Saturday, January 01, 2011
WHY IS CURIOUS SOFA CLOSING?
In September of 2000, I opened Curious Sofa in an old building in downtown Kansas City. Little did I know then that ten years later I would be writing a closing thank you to hundreds of people who became great customers and longtime friends. Each and every one of you helped get my store on the map and keep it thriving for ten strong years. That alone is no small feat for any business and it takes more than a creative owner to make it happen.
I wanted Curious Sofa polished and respected as a local business. From the beginning I cared that my store was not just some dusty 'ol antique shop but that I was taken seriously as a retailer. I wanted customers to notice our attention to detail and see we were not ordinary. Four and a half years later, when I moved from the Crossroads to Prairie Village, everything changed. Suddenly my little shop became big business. I found myself signing a lease in a former GAP of all places with 3,667 square feet; I had seven employees in the beginning, constant traffic and over 4,000 pieces of merchandise on any given day. There was suddenly so much to manage that I went from working on the floor with customers to spending days in my office sorting through product to buy, events to plan, items to repair, markets to attend, employees to guide and on my days off I hit the streets to find antiques to sell.
When the press found out about us, it changed everything. Since 2001, Curious Sofa has been featured in dozens of local and national magazines. My home has been the backdrop for a few editorials as well and each and every publication has been humbling to see. Any business would pinch themselves to be noticed like this and I was no exception. Suddenly handfuls of people around the globe knew about me and my little shop. Calls, emails and requests came in from every part of the world.
When the economic crash started in 2008, I became even more obsessed over every dollar that circulated through the store. I asked advice, I downsized, I negotiated and I made the shop as lean and mean as possible to get through it. It was a great lesson to see what we could live without, but in the process, I was not having any fun. Every day my passion for antiquing, styling and finding unusual goods for you became overshadowed by doing the right thing for the business. Every single moment of every single day, 24/7, I was thinking about the shop. I found myself unable to have a normal conversation with anyone as it always turned into a discussion about some part of business owning. I eventually lost my spark, my passion and my smile. I was lucky to have a tolerant staff because during the next few years I was certainly no fun to be around, but we got through 2008, 2009 and 2010.
When Curious Sofa’s ten year anniversary came in September of 2010, it was time for me to take a hard look at my life and my business. I had recently been featured in the August issue of Where Women Create and they asked each artist for a piece of business advice. Mine was simple, “Design the life you want to live first, and then design your business to fit your life.” Ironically, I had done just the opposite. I was being ruled by my store and the daily operations to keep it going. The juggling of finances, finding the right product, selling it for the right price, planning the events, designing the next the big wow, keeping up with the blog, then the networking, watching the economy, predicting consumer habits and all the while hoping customers and employees were happy. Finally, after ten years, I became downright exhausted.
The fourth quarter of 2010 was also going to be our biggest press year ever. Five national magazines were featuring Curious Sofa in one way or another and I knew it was time for me to start selling products online to coincide with this national press and supply our broader customer base. I spent the summer researching online stores, designing a new website and gathering a tech team to start selling Curious Sofa merchandise on the web. Since I launched our online store in August, the sales have been beyond my expectations. Once I worked the kinks out, I could see that the more I added product to it, the more customers would buy- imagine that! This got my wheels turning that maybe, just maybe I could do this online thing and make a living from it. Most of my blog readers are out of town and although they have longed to visit the store, offering Curious Sofa merchandise online was the next best thing for them. If I concentrated on online sales it could get me back to the two things I really loved doing: shopping for goods and designing on my computer with the added bonus of less stress and more free time to travel. It was then that I made the tentative decision to close the store after Christmas.
In August of 2010 I told the staff this might be our last Christmas and finally on November 20th, I confirmed it. On December 13th we called a handful of close friends and customers to tell them of our closing personally and on December 18th a mailer and email was sent to the general public. Now it was official; Curious Sofa would be closing on January 9, 2011.
