a wonderful dinner of grilled meat and vegetables, rice and salad it came time to open presents. The expectant mother had no idea what was in the huge bag and when she pulled it out, she was a little confused at first since the bedding was all folded and in pieces so to speak. When told that it was her custom crib bedding, the look on her face was priceless.

It was dark outside on the patio (where we opened presents) and so of course all the ladies had to take the bedding inside and place it on the sofa for all to examine the details. My heart just filled with love at seeing the expectant mother just pouring over the details commenting on the "perfect colors and perfect fabric choices." She was so very happy. And so was I.

Later, my boyfriend asked me a question that I never gave a lot of thought to. He wondered how I was affected being around the children, playing with them, being around the expectant mother and designing crib bedding for her, with my not having children of my own. Hmmm. Good question.

Actually, I get great joy out of my little bit, Elizabeth House baby line. I have accepted I will never produce children of my own, but I can produce items that can give great joy and comfort to more children than I could ever have had on my own. My line is everthing from baby soap, organic sweaters, custom bedding to soothing balm. And to know that there are babies out there sleeping in nurseries that I designed, well - that in itself is my way of helping the future generation off to a comforting (if not stylish) start in life...and that is a a pretty nice feeling. And I am happy to share that feeling with you.

from my house to your house,



Jul 3, 2006

Boutique Blues

I get a lot of women emailing me or stopping in the store who want advice on opening and running a small boutique. How did I get started? Where do I get my inventory? How much money does it take? Where did I get the nerve? While all these questions are good, and I will answer them another time, today, I just want to vent a bit, if that is okay.

While there are many, many rewards in owning a business ( many of them have nothing to do with increasing your bank balance), there are times, frankly, you have to wonder if it is just worth the stress and worries. Take my last two weeks for example.

It is no secret that a small retail store has only a 50% chance of being in business at the end of its first year. Those who make it through the first year - only 40% of those businesses remain open for the second year. And those who make it through the second year, only a percentage of those make it to the third year. I am in the middle of my third year. But I digress...I started out this blog of wanting to share my last two weeks with you.

Due to a lot of factors with which I won't bore you, I had to replace a lot of equipment in a span of four days. One by one, and slowly, my two computers crashed, my printers weren't working, my fax drum wasn't working properly, my phone went on the blitz, and my wireless networking was crashing or freezing up. I had to stop all appointments and projects to buy a new lap top, a new desktop, two new faxes, a new printer, a new phone, wires, cables, router, and a new speedstream. Plus, of course the insurance and extra warranties all to a tune of nearly $5K. I then paid over $100 to get my data retrieved from my crashed laptop and paid almost another $700 to have it all installed, wired, and coded. None of this, and I mean none of this was in my budget.

I then had to download my quickbooks disk for my bookkeeper, only to have the disk break - I mean - how in the world does a disk break?? So I had to spend another $200 to buy a computer program that I already have. Lucky me, my 2003 version was just "retired" and the only way to get my data was to upgrade for a tune of $200. Then after all that my A/C breaks down - just moments before I broke down.

My lovely landlord took 8 days to fix my A/C and then only after I spent an enormous amount of time on the phone trying to talk to a human being, instead of a machine, to come out and fix my A/C. They didn't show any concern that my store's thermostat was reading 92 degrees inside. I had to close my store for business on Friday because one of my employees informed me late in the afternoon only the day prior that it was too hot for her to work, and I, having already having an out of town appointment could not cover the store - thus my business was closed for a day. And of course, that was the day that the landlord was sending out someone to fix the A/C and no one could be here to let them in.

Then on Saturday, my bookkeeper, whom I pay $35/hour arrives to do my books. We down loaded my new quickbooks program only to discover that the backup data disk (that I paid over $100 to retrieve) was missing. So now I, my employee, and my bookkeeper are searching for about an hour for this disk and could not find it. I had just about had it at this point - I had just seen it the day before and now it had disappeared. So, my bookkeeper manually updates my books in a matter of a couple of hours, which if we had found the disk, it would have taken only minutes.

I was trying to get at least something done that was productive and went down to my workshop to sand some furniture- only to have my favorite sander die on me. Yes really. I used my back up sander, which is very hard to hold, especially with my carpal tunnel. (With so much around me breaking down, thank God I don't have a pacemaker!) It was around that time that I discovered that my cell phone wasn't working - it hadn't rang all day, which is very unusual, and I noticed that the screen was blank. So, I stopped what I was doing - drove to the Sprint store to get it fixed. Of course, there was a huge line. I sat in a chair and waited for my turn - but I fell asleep in the chair as I waited and missed my name being called. You see, the last two weeks, I had to work every night until about 4AM, because that is the only time my phone doesn't ring, my clients don't call, my employees don't need me, and I don't have to talk to computer tech people or my landlord -all of which needs to be done, but eats up my entire work day. So I work nights. And days.

On top of all that, it seems lately that I see more bugs in my workshop than I have ever noticed before.
I hate bugs.
Really, I do.

So, not to discourage any of you who are wanting to open a store, because it does have many wonderful moments...just know that there are moments (no, weeks) that can make even the most optimistic store owner question her sanity in wanting to continue. The need to express a creative spirit can sometimes outweigh common sense.

But, whoever said creative people are common?

from my house to your house (which is air conditioned, I'm sure)
P.S. my next blog will be inspirational - I promise!

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