How I’m Transforming Our Garage

Good morning!

If you’ve been following me on Instagram (I post in my stories on the weekends that we work on this) you know I’ve been working hard on cleaning up/cleaning out our garage and moving it from just a work space to a more inspiring and “pretty” space, both for me and for my customers.

I’ve been leaning a bit more minimalist in our house lately, pruning away things that I don’t need or use that are just cluttering up my time and my life. That mindset—exactly what it means for my family and I–has been taking shape over the past few months, but it’s been hard to get there when it comes to business stuff. I had so much in the garage that I was saving for a certain project or idea that I was going to get around to “someday” that it was getting in the way of the projects that I was really excited about and really taking away my motivation to create what I really wanted to create.

I had to realize that in the same way I get overwhelmed “at home”, I was also getting overwhelmed “at work”–I had too many possibilities and not enough time or space to get them all done. I had to let things go or I wouldn’t be able to make the progress that I wanted to in my business or in making the garage look the way I wanted it to.

So here’s the big, scary, “before” (it’s actually not as big and scary as it truly was because I took photos way after I initially started. So look at this but imagine it being a lot worse):

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See that gray washed pie crust table in the middle of the photo all the way to the left? This is what the garage looked like when a customer came to pick that one up. Not great, right? I’ve been running into that situation all summer, though, and I really wanted to create a space that I enjoyed more and that would be more inspiring to me and to my customers.

That’s not to say that I didn’t struggle with this move. For a long time, I really wanted a retail space. I was saving for it for awhile, even. Then goals changed a bit, as they do, and that dream got a little farther away from me. But this kind of pushed it’s way in, and then I would lay in bed and think about how much of a step back this dream was from that one. I almost felt embarrassed about it–who has a store in their garage? Who is going to come and shop in my garage that’s freezing half the year and kind of unpleasantly hot the other half? What about torrential downpours, when the roof leaks a tiny bit in that one spot and water soaks into that one corner? Primarily, though, it just looks a little dark and dingy and, well like a garage.

I played around with my Etsy backdrops for a long time, but they were almost all too small for me to take photos of the increasingly larger pieces that I was creating. So the first step on this journey was to throw up some curb find scrap wood and do a white wash over most of it.

 

 

The photo with the shutter shelves looks all right, but obviously this one with the dresser makes it obvious that this solution wasn’t quite what I wanted just yet. Still, it took me probably two years after I first put up this backdrop to upgrade to this (keep in mind, this is just about one half of the north wall of my garage):

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So much better, right? I used 1′ x 6′ common pine boards with a white wash over them. It actually ended up being a couple of different white paints over the course of the whole project, because, as you know, I have paint everywhere (literally in places I didn’t know I had), and most of it is at least half used, so rather than buying new paint, I pretty much just used up what I had. I don’t know about you, but I get a real sense of satisfaction when I get to throw an empty paint can away. I’ll admit, this is kind of strange, but it’s true.

Speaking of paint, I so should have taken pictures of this corner (the one down below) and what it looked like before, because it was an absolute disaster. I basically had these makeshift shelves that were loose boards supported by 2 x 4’s that weren’t exactly even and definitely weren’t that great to look at. Then I found this beauty one night during a particularly fruitful curb shopping trip:

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This has been my paint can corner for a long time, and before the 2 x 4 shelves, there was a metal cabinet there. The latch on that cabinet never worked properly, and so the door was always swinging open and getting in the way, and the shelves on the inside were too narrow for much more than two cans of paint each, so a lot of it was stacked in the bottom and it just wasn’t that convenient (or pretty).

When I found this piece and Dan measured it and discovered that it fit in this space perfectly and had amazing storage, I was pretty much over the moon. Charlotte was also very excited because this thing was filthy, and before I could wash it, it needed to be sprayed down with the hose to get rid of the first layer of grime. Charlotte’s favorite way to help me is by spraying things down with the hose (painting is a very close second). I really wanted to paint this, but I knew I wasn’t selling it, and I’m always hesitant to paint a piece for myself that I know I’m just going to using in the garage. I compromised with myself and used some paint that I didn’t love (obviously not Annie Sloan–I love the color here but not the finish, for my normal pieces, anyway), and it made such a difference:

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There’s something about seeing my paint cans all lined up like this, out in the open but organized and ready to be used, that is really inspiring to me. I don’t feel like I have to clean up before I can start working. There are three shelves hidden underneath, too, where I stashed my boxes of sandpaper, my box of trash bags, some cleaning supplies, and my basket of shop rags–you know, the less inspiring stuff (all of which used to be just out on my workbench, always in the way and never organized).

We had these big light hoods up in the rafters that were leftover from the previous owners:

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Dan did a little poking around in the rafters and discovered that they weren’t hooked up to anything, which makes total sense, since the electrical in our house has always been a scary jungle of wild cords that go nowhere and connect to nothing but are ominously marked “live” and are constantly appearing out of nowhere from places that we thought we’d checked years ago. It’s a real fun circus over here when it comes to potential fire hazards. Anyway, just to be safe, of course, he turned off everything for about an hour and pulled all of these down for me.

In addition to making it a lot more open and less cave-like, I sold the hoods on Facebook later than night, which helped us purchase the next round of common boards for the walls. I love it when that happens.

