Sunday, 25 January 2015

From Basement to Storefront: How My Business Grew in the 1st Year

A little while back I requested some input on what you would like to see as the next blog post - a common answer was that followers wanted to know more about how the business has grown and how I have managed everything so far.

I will start off by saying there is no clear answer for success in this business - competition is high with so many hobbyist painters coming onto the scene each and every day. I am going to give you the run down of how I have gotten to the point I am now, but that in no way means it is the answer for everyone (so please bear this in mind while reading).

I started my little business not as a way to make money, but rather as a way to do something therapeutic and productive while I was recovering from postpartum depression and was not able to return to my 9-5 job as a Recreation Therapist. Being a working woman, the fact that I could not mentally return to my career was degrading in my mind, and caused me to feel useless and even more depressed.

I knew I needed something to do that I couldn't screw up, because I had been pretty good at that since having my daughter and suffering the postpartum. I couldn't seem to do anything right, and after several failed attempts at returning to gainful employment even part-time, I felt pretty hopeless.

So, with a business SO far from my mind (since the thought of failure would surely throw me over the literal edge), I set out to "nest" and decorate our newly built home. We desperately needed a dining set as we had a large space to fill, but funds were tight and my husband refused to cheap out and get something that would only last a few years. Knowing we couldn't afford a brand new solid wood table, I went to researching how I could create the look we wanted for much much less.

My cousin mentioned this "chalk paint" craze and that you could mix your own at home and avoid the expensive stuff. Somehow I convinced my husband to let me buy a $150 solid oak Sklar Pepplar table off kijiji and paint it myself.

Very long story short, it took me a month but I successfully painted the table, stripped the top (my husband did the staining and helped with stripping as well!), painted 6 chairs and upholstered the seats. With the table, chairs, fabric and materials it cost us just under $500 which I was pretty darn happy with considering we figured on $3000 for a new set!

This is what my set looked like:

Feeling very accomplished, but exhausted from the amount of time involved, I said I was never doing this again (insert ironic laugh here). 
...A week later I found a $30 buffet on kijiji and decided to paint it to match. 

My super sweet neighbour came over and kept telling me how I should sell some pieces. I resisted for a few months for extreme fear of failure. I had started and stopped SO many things before this and in the 2 years I had suffered depression, that I could not possibly stand yet another fall on my face. 

I continued to paint because it was soothing to me and I felt like I was good at it. I had always loved art in school and aspired to be an art therapist (which is why I decided to go into recreation in university). I just felt at home with the brush in my hand - it was a way to calm my mind and restore some of my insecurities. 

A few months went by and I started collecting furniture and slowly painting at home in my basement. I had quit Facebook about 6 months prior because it had worsened my depression (seeing all those gosh-darn happy people ALL the time!). Again, my neighbour Shelley encouraged me to consider starting a page, since Kijiji proved to be a very hard selling platform for finished furniture. 

VERY reluctantly I started a new "life" online and opened a new profile so I wouldn't have to face my friends and family if and when my new page failed. I slowly started posting on sites (buy and sell groups) where my friends didn't know it was me and couldn't roll their eyes once they realized I was "jumping into something else". I moved slowly, but purposefully. 

I started selling my items one by one in November 2013. I was humble, I priced my items competitively and worked hard to hone my skill. I made friends with local painters and positioned myself as a cooperative member of this community, not someone trying to steal business. I developed a style that was more my own than a lot of other painters locally. I became good at a grey-wash effect and this was my most requested finish for quite a while. It was a little different, but different enough that people caught on and started "liking" my page and requesting items. 

Here is an example of a piece I did in January as a custom order a few months after I started:

I had my daughter at home, but I painted everyday. I loved it and never tired of it. I didn't care if I sold things necessarily, I was doing this part-time still and didn't want to pressure myself. The response from people started to heal my broken confidence and slowly I took more risks and wanted to put myself out there. I took a lot of custom orders and FILLED my entire finished basement with custom pieces or pieces I had collected to paint. 
By March I could not walk or move in my work area so I rented a storage unit close by to house my overflow. This did not work either, I just filled that space too!

Meanwhile I continued to market myself on Facebook, while always remaining humble and not pushy. I wanted people to "like" me because they wanted to see my work, not because they felt pressured in any way. I wanted "authentic" likes. 
I responded to inquiries swiftly and to the best of my ability. I rarely said no to anyone (although I should have at some points, but I learned that down the line!). I accommodated people, and I worked with them to create the look they were envisioning. 

In two short months I totally outgrew my storage unit and found an industrial warehouse space that would act as a workshop so that I could move out of the basement completely (working at home is great and all, but it makes work-life balance SUPER difficult). I was relieved to not stare at my mess 24/7!

I was determined to make the best of my space, and I loved painting so much that it didn't matter that I was renting old factory washrooms! I was tickled pink to be able to get out into a new space and to grow my business. I had to use toilet water for 3 weeks to wash my brushes because there was no sink in the space. And no lights....and one plug...I could go on! Let's just say I made do!

I continued with Facebook orders and before long could not keep up on my own and hired a student helper. Together we could pump out more pieces and could keep up with demand. 
Never was I as happy as when I was in my own space, painting, and listening to country music ;)
Just the thought of it now makes me smile <3
I didn't care what others thought of my space - to me, it was a sign that I had accomplished something which was more than what my depressed mind could have ever imagined just a year before. 
My "small" gains on the outside, were gigantic leaps and bounds on the inside and for my mental health. 

