Success is very subjective. What do you define as success for yourself? What are you willing to do to achieve it? What are you NOT willing to do?
These are questions that I have been asking myself since I opened my brick and mortar store & studio – Lulu Bea’s – in December of 2013. While I’m still not sure of my answers, I do have general guidelines.
The price of success was brought to mind last week when a woman walked into my store looking to sell advertising. She did direct mailing, which would mean printed materials sent directly to local residents’ homes. She was about to start her pitch when I said “I’m going to stop you right there before you get any further. I am a green business, which means that I don’t print materials because I feel that it’s a waste of paper.” Her response; “But is it a waste if it brings in business?”
In my store, I use digital receipts, 100% recycled shopping bags (though I encourage customers to forgo a bag all together), I don’t print flyers for my art classes even though customers ask me for ones all the time (the info is on my website), all of the products are handmade and utilize recycled/eco-friendly materials… heck, I even make my own business cards out of cereal boxes.
Should I put aside these core beliefs in order to bring in more business?? I’m sorry, that’s something I’m just not willing to do. Maybe, maybe if they were printed on 100% recycled paper, but that holds no interest for me, nor does it feel right. I’m a big advocate for following what feels right, and if it doesn’t ring true in my heart, or make me feel excited, then it’s not the right path. So no, I am not going to print materials in the off chance that it will bring in more business. Rather, I am going to keep faith in the way my business has grown each year – word of mouth.
There are many factors to consider on my journey of success (note that I said OF success, because no matter the outcome, I have already succeeded in the trying). When I first opened the store, I was working 6 days a week, Monday – Saturday. The work hours involved coming home right at dinner time and only seeing my kids for an hour or 2 before they went to bed. I also had evening art classes and private art parties (think Wine & Canvas style) whenever customers wanted them, so seeing my kids each night wasn’t always a guarantee. Since I opened right round the holidays, I knew that I was only temporarily pushing myself. “Just get through Christmas” I told myself. Once 2014 rolled around, I closed the store on Mondays as well.
I kept at it until the summertime. I was fortunate to have a lot of summer trips planned and I was able to find great friends & family to cover the store. It was during this time away that I realized something very important…
My kids need a mom, not someone who owns a store.
BAM! What a blow to the head. What was I doing this for if not for my family? And what good is it all if I’m not even spending quality time with them? It’s these 4 precious human beings that I need to be present for.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s also about pursuing my own passions, but I chose to bring these babies into being, and finding a balance between mom/wife responsibilities and personal ambition/self growth is important to me… and also an ongoing struggle. I actually don’t believe a perfect balance exists… rather, the ever illusory “balance” is, in fact, a swinging pendulum that is always in motion. Some days the pendulum is leaning more in the family direction, and other times it’s heavy in the personal growth area. As long as I have awareness when the pendulum is heavily skewed, I always do my best to coax it back towards the center.
I decided to cut my hours back permanently and to alter my art class schedule. Now I am home shortly after 4pm most days. I can now help with homework and after school activities. I hold art classes during store hours and leave evenings open for private parties. This way, I only have to work at night when a party has been scheduled. I was told I needed to be consistent with my store hours, and that I should be open later to allow for after work shoppers. However, it’s not worth it at the price to my family. I have no idea if these changes will spell longevity for the store, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
As I mentioned before, all of the products in my store are handmade from upcycled/recycled/eco-friendly materials. Before opening, I consulted with a colleague who has a store & studio as well. I told her about my vision and was warned that I may not be able to hold true to these idealist values. She said that while handmade was great, it doesn’t always pay the bills… that I could always buy cheap jewelry from China to resell, because it’s a good profit. Now that Lulu Bea’s been open for over a year, I can see why she told me those things. Having a business can be scary, and making enough money to pay the bills each month can be stressful. While I’ve made a few exceptions to the types of products in the store – allowing handmade products using eco-friendly and natural materials – I am still sticking with my core values. I know that handmade can be a niche market, but I am not interested in mass produced retail. I am an artist. I make things with my own 2 hands. There is time, energy, love and dedication that goes into every piece that I make, and I firmly believe that these attributes can be felt by the customers when they bring my pieces home with them. Handmade is phenomenal, and I want everyone to know it. My shoppers are receiving quality work that is unique, original and personal. Bringing in factory made products is not even an option for me.
So, I guess those are examples of what I am not willing to do in order to succeed.. but what am I willing to do? I suppose, show up. Try my best. Do what I know, learn what I don’t and try again. I will ask for help. I will relinquish the “do it all myself” mentality in order to bring in other professionals who are good at what I am not. I will take time away from work, because I am so much more than my profession… my work does not define me. I will travel to the land of the uncomfortable, where facing things that scare or intimidate me will be my compass… and I will share with you what I learn along the way.
* Have any thoughts you’d like to share about this post? Hope on over to the Lulu Bea’s Facebook Page and share away!
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