Back to the north wall. Here’s the before and after:

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I apologize for the second picture being so dark at the back–I’m fighting the shorter days now. I’m also in the process of pricing a window installation back there to let in a lot more light–I’ve always wanted to put another window in for the extra light and also so that I can see and hear Charlotte more easily when she is in the backyard playing.

One of the things that is back there in that very dark corner is this cabinet (it’s probably going to move across the garage and onto the workbench when that wall is done, but I haven’t totally decided that yet):

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I wish I knew more about this piece. It’s super old and handmade, from what I can tell. When I have better light, I’ll take some photos of the inside so you can see the way that the shelves fit in there. Seriously, so cool. I bought it at an estate sale for about $17, which I still can’t believe. It locks, and it seems like it was made to go on top of another piece. I’ve taken it to a few shows and almost sold it a couple of times, but I’ve never been able to get rid of it, and maybe that’s a good thing now. I’m currently using it to store the props and the little things that I use for my Etsy photos, and, like the paint cabinet, it’s really nice to have a place to store these things where I actually enjoy looking at them and can easily find and pull things out.

Previously, they were either scattered all over the garage, stored in random crates, or, most recently, sitting on a shelf all jumbled up and stacked in such a way that I couldn’t really find anything efficiently at all. It’s always felt like a waste to me to put so much time and effort into the space that I’m working in–I could be using all of those resources to work on more pieces–but it’s honestly made such a difference so far, and I’m barely halfway done. I’ve always enjoyed working out in the garage but now that it’s actually pretty and a lot brighter out there, I’m enjoying it so much more. I can’t wait for my window to be installed and to finish up the back wall and I’m so excited to take the final photos and share how my Christmas sale went with you!


How do you feel about your work space? And does anyone else out there sell out of their garage? I’d love to see your photos! Let’s connect in the comments.

Talk soon,

Jessie

 

Goal update!

Good morning!

I have to say that our whole “word of the year” (mortgage) thing is already way more effective than any resolution that I’ve ever made. I won’t say that it’s been smooth sailing during this first quarter of the year, but it has definitely helped us stay on track and say “no” to things that don’t move us towards our goals.

The biggest roadblock we hit was a medical thing that came up in February. Charlotte had had recurring ear infections since last December, and the pediatrician finally decided that it was time to send her to the ENT after they’d tried several rounds of antibiotics. Sadface. That lead to her having to get tubes put in her ears. Double sadface.

They did the surgery in early March and everything went great. We put our goal on hold and saved everything we could to try and avoid dipping into our emergency fund to cover our portion of the expenses. When I got the bill in the mail I was a little nervous to open it just in case we hadn’t saved enough, but we had saved almost exactly what we needed! We ended up having $100 left over to throw on the mortgage in April. I was so thankful that we were able to cash flow this “emergency” (which never felt like an emergency because we had a plan and we worked it) in one month, plus celebrate Charlotte’s birthday and prepare for Easter. It’s one of the most amazing feelings that we’ve ever had.

So here’s a recap of my first quarter goals, how they went, and how I’m moving forward into next quarter.

Goal #1: No spend January (I did this again in April–for the most part)

Recap of January:

I made it my goal not to shop for the business at all, and it yielded some decent returns.

You might remember my heart banners:

 

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These did pretty well at shows and in my shop. I kept on experimenting and looking forward, and created a bunny version for Easter that did even better. It is still selling for baby showers and nurseries! This was one of the things that I really wanted to come out of my no spend month–expanding my vision and therefore my product line.

Another side effect of not shopping in January was that I scoured the garage and the basement for vintage pieces that I had never cleaned, photographed, finished listing, etc., and actually sold a lot of pieces that I had previously been reluctant to list. This was super exciting as well–I have a tendency to buy something in the moment, decide it isn’t right for my shop, think about getting rid of it, and then ultimately hold onto it because I might “need it someday.” My no spend month helped me get over that a little bit.

For April:

I shopped a little bit, but mostly for new inventory. I found an amazing estate sale at the end of the month right in Rochester, and got some great pieces for my Etsy shop. My struggle last month was definitely the weather–by mid-April last year I had a huge pile of stuff going in the garage already for my late April shows, but no such luck this year. It was STILL snowing here in the middle of the month and I was stacking pieces all over the house in an attempt to still get work done and keep from freezing to death out in the garage.

I did get one or two warm days where I was able to get a new display piece finished using a bunch of stuff that I had laying around, so that was good.

Goal #2: Stock up my shop.

My goal was 200 listings by February 15–I didn’t actually keep track of when I met it, but I know it was later than that. The good news is that I’m there now, right?

I’m around 220 listings now and listing consistently really brought up my sales in March, which was officially my best month ever! I hit 900 sales and was able to save almost everything we needed for the tubes, which was super amazing.

For April:

Obviously my next goal is to make it to 300, but I don’t know if that will happen for this quarter. My more realistic goal is about 260, but we’ll see how it goes. I think one of the biggest things that has come out of my devotion to consistently posting new listings has been a big increase in sales.

The increase in activity in my shop has led to me making my biggest sales goal yet for my business in April (factoring in two shows, Facebook sales and Etsy sales), and the Richmond show put me beyond my target for the month, which was really exciting. The business part of things used to be really frustrating and time consuming for me because all I wanted to do was create things, but over the past few months I’ve actually begun to enjoy it a lot more, and I think it’s because I’m setting hard targets and then watching as I get really close or even beyond them each month.

Goal #3: Find new things to try.