I knew from the beginning of this plan it was going to be hard for our local customers to hear. I wrote a script, I rehearsed every possible comment we might receive with the staff and we prepared our responses as well as we could. I knew most observers would think we were going out of business or declaring bankruptcy due to the economy because that was what was happening to every other shop in the country. The truth is, the economy was only 50% of my decision, the other 50% was a pure and simple life-style change.
I think our basic human nature has a desire to be heard. Haven't we all wished at one time or another that the other person could feel what we are going through? Part of me wants so badly to tell you of the hard work involved in running a business and the other part of me knows this is not appropriate because after all, you are the ones who have supported me, spent your money in my store and kept me thriving for ten great years. No one wants to hear the bad stuff, they want to see the magic and think it is all effortless. Yet, when a special place of yours goes away, you want to know why. So I am torn because I want to tell you the truth. I want to tell you about all of it, although the condensed version is what I have already described above: big store, high overhead, social climate, consumer habits, declining sales, hard work, little reward, no fun. The reason I started my shop in the first place started to fade into an avalanche of responsibility. There is a saying in business: The happiest day is when you open the store and then again when you close it. I get that now.
You have written often of how Curious Sofa was a light in your life and now of your disappointment in the news of our closing. I am telling myself if you were not sad to see us go, then I did not do my job because my goal was always to create an amazing environment that took you to another place. I wanted you to see wonderful items and great displays in magical surroundings, and my staff and I accomplished that- in Kansas! But after ten years, maintaining the Big Wow took its toll. I have devoted myself 200% to this shop but lost a little of myself in the process. My friends and family have been neglected, my health and my spiritual life too. Why I could not balance it all cohesively, I do not know. I achieved a dream I had always had and I am so grateful for that, but now it is time to follow another dream of a less complicated life.
Someone said to me recently, “You are such a perfectionist with your store, it is making you crazy. It has to be 100% or nothing. Why can’t you run the shop at 80%? No one would notice if it was only 80% fabulous.” I guess I just don’t understand that way of doing things. 80% would have never gotten me on the cover of Country Living magazine; 80% would have never gotten me 1,500 Facebook fans; an 80% effort would have never materialized my dream or the success I had or given the customer the inspiration you thank us for every single day.
Could Curious Sofa have stayed open? Yes, maybe, but you would not have liked what you might have seen; a store low on inventory, no special events, no big wow, nothing to ooh and ahh over, instead a shop just waiting on Halloween and Christmas when customers are motivated to buy more. This was not what I had in mind for myself or you. It is best to go out on top than for you to watch us fade slowly. I want you to leave with very special memories of your visits with us.
So finally, a heartfelt thank you to all of you. The local Kansas Citians, the blog fans, the fellow dealers, the press, the vendors, the artists, and my good friends who have watched my ten year story unfold. Your support, gifts, calls and emails will not be forgotten. You tell us we are special, but it is you who made Curious Sofa special by understanding what we were doing here and telling others about us.
And finally, to my staff: Heather, Abby, Dana & Jessi. All of you stuck it out with me over this last crazy year not knowing what the heck I was going to do. I know you will miss the shop but each and every one of you will go on to bigger and better things. You were the best team I had and any employer would be lucky to have any one of you.
So onward to an exciting year for all of us and remember, I am NOT going out of business. CURIOUS SOFA will continue selling online, posting on this blog and updates on Facebook. I have every intention of building the online store specifically with one-of-a-kind goods and many of your seasonal favorites. I am moving my office to my home, setting up a little studio to shoot website pictures and make original things. The blog will expand as I write about more personal experiences, creative projects and style observations. I will also be available for other creative outlets; magazine styling, retail consulting or product design.
After I rest up, I am buying a vintage camper and Pearl and I are hitting the road and attending every major antique show from Round Top to Brimfield and bringing all those goods back to sell online to you! Come fall, I may be ready to do a Curious Sofa event so all of you can get your visual fix and of course, I have a few other things up my sleeve! Stay tuned.
HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you for a wonderful, wonderful ride.