how my business began | part 4 | finding my niche

Marian Parsonsmy business story, Running a Business23 Comments

My business was only a few weeks old and, after a craft show failure, I found a shop willing to sell my hand painted ornaments and, even more exciting than that, the owner was willing to accept my painted furniture and antiques on consignment.

It was the first opportunity I had at a somewhat steady income stream.

I decided to take the “shotgun approach” and scoured my house for anything and everything that someone might want to buy.  I had a lot of things found over the years at yard sales, antique stores, thrift stores, my Opa’s attic and a few things that were passed along to me for free as well.  It was time to turn all of that squirreled-away stuff into much-needed cash.

In addition to scrounging for things I could tag and put right into the store, I painted a few pieces of furniture that had been hanging out in my basement.  I brought it all over to the shop in a pretty sizable van load, and I realized I may have overstepped the invitation.  I sheepishly showed the owner, Denise, everything I had to unload.

She didn’t sigh or grimace or purse her lips.  She grabbed something and started carrying it in and I followed suit.  She rearranged and styled and made it all work.

I stopped by the shop a few times that first month to see how things were selling.  Denise would give me reports on some of the little things, but it was hard to see the big picture, to see if this was going to work.  None of the furniture had sold, though, which was a disappointment to me.

At the end of the month, I received my first statement and check.  I sold a ton of the costume jewelry and a lot of the little random things I cleaned out of my closets and cabinets.  It was enough to help us out personally and to give me a tiny bit of capital.  We’re talking $50, but that was something in the bank!

Fast forward to May when we had our first sidewalk sale during graduation/Alumni weekend at Gettysburg College, which meant there were a lot of people visiting from out of town.

I sat outside the shop, surrounded by some of my painted pieces, and worked on painting a barn on canvas.

Marian painting

Now, I’m not a canvas artist, but this was when I was learning that!  I sold all of my other paintings at auction, but my mom kept the one I was working on that day…

This is a painting I did when I first started my business. I sold the rest at an auction, but my mom saved this one…

A photo posted by Marian aka Miss Mustard Seed (@missmustardseed) on

I was pretty absorbed in painting and talking to passersby, but I did notice a couple of my pieces of furniture being carried out.  Some of it was finally selling!!

At the end of the day, I found out almost all of my hand painted furniture sold.  I think we had one piece left.

Here are some of the pieces that sold…

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It was that day that painting furniture transitioned from the thing I enjoyed doing the most to the thing that was most profitable.

That was the day I found my niche.

That month, I got my first gross paycheck that was over $1000.

And, to someone who was hoping to just make $200/month with this little business, it felt like a million bucks.

I started shopping for furniture like a hawk.  I would scour the local yard sale listings for antiques and furniture.  I would troll Craig’s List everyday (and this was before the thumbnail previews!)  I would take just about any piece of furniture someone would pass along to me, so I could paint and sell it.  The max I would spend on a piece was $50 and I would angst even over that price…even for a nice piece.

Dresser

(That dresser is still one of my favorites.)

headboard

(And I painted a headboard I purchased at an auction for $1.00 to match it.  This was styled in my dining room with a bench in front of it with pillows on top!)

I also starting taking on more custom work, like this antique kidney-shaped desk…

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I bought a paint sprayer, so my finishes could be more professional.  I played around with new paints, finishes and topcoats to improve the quality and durability of my pieces.

And then, I signed us up for our first antique fair – The Old Lucketts Fair in August.  That fair is not the antique market I sell at now in May, but mostly a craft fair with a few antique vendors.  I had attended the fair in previous years as a shopper (once when I was in middle school), so it was a special thing for me to be there as a vendor.

Lucketts

It was the first time I was really an “antique dealer”, so I felt pretty intimidated, but I was excited and open to learning from the experience.  My goal was to gross $1000 and to promote a brand new thing I was testing out for my business…

blog

Yep.  My blog.

You can read my very first blog post EVER in August of 2009, just a week before the Lucketts Fair.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

Here are a few pictures from around our booth the very first year selling at Lucketts…

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I met my $1000 goal when a vendor swooped in as I was packing up and spent a couple hundred dollars on a group of items.  I was thrilled with that number and I knew Lucketts was a good venue for my look.  The things I really loved are the things that sold and that confirmed that I needed to trust my instincts and refine my style.

It was also great for me to see what was selling like hotcakes over at the Lucketts Store.  I considered asking how to become a vendor there, but that seemed way to crazy and I felt like a nobody.  So, I didn’t ask.  I just looked around for inspiration and soaked it in.

My furniture started selling better and my blog began gaining some traction.  

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My furniture was selling so well, in fact, that in October of that year, Denise decided to relocate the shop to a larger storefront to accommodate more of my furniture.  I also opened an Etsy shop to try to expand my audience.  

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I had the feeling that downtown Gettysburg shoppers didn’t always “get” the things I made to sell, like the sheet music wreaths.  