I haven’t decided on the co-op yet. We tried a spring Junior League show at the Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township at the beginning of March, and it was really disappointing for a lot of reasons, none of which I want to get into right now. Maybe I’ll do a post on it if I can figure out whether it would be worth it or not.

It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to newer Goal Digger podcast episodes though I still refer back to a lot of her early ones. I’m still loving Allie Casazza’s “The Purpose Show“–there was an amazing episode about perfectionism a few weeks ago that I’ve already listened to about 3 times. I’ve also started listening to Christy Wright’s “Business Boutique” podcast, after attending a one-day event in Grand Rapids two weeks ago. I want to do a quick post about that as soon as I’m done digesting all the great information I got.

So far, my favorite books have been Fervent and Missional Motherhood…both focused, obviously, more on faith and family than on business, but it’s all connected, right?

I’ve still been getting most of my planning, writing, and Rochester College work done in the mornings or while Charlotte is at preschool, though I’ve been sprinkling in walks with my dog and a little bit of working out, too. Starting off my day with nothing but a cup of coffee hasn’t been super effective with helping me maintain energy throughout the day (go figure, right?) so adding some physical activity has been super helpful with that. Plus, I’m super unlikely to fit that in at the end of the day…


How are your 2018 goals going? I’d love to hear about them!

 

#metrodetroitmaker Goals for 2018

Good morning girl bosses!

I love this time of year! My slow time of the year corresponds with the New Year, which makes it the perfect time for setting goals, building up inventory, and plotting out how I want the year to go (which also means planning the shows I want to do).

Yes, I said, “setting goals” not “making resolutions.” The thing I don’t like about resolutions is that they often become more like wishes rather than achievable goals. I have no idea what my New Year’s resolution was last year. I probably didn’t make one. But I also didn’t have a focus for the year like I have for this year. Wanna hear what it is?

Mortgage.

Let me back up a little. This post will eventually get around to my business goals for the year, but first I want to give you a little background on what’s going on with us and our personal goals for our lives (it’ll all make sense eventually).

When I started this business, it was to help with our debt snowball. For more on that, hop on over to Dave Ramsey’s website. His stuff is gold if you’re really ready to buckle down and tackle your finances like an adult. If you’re not into delaying gratification, driving an old car, and pretty much never eating out while you’re working his plan, you’ll probably want to stay away.

We’ve been out of debt for about two years now, and our next step has been to tackle our mortgage, but we haven’t been pounding on it like we should be. The reason is partially because I stopped paying us out what I had been so that I could build up the business a bit more—you know, investing in a better camera, a design for the shop, fancy business cards, lots of shows, etc. etc. For a little while, I was toying with the idea of really bulking up my business savings so that I could invest in renting a retail space of my own.

Fast forward to last month, when Dan and I were thinking about and planning for 2018 and doing our budget for the year (yes, the whole year. I’m a huge nerd. I can’t live without that kind of structure).

I had already decided that I wanted to pick a word for the year, and I told Dan about the idea. Looking at our budget at the priorities that we had, it was pretty easy to decide on our word.

We have an aggressive goal of paying down 33% of our mortgage by the end of this year. I say it’s aggressive because the income from my teaching job plus the set amount from Dan’s income that we’ve decided to dedicate to the mortgage will only cover about 18% as it sits right now, which means my business has to contribute an additional 15%. That’s a lot, but I know that I can do it if I stay on pace with what my business produced last year (here’s hoping that I can surpass it and contribute even more).

So how does that affect my goals for 2018?

So glad you asked.

I want to start with my goals for this quarter, which I hope to transition into each quarter (with some tweaks) as the year goes on.

Goal #1: No spend January.

That’s right. I have vowed not to darken the doors of JoAnn’s, Hobby Lobby, or my cluster of beloved thrift stores this month. AT ALL.

I’ll give you a minute to recover.

I’ll admit, this is hard for me. I get a lot of inspiration and creative energy from these places, not to mention materials for my pieces. But you know what else I get? A lot of stuff that I don’t even remember purchasing! Good stuff. Stuff that I could really use.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m spending my January creating pieces that I already have the materials for, and I have plenty—wreath forms, felt, fabric remnants, paint, furniture, wood scraps, card stock, notions, ribbon, dowels….the list goes on. And you know what else I have a lot of? Half started projects that I never got around to finishing! I have nine dowel lengths painted and ready to be made into fairy wands. I have at least twenty (and probably more) tea wallets already cut out and ready to iron and sew. I have a telephone bench that needs to be painted. I have a wire wreath form spray painted gold and waiting for some felt flowers. I have felt flowers that are all cut out and waiting to be put together. The list goes on and on.

And do I need to go to JoAnn’s in order to complete any of these pieces? No, I don’t.

Not only will I save time and money by not visiting these stores, but I will also be decluttering my work spaces by using up materials that I already have laying around! Just this past week I finished two pillows (the forms have been sitting there for at least 6 months) and several linen heart banners for Valentine’s day from leftover fabric from over a year ago:

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It’s already the 15th, and I’m feeling the withdrawals and trying to convince myself that the excuses I’m coming up with to head to the craft store are actually really good reasons for me to break my vows and buy a bunch of new stuff. So far, I’ve been able to resist, and I’m putting a lot of obstacles in my own way by making sure that I always have a project in my face that needs to be completed.