In May 2014 I started dreaming about a storefront...a place where I could showcase my items and do more of my own pieces. I was told it was too expensive, and wouldn't work....I should stay where the rent is lower and not risk it. 
But I knew I had to challenge myself creatively and needed to be able to do unique work and have a place where people could come and browse. I had been getting almost daily inquiries as to whether or not I had "open shopping" hours at my workshop, but it was poorly set up and entirely unpresentable. 

I knew I needed to make this work. So I set out to find something with low enough rent that it wasn't a big risk for me. I found 1 Niagara Street, which was inside an apartment complex and (much to my surprise) was part of an old strip club. It had been converted into a commercial unit and was on a busy corner. And the rent was inexpensive. And again I raised the bar on my dreams - thinking that a storefront may not be that unattainable after all. 

It wasn't "ideal" or "showy" in any way, but it was mine and I was so proud of myself.

Shortly after opening the store the Welland Tribune came and did an interview about my story and the new opening. Welland residents were super supportive and my business got a definite boost! 
I didn't know this at the time, but Jenn (my current business partner) read that article and made a mental note to come and check out the store because it was right up her alley.

Long story short Jenn showed up at my door one night to buy a newel post I had for sale. We got to chatting about crafty things, and painting, and decorating ideas. A few days later she popped into the store and we hit it off right away. My student helper had left at the time and I was in some desperate need of help to keep up with my custom orders. 

I knew Jenn was overqualified to help someone like me basecoat furniture, but she happily agreed to help me out. 
And she hasn't left since! ;) 
After a few months of working for me, we knew that a partnership would be an amazing way to grow this business even further. Jenn has talents I can only dream of, so I knew that she could bring so much to the table. A dynamic duo for sure! There are many local painters, but now we would be a one-stop shop for decor needs, upholstery, etc. 

One day Jenn got the crazy idea that we needed to move - we had outgrown our current store and people could no longer walk around or browse because we were so full!
I didn't think this was possible, but we were extremely fortunate to find a local space that was twice the size but only moderately more expensive. The decision was fairly easy - we gave notice and moved the next month!

Our current location has 1400 square feet (and we use every inch!). We have been working at perfecting our efficiency and creating systems that work best for us. Jenn was experienced with spraying, so she and her husband built us a fantastic 10x10' spray booth where we can spray chalk paint and eliminate the time consuming process of base coating the furniture by hand (I still do all the finishing by hand though). 

So here we are, just over a year later, and things are running stronger than I EVER imagined. Facebook is  by far our largest market, and I am so thankful every day for our followers and fans. They have helped me heal in more ways than they will ever know!

I stick to my original plan of humility and not over-selling myself or my items. I want my pieces to speak for themselves. I don't want to have to convince you in the ad that you need to come see the piece, I want you to fall in love with it from the photo. That being said, good photography is KEY to selling. I see SO many dark and poorly lit photos - people will not buy furniture if they can't picture exactly how it looks and/or how it would look in their space. Staging is also equally as important. 

I strive to offer something different. I want to charge according to the skill in the pieces and not assume I can charge a certain amount because its "trendy" and done with "chalk paint". There are many people who start using chalk paint and think they can slap on a huge pricetag because of it. 
You should EARN your price by putting your time and effort into your skills and by offering your clients a high quality product. 

I have researched sooo much over this past year, and have tried more techniques than I can name. Same goes with paint brands and top coat brands! It is important to me that I know what I am talking about. I want to say with confidence that this is durable, or this is not. I want to do the prep work that is needed to avoid peeling and chipping. 

I want to educate buyers and sellers alike on the fact that chalk paint is SO much more involved than "no paint no prime". Good painters know how to prep and want to offer you high quality finishes, not a quick turnaround. Buyers should look for pieces with character and that speak directly to the personality of the painter/finisher. 

I remain in very close contact with local business and I support everyone unless they have acted unethically (of which there are a small number). I WANT good artists to succeed, all of us have our own style and there is room for everyone!

I credit much of my success to this attitude and not trying to keep up with trends all the time. I do what I like and I'm thankful that people like it too! (most of the time!). 
I am true to myself and I appreciate other businesses that are like-minded. 
I work ENDLESSLY but love every minute of it! I have met too many people that try to start up a furniture business (or any business) and think they will make money just because its popular. You have to work for it, and you have to enjoy working and not always getting paid!

This has never felt like a job to me, and that is why I can "work" 12 hours a day without feeling stressed or like I need a break. And I can only do that because I truly love it. I didn't start painting to jump on the bandwagon, I started because I was passionate about it, and about finding a way to heal from my depression. 

I am not sure if that answers your questions fully or not! Some days I have ZERO clue how I have gotten here, but when I think back I can see where the customer service and humility coupled with social media has given me an edge over some others. I am reluctant to give myself credit as much of my success is solely dependent on YOU, my followers and clients! I know that at any moment this could disappear, so with that in mind I continually work to better myself and our business, never growing complacent. 

Thank you again to all of your for following and supporting me and ReChic - I am very blessed!

If there are any further questions don't hesitate to post a comment below :)

Thanks for reading!


  1. I read your blogs regularly. Your humoristic way is amusing, continue the good work!Rustic Furnishings

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