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I wasn’t making crazy amounts of money, but I hit my $200/month net income goal most of the time and had enough to reinvest in the business.  My blog was basically a glorified hobby, since I didn’t make any money off of it, but I was growing a small following and it felt like it was worth the time.

We signed up to be vendors at the Lucketts Spring Market that May and I hit my gross sales goal again, despite torrential downpours most of the weekend.

One day shortly after the market, when I was at the shop, fluffing and adding new inventory, Denise told me she had decided to not renew her lease and was going to close the store.

It was like a punch to the gut.  Not from her.  I didn’t blame her at all!  She had good reasons for moving on and I was really glad for her.  It just took me a minute to catch my breath.  What would I do?!  Almost all of my income at that point was coming from retail sales and custom work.  And now I was losing the space I sold out of.

I started to panic.

What I didn’t know, yet, is that this was the turning point.

Denise’s decision to close her store literally pushed me out of the nest and gave me the opportunity to fall…

Or to fly…

part 5 | starting the blog

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PS – The Parsons West brushes are back in stock!  You can get yours HERE

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how my business began | part 4 | finding my niche

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23 Comments on “how my business began | part 4 | finding my niche”

  1. I love your early furniture painting! It reminds me of European folk art, which is what I collect and decorate my home with. Thank you for this series – it’s good to see the progression of a small business and the factors (and attitude) that make it happen.

  2. I just came upstairs from a good cry after talking business stuff out with my hubby. I’m almost 2 years into mine and it’s hard finding balance and knowing when to push and how… so reading this was perfect timing and encouraging to hear a bit of where you started. Can’t wait to keep reading!

  3. As a loyal follower of your blog for years, I have read parts of your story before, and I am thoroughly enjoying this series. It is interesting to see how you have a college degree and prior job unrelated to antiques, decorating, painting and writing, but your natural talents emerged and you became the successful creative business owner you are today. Thank you for sharing your inspirational journey and I am looking forward to watching your career and story evolve even more in the future.

  4. I think that music sheet dresser is one of the most gorgeous painted pieces that I have ever seen! It truly looks timeless, and could be incorporated into many diverse decorating schemes. I also love that dainty and graceful floral dresser with the anchoring corner birds 🙂 Beautiful!
    I really enjoyed a glimpse into your early, struggling days..

  5. I love how your have kept your memories and photos from the early days! I am guilty of purging too many of these things because they are not my best work. But, some of it should be kept the way we try to capture our children’s childhoods for them. How can we appreciate how far we have come without out remember the beginning?

    Also, thank you for sharing your real numbers with us, it gives us a sense of what is realistic in the beginning. Most people don’t talk about their net income in the beginning and it makes the rest of us wonder if we are crazy!

  6. You are seriously a talented women! Some of those pieces are crazy beautiful! I can’t wait to read more, it also gives me hope that I will do the same with my blog as long as I don’t give up.

    Thanks for sharing

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor
    xx

  7. As a fairly new reader of your blog, I love hearing how you started. So often, all we (the readers) see is the success and it can be discouraging when we’re not experiencing it yet. Thank you for sharing the highs and lows. I look forward to more! jonni

  8. What a great story of how you got started. That is really neat to read. We all have to start somewhere for sure. Glad you are doing so well. You are a wonderful artist and furniture painter. Love your milk paints and your ideas are great for us all. Thanks again.

  9. Thank you so much for this series. Last year was the year I was forced to make some changes in my business, and I’ve struggled at times to see those events as opportunities. Now I’m making bigger, scarier changes backed by a lot of prayer. It definitely gives me courage to read about your bumps and mistakes along the way. Thank you for pulling back the curtain.

  10. This is so interesting! How cool that you have photos of the beginning. I just love how the door closing on the shop you sold from was just another exciting beginning. God is good.

  11. I absolutely love reading about the beginning of your business! It’s so neat to see where things all began and how you’ve made the journey from there to here. I love the changes you’ve made and to think that potential disasters have so much hope for big change. You definitely flew.

  12. I love your early creations…especially that little green table – oh how I would love to have that. You always create such beautiful things and I am enjoying reading about your journey.

  13. Marian, your story is truly inspirational, but it was really just waiting to happen all along. Your eye for what looks right and skill at translating the things you like into pieces that will resonate with others is a recipe for success. I have enjoyed reading your postings over the past few days to watch your style grow and be refined over time, as your business has grown, You have developed a unique paint line with gorgeous colors, your styling techniques are enviable to us less skilled, and your charming personality all combine to equal the best style/decorating blog I have come across yet.
    I would love to see the article about the sheet music- covered dresser featured in today’s post, but was unable to find it. Very unique!

  14. I just love reading your story Marian. Your business (and I bet personal) growth has been so organic and it gives the rest of us (speaking for myself) the hope and determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Thank you for that!

  15. Your pieces are lovely! The custom touches are incredible. I can’t wait to read how the paint line came to be!!!!

  16. I am enjoying reading these stories of your fledgling business ventures. I’m a beekeeper and am on the verge of turning the honey and byproducts into business and these stories are so encouraging!

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