One side effect of this experiment that I didn’t anticipate was that my creativity has been engaged in a different way than it has been lately–by forcing myself to use only materials that I have, I’ve been seeing the items in my basement and garage in a whole new light, and seeing new ways to use materials without even having to browse Pinterest for inspiration. It’s been fabulous, and I can’t wait to share more of the pieces I’ve been creating lately!

Goal #2: Stock up my shop.

As I’m going through bins and boxes of materials and pieces that I’ve purchased for one project or another, I’m discovering some amazing things that I no longer need but are going to be great additions to my shop. As of writing this post, I have 113 listings in my shop, and I’m on a mission to get to 200 by the middle of February (that’s about 2.8 listings/day, which is more aggressive than I’ve ever been in the past. The number one thing that I’ve found that consistently drives people to my Etsy shop is consistent postings, so this is a really good goal for me, and one that I actually have time for right now!

Stocking my shop is always on my radar, but during slow times when I’m at least a month out from my new craft show I can really buckle down and focus on getting as much new inventory photographed and ready as possible.

Goal #3: Find new things to try.

This one is still developing. There are at least three new shows that I’m planning to apply to this quarter, and I’m also toying with the idea of renting some space inside a larger co-op type store. There are several places where I’ve thought about doing this in the past, but now there’s a new place opening in downtown Rochester, and that is almost too close not to make it worth it.

I’m still an avid Goal Digger podcast listener, and I’ve recently added The Purpose Show to my playlist, as my new podcast material. It’s a little more focused on motherhood than on small business and goals, but it’s a nice way to round myself out and make sure that I’m focusing on my family and not just on my business for the better part of the day.

I also want to add a few books to my reading list for this year that have to do with my business, and I’m hoping to start with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I haven’t come across any other business related books for the list yet, though I have TONS of fiction books that I’m hoping to get into this year.

I’m also shaking up my morning routine (I’m just now getting back into my routine of heading to Starbucks at 5 a.m. on non-preschool mornings) by adding morning pages to at least a couple of my mornings each week. I typically brain dump into my planner each week, but my planner is a bit tight on space, and my brain is a wild jungle full of scary gibberish which is a little overwhelming for those neat little lines and boxes. I’m hoping that doing a massive dump will help me to streamline so that I don’t overwhelm my poor little planner.


What are your goals for 2018, both personal and business related? Do they overlap at all? I’m hoping to get some of my fire back with a solid goal that will really affect our family’s life going forward into the next two years. When I started this business, that fire was there, and it fueled some major growth!

I’d love to hear from you about some of your strategies for a productive year, month, and week, too! Do you bullet journal? Use a planner? Do morning pages? How do you release all that extra “stuff” from your brain so that you can be free to concentrate fully on the most important tasks for your week?

Here’s hoping to a wonderful January and an even better 2018! Get your goals on, girl bosses!

Talk soon,

Jessie

How to Deal When an Event Isn’t Going Well

Hey friends! Today I’m sharing a not so fun post in my craft show tips series, about how to deal when an event doesn’t go so well. These are always hard to go through, and maybe even harder to talk about, but hopefully we can all work through those hard events together and learn a little something from each other about how to deal.

I won’t propose to be an expert about how to deal when events don’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’ve have my fair share of days when the morning goes really slow and I just sit down in my chair, open a book, and call it a day at 11:45 a.m., when there are still three or four hours left in the event. My most vivid memory of that happening is at a Chippewa Valley spring fundraiser a few years ago—it was the first nice day of the summer, and no one in Michigan wanted to be doing anything inside that day (including me, actually).

But even though I’m not an expert, I will share the things that I try to do and keep in perspective when I’m at a slow show. It can be really frustrating to go into an event with really high hopes, just to discover that nothing is going to happen that day, or that weekend, or at least not happen the way that you hoped. I’m not going to pretend that doing any of these things will take that frustration away, because they won’t, but I at least try to practice these things and bring something positive out of what would otherwise be a “wasted” show.

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Plan and Reflect

Writing for this blog has helped me a lot, even over the past few months, with reflecting on how events went and how my expectations might have been out of line with reality. I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing a notebook with me and making little observations about shows throughout the day so that I don’t forget the little details of the show (again, mostly for the benefit of this blog), and I wish I’d been keeping that kind of a journal for longer.

Even though I’ve been experimenting a lot this year with different shows and branching out into doing events with new promoters, I have been trying to do a bit more research into the events that I’m signing up for, which is a lot different than how I used to do things. When I first started out, I was very susceptible to promoters who would walk into our booth at a show and say things like “I’m doing an event next month and I love your booth. You’d be a perfect fit! Do you want to join us?” It’s always nice to be wanted, and I did a lot of shows back then that were terrible, because I just went with that feeling and signed up basically on the spot.

Things are a lot different now than they even were four years ago, too—Facebook is a huge way that I do research for my shows, and the event page for a show is usually a pretty reliable way to gauge the projected traffic and figure out if an event is worth doing or not (of course, it’s not an exact science).

When I’m at a show, and it’s slow, I tend to have a lot of time to reflect, because I really resist pulling out my phone when I’m in the booth, other than to check the weather or make a quick Instagram post about the event. I like to disconnect for that time and just be alone with my thoughts, which can be hard, especially if I’m super frustrated. On the other hand, that “quiet” time has also been the source of some good ideas for the blog and for new projects that I want to start.

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Set Goals

I did this at the Saline show first thing. Communication had been rough, the show was misrepresented, and I was feeling like not much was going to happen for me that day, especially after I sold my first piece (the only chalk painted piece I had and the one that fit in best for that particular show).

So I set myself a goal—I wanted to make 10 sales that day. That might seem like a lot, but I was expecting to do even better than that when I first signed up for the show, so I was really lowering my expectations. Now, I think I know what you’re thinking—what good is setting a goal when traffic is slow and you have a bleak outlook about what you’re going to do that day?

If I hadn’t set that goal, I might have just sat down in my chair to stew and read and mentally check out of the whole deal. But having that goal forced me to stand in the middle of my booth, to greet the people that walked by, to talk to those who came in even more (I always ask if they are looking for anything in particular and if I can answer any questions), and to offer prices on things that people were eyeing or picking up so that they didn’t have to look at the tags.

The longer someone stays in your booth and the more you talk to them, the more likely they are to buy something. And if I was sitting down in my chair not greeting people or talking to them or drawing them into the booth, I wouldn’t have made half the sales I did. Having the goal of 10 sales really helped me to stay positive and keep my head in the game. And guess what? It worked. I actually exceeded my goal and made 11 sales (I might have beat it by even more if it hadn’t started raining at 2:30). Again, I don’t always make my goal (see the Shed 5 post), but it really helps me to stay motivated, positive, and on task during the event if I have a clear vision laid out for what I want to accomplish that day.

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Dream

I have to be really careful with this one because dreams often turn into thoughts like “when I have my store I won’t have to worry about [insert show-related concern—like rain, for example—here]…” It’s easy to think about what I won’t have to worry about and see that “obviously” things will be much easier *when* I have my store, but in that moment I’m not thinking about how difficult it will be to deal with increased overhead, employees, the stress of running a retail store, etc. etc.

But if I can avoid getting entrenched in that line of thought, dreaming about the future is probably my best defense against a slow show. I’m doing these events for multiple purposes, after all, and everything I’m doing, even at a slow show, is moving me towards that goal. Making money only seems like the most important part, but other really valuable things are happening, too—I’m expanding my client base, getting exposure, building my email list, and meeting new artists. All of these things fit into my dream in some way, shape, or form, and keeping that in perspective and being positive about the future really helps when things aren’t as positive as they could be in the present.

Talk to Customers

I mentioned this already in the setting goals paragraph, but it’s so important that I’ll mention it again. People will stay in your booth longer if you actually talk to them, and the longer they stay in your booth, the more likely they are to buy something from you.

It’s hard for me to always remember my prices for everything from show to show, so as I’m setting up, I try to look over the tags so that I can just offer prices as people are shopping. Sometimes tags get lost or ripped anyway, so it’s always good to offer so that the customers aren’t searching around looking for the tags on everything.

If they seem interested or comment about how they love the style of the pieces, I tell them about the paint I use and how much I love it. If it’s a newer piece, I tell them that it might feel a little tacky (especially if it’s a hot day) because the wax hasn’t cured yet, and I let them know that it will just take a little time for that particular texture to go away.

Sometimes they will tell me that they’ve tried a certain paint or technique, and I’ll ask them more about that—I’m always interested in learning more about other paints and products anyway, and I almost always ask them where their favorite place to bargain shop is—I’ve found several great new sources for furniture that way, which is always fun.

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Work on Your Email List

I put my email list front and center in my booth, and if someone comes into the booth and has a positive reaction to my pieces, I always direct them to sign up. I send a newsletter once a month, so they don’t get totally spammed with useless emails, and I let them know where I’ll be in the coming weeks, what I’m working on, how to contact me, and any other news that I have.

I’ve talked about how important my email list is in a previous post, and I love Jenna Kutcher’s podcast episode on why this is such an important aspect of small business ownership—if you want a refresher on why email lists are so awesome, check out those two places for more info.


How do you deal when an event doesn’t go as planned? Like I said, I am nowhere near the point where I am able to keep it all in perspective, and I have those moments of utter fear and despair that I will ever have a good event again at times, but I’m always trying and learning and figuring it out fresh. Leave a note in the comments about how you deal with slow shows to let me know your tips and tricks!

Talk soon,

Jessie

6 Tips for Shopping Estate Sales

I love estate sales. I won’t go as far as to say that I’ve nearly been in an accident swerving in response to a little fluorescent sign on the side of the road, but I’ve been close. There. My secret is out. It probably isn’t much of a secret that a person who redoes furniture loves estate sales anyway.

Today I want to share my top tips for shopping estate sales. Even though I mostly shop for furniture, primitives, and antiques, I think these tips should be useful to anyone who is interested in finding great deals–in addition to items for my business, I’ve purchased so many things for my home and garden for so much less than retail–usually in perfect condition! So here are my tips if you’re just getting started:

1. Be Nice: I was at an Integrity estate sale in June where a guy was trying to get a bargain on one of those metal windmills that people put in their backyards. It was pretty big—probably 8 or 10 feet tall, and in pretty good condition. Integrity was asking $100 for it, which I thought was pretty reasonable. On top of that, the folks running the sale were saying “everything is negotiable today” to everyone who walked in. It was the afternoon of the middle day of the sale, when you’re likely to get things at 25%-30% off (the final day of the sale things are usually 50% off, and in the final hours of the sale you can really start asking for deep discounts).

I was out in the yard when the guy went over, looked at the windmill, and remarked to his friend that it was way overpriced, even at 50% off (which, by the way, no one had offered him). So he went back inside and I thought that was the end of it. My mom and I shopped around a little more—this sale was packed, so we made a pretty big stack of stuff—and then went to check out. As we were going through everything, one of the ladies with Integrity Estate Sales came back into the house looking frazzled, and announced that everything was now 50% off. We may have done a little arm pump in celebration.

The same lady was holding the door for us as we were making our multiple trips in and out and then followed us out to the driveway as we were loading things onto this vintage wagon we picked up:

IMG_6923

Isn’t it the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen? No? Well I don’t have any pictures of puppies or kittens, so just go with me.

Anyway, the door lady told us that she had wanted to give us 50% off all along (my mom had already stopped by and bought a bunch of stuff earlier in the day), but that she was waiting for grumpy windmill guy to leave, because he was being a jerk about the price and trying to get them to basically give it away. She waited on purpose for him to leave! I was a little surprised that she was sharing this with us, but I probably shouldn’t have been. It pays to be nice, friends. I’m not above haggling with people, but there’s an appropriate way to do it, which includes either walking away or paying their price if they say no. It’s their job to run these sales for their company and their customers, and being super rude just because it seems like the price won’t affect them isn’t going to get anyone what they want, least of all you. In fact, you’ll likely be sabotaging yourself, like this guy did.

2. Build Relationships: This takes being nice a step further. While my particular situation might not apply to everyone, I’m going to share it anyway. I go to a lot of estate sales. Like, four or five a week during the summer. I see a lot of the same people over and over. It has paid off to learn people’s names, remember certain epic sales, and even dig a little deeper into their lives. There’s a guy who works for Action Estate Sales that had a baby a little bit after I did, and he still remembers talking to me in line at a barn sale when Charlotte was so little that she was still in the baby Bjorn. I remember his son’s name and ask how he’s doing, and he gives me good deals, even on the earlier days when the same deals aren’t offered by a sign on the wall.

Putting this all out on paper (or the screen) like this might make it seem like I formed this relationship so that I could get something out of it, but the truth is that it actually just formed as I practiced being nice and asking genuine questions about this guy’s life instead of just badgering him for a lower price until he was practically paying me to take stuff. People are nicer to nice people, and you’re standing there waiting for them to make change anyway. It doesn’t hurt to be friendly and admit that yes, this is the 17th time you’ve seen them this summer. Making new friends is a good thing!

3. Ask for Deals: I know this makes some people uncomfortable, and honestly, it made me uncomfortable too at first! It really does take some practice to get the hang of asking for discounts at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.

First, let’s address the appropriate time. Unless it’s a large piece and you know for sure that it’s at the top end of the spectrum when it comes to being reasonably priced, I would never ask for a discount on the first day of the sale. As a matter of fact, I rarely go to estate sales on the first day of the sale unless it’s something that I really want and I’m prepared to get there early, stand in line, pay the asking price, and muscle through the crowd to make a beeline to whatever it is I want. A lot of estate sales line up hours before the start time, and in the first couple of hours of the sale, they only let so many people in at a time. I like to avoid crowds (you’ll never see me out on Black Friday for example), so unless it’s something special, I generally wait until the end of the second day to go.

Now for the appropriate way to ask for discounts. I’m sure there are any number of ways that people go about politely asking for a discount at these things. I’ve certainly heard a lot of different approaches. The one that I use, and  that I feel the most comfortable with is:

“What’s your best price on the…”

Trust me, the folks who run these sales expect customers to ask for discounts. There is nothing rude about it (unless you’re rude). At the end of the day, the estate and the estate sale company are still going to make more money if they sell an item a little cheaper than if they don’t sell it at all. Generally, especially after the halfway point in the sale, people are going to come down on (even already discounted) items at least a little.

One last pro tip: I love going to sales that are packed with stuff—again, I go on the last day, select what I want and make a big pile near the cashier (these sales usually have a holding area for larger items, so you don’t have to try and carry everything around), and then we add it all up at the end, subtract the discount (usually at least 50% on the last day), and then I still almost always ask if they can take another $10-$20 off, which they usually do. Again, this kind of thing takes practice to get totally comfortable with. I started small figuring out my estate sale strategy, and now all these things are basically second nature.

I will say that I don’t always ask for discounts. With the companies I don’t mind, but when it’s a private sale and I know I’m already getting a really good deal on something (companies are a lot better about knowing the value of certain things than sales that are run by individuals or families), I don’t generally ask for a discount. I bought two amazing dressers at a private sale earlier this summer for $25 each—they probably would have been priced at $100 each, at least, at a company sale—and I didn’t ask for a discount on those. That was a living estate sale, where the ladies were downsizing their mother’s things so that she could move into an assisted living facility, and once I know something like that, I just don’t feel right asking for more money off of something that is already basically a steal. Again, you have to kind of feel it out and decide how you want to approach asking (or not asking) for a discount in some situations.

4. Look High/Look Low: Last month I snagged two things in a garage at an estate sale that had several people saying “where’d you find that? I would have bought it!” as I was walking to the car. That actually happens to me a lot. Have you ever heard the thing about how companies pay more for product placement in the grocery store to get their stuff on eye level shelves because the consumer scans those shelves way more often than looking down to the shelves below or up to those above, even if doing that extra scan might save them a couple of bucks?

Doing that extra scan at an estate sale will find you some awesome stuff. One of the first things I saw in that garage was a long, primitive hinged wood box on the floor at the very back. I think something may have been on top of it, but I don’t remember for sure. That box was the first thing that went in my pile. Another item that had people lamenting as I left was a chippy carpenter’s stool that was over in the corner of the garage, holding up a box fan that the estate sale company had set up to get some airflow going in the garage (it was a little musty in there). I think a lot of people just walked by and assumed that the stool wasn’t for sale, since it was being used in that way, but there was a price sticker on it, and I asked as soon as I saw it if I could move the fan and take the stool. I would show you a photo, but it sold in Saline, and I never got a good picture of it. 

I typically do two passes at the sales that I go to. The first one I grab anything that obviously has to come with me and stash it in my pile, making sure to look underneath tables, on top of cabinets and shelves, and behind and around any bigger pieces that might have treasures hiding in back of them. On the second pass, I tend to go more slowly, contemplating bigger pieces and examining the questionable ones closely. Waiting on some things until the second pass gives me time to really think about whether I can fix/sell that item, whether it really fits with my brand, and whether I’ll regret buying it in a few months.

5. Shop Strategically: I’ve already touched on this a little bit, but I’ll do a quick recap of my strategy. Depending on what you’re into and what kind of work you do, you’ll develop your own strategy as you go along doing this estate sale thing. Hopefully you’ll only have to develop a strategy for looking for one type of thing (say, furniture). I’m constantly looking for primitives, small vintage pieces for my Etsy shop, craft items, and solid, quality furniture to redo…it gets a little exhausting (but still fun!).

As I said before, I rarely go on the first day of a sale unless I see something in the pictures that I really want that will probably go fast. For example, I’ve been looking for a telephone bench to redo this summer—I almost always have at least one for Sterlingfest—but I haven’t found one anywhere! That is an item that might bring me to a sale on the first day as they seem to be really popular right now.

Typically, I like to find a packed sale and wait until the very end of the second day, when it’s likely that I can ask for last day discounts a little early, without dealing with the last day scavengers.

I use estatesales.net to find the sales that I want to go to—when I know I’ll be in town for any given weekend and I’m not doing a show (or sometime even if I am), I’ll go through the site on Monday or Tuesday that week and write down the sales that I’m interested in. I try to find at least two or three on the site (then, as I’m driving around, I look for private sales that may not have been listed online). I look for a mix of old and new in the photos, a little heavier on the old. If a sale is 80% or more new stuff, I usually won’t bother. It’s just not likely that anything I’d be really interested in will still be there at the end of the second or third day. On the other hand, if the sale is really heavy on older pieces, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the best deals there. Sure, the prices will be better than they would at an antique store, but not as good as at a typical sale. Again, those sales might tempt me if there’s something really cool (I went to one in May that had a letterpress cabinet that I really wanted but knew I wouldn’t buy because it would be too expensive—I did buy a few other things, though), but I go to them more to enjoy looking at the pieces than with a serious intent to buy (at least for now).

6. Avoid Impulse Buys/Examine Pieces Closely: Guys, there have been many times when I saw a piece from afar (or a few feet away—usually when my hands are full of other treasures) and fell in love with it, especially after seeing the price. Embarrassingly, this just happened to me the other day—I was walking out of the Utica Antiques Market, had my hands full, saw a Victorian corner chair for only $20!!!!  and bought it without even touching it. Once again, I’d show you a photo, but it’s already gone.

Sometimes this turns out fine, but often, the piece ends up having structural flaws, a smell, or some other issues. My Victorian chair was super wobbly on the top—it needed a lot of extra loving to get it to a piece that I could re-imagine. I bought it to redo and resell, but once I got it home, I discovered that it wouldn’t really be worth the trouble. If it was a piece I was doing for myself, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but the time it would have taken me to really make it an awesome piece for my booth wouldn’t have been worth it, so I let it go as it was on Facebook, which made me a little sad. 

This whole story has a point, I promise. Examine the pieces that you buy! Sit on chairs, test the wobble factor, smell upholstery, open and close drawers—make sure that piece is solid before you invest in it, even it’s only $20.


Do you have any estate sale shopping tips to share? What is your best strategy for asking for deals? Which impulse buys have worked (and which haven’t)? Do you have any horror stories of rude customers making a scene while you’ve been shopping? Let me know in the comments below, email me at metrodetroitmaker@gmail.com, and connect with the community on Instagram using the #metrodetoitmaker!

Thanks for reading, friends. Talk soon,

Jessie

4 Things That Are Upping My Girl Boss Game This Summer

Being a girl boss is hard work, ladies—especially when you add being a wife, mama, girlfriend, dog mom, homeowner, personal chef, and all of the other things that we ladies are constantly juggling. Hard as it is at times, certain habits and rhythms can seriously help make things a little easier.

Today I’m sharing some things that are really working for me this summer in an effort to encourage you to develop your own rhythms as we figure out this girl boss stuff together. Thanks for joining me this morning! Here’s what’s working for me right now:

Getting up Early

This is the single biggest thing that has been helping me this summer. I’ve been getting up around 5 a.m. every morning and heading to Starbucks to work for two hours before Dan leaves for work around 8. It’s been immensely helpful. I’ve been using this time to schedule social media posts, write for my blog, work on content for my Etsy listings, answer emails, and plan my days/weeks.

While I don’t come to Starbucks every single day for this, I like leaving the house in the morning as often as I can, because I don’t get distracted sitting here in a coffee shop—there’s no laundry, no dirty dishes, and no half-finished project sitting right there. It’s much easier to focus on completing these tasks if I can sit down and power through them for two hours every morning. In addition to those distractions, Charlotte is an early riser like her mama, and even though Dan is home, she will inevitably yell for me to help her with something every ten minutes or so, which is even worse than that chair sitting there. With a three year old around, I definitely get more work done when I can be away for a bit.

distractions

Please tell me that some of your kitchens look like this, too. It will make me feel so much better!!

When I leave Starbucks to head home, I can feel good about taking the morning “off” to hang out with Charlotte, get some housework done, and get back to work later during her nap. I usually use my early Monday mornings to plan the week and make a list of the big projects I need to complete (I also browse upcoming estate and garage sales that I might want to check out and make a note of those). Every morning before I leave to go home, I plan out my nap time priorities for the day, as well as any tasks that I want to complete that night after dinner. Especially during the hectic parts of the craft show season, I usually work for at least two hours after dinner, when Dan is around to spend time with Charlotte.

I’ll confess, I’m a morning person, and the thought of getting up at 5 a.m. to start the day being productive is sickeningly exciting to me. I’ll also confess that Charlotte has a hard time falling asleep during the day without me staying in bed with her, so I almost always take a short nap at the beginning of her nap, and I get to recoup a bit of my energy then.

Setting Goals

I kind of started doing this by accident early this summer—I think it might have come about as a result of something that I listened to on the Goal Digger podcast, but I know I was also driven and working out some frustrations in some other areas of my life when I decided to set a goal for how much inventory I would have ready for the Royal Oak Vintage Artisan Market at the beginning of June 2017. I had never set a similar goal before, so I tried it. I told myself I would have at least $1000 of inventory ready for the show (then managed to exceed my goal by quite a bit), and lo and behold, we made nearly $1000. It was crazy. I got fired up about it, and I saw really amazing results happen every time as I started to set new goals (big and small) throughout the rest of the summer.

I have this chalkboard out in the garage where I keep track of my inventory progress before a big show:

goal chalkboard

This was my progress tracker as I was prepping for the Royal Oak Vintage Artisan Market.

One small goal I set for myself at the Saline show was to make 10 sales. Again, I had never done this before, but it really kept me motivated to talk to customers and try to engage with their needs during a show when I might have been a little more withdrawn and down because it wasn’t what I was expecting. For a show like Sterlingfest, I set number goals for my email list as well as sales goals for each day.

It’s probably a psychological thing, but I feel a lot more accomplished when I meet a goal I set, even when it’s a modest one, than I do when everything just goes really well but I didn’t necessarily have a goal I was working towards.

I try to set goals for myself when it comes to screen time, too—when I set a goal not to look at my phone until 3 p.m., for example (after answering all my emails and scheduling all my posts in the morning, of course), I find that I’m so much more productive throughout the day than I would be if I were looking at my phone for 5-10 minutes every hour.

Journaling

This one is tied to both setting goals and to getting up early—my work journal gives me a place to record most of these goals and to jot down notes about what went wrong and what went right along the way. I use this journal for my work notes:

make it happen journal

I’d really like to invest in the Make it Workbook, but I should probably finish this journal first—I have a slight journal obsession, probably as a result of being an English professor and avid writer, and the number of mostly empty notebooks and journals I have lying around is frankly embarrassing.

Anyway, back to journaling. My journaling is definitely linked to getting up early, too—before I was doing this getting up early thing, I never felt like I had time to journal because I had to get all of this other stuff out of the way and work on projects during naptime.

Another confession: I’ve always been a journaler, so getting back into this habit wasn’t hard for me. I love looking back at where I’ve been and seeing how far I’ve come. I have a few other markers now that I’ve been doing this for about four years, but my journal is always the most tangible for me. I used to journal every day in high school and college, and I’ve missed it a lot as a (relatively) new mama. Most days, my work journal is just notes for projects, to-do lists, productivity and time tracking, and notes for Etsy listings, but I try to get my morning pages done while I’m away in the morning, too.

work journal

Side note: Starbucks just started playing Where My Girls At? and I legit started dancing in my seat. Welcome back feels from 1999. I’ve missed you.

Events

Honestly, because of the goals I’ve been setting and the amount of inventory I’ve been producing, even my so-so events have been successful this summer. A slow event gives me time to plan and think and be creative when it comes to selling and forming customer relationships, and the great events give me the resources to save for my shop, pay for future events, and build my email list.

email list example

Speaking of email lists, my email list is probably the thing that I’m most proud of this summer, and it’s another idea that I got from the Goal Digger podcast. I’ve always passed out business cards at my events, but I’ve never asked people for their email addresses, which seems crazy to me now. I’ve also started using MailChimp to send out a monthly newsletter to my email list, which helps keep me in front of the customers that I connected most strongly with at my shows. It feels really good to slowly build that list every month and know that I have contact information for a growing number of people that liked my work so much they gave me their information so that we could stay in touch. I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner, but at least I started now. With at least a year to go before there’s a possibility of realizing my goal for a physical store, I have plenty of time to build a following and get potential customers interested and engaged with what I’m doing on a regular basis.


While these things are going really well this summer, there are still a few things that I’m spending a lot of time on that aren’t going so great—things like time management, social media, and inventory organization. Maybe a post on these things and how I’m trying to work on them is in my future.

What do you struggle with most as a creative girl boss? What’s working for you this summer? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Talk soon,

Jessie