Monday, January 09, 2012

An Anniversary

One year ago today I closed Curious Sofa, but to be honest, it seems like it was just yesterday. Since then, a day does not go by that I do not think of that last day or the many months prior to it when I knew I had a tough decision to make to close after ten years in business. I knew I would look forward to taking time off, but I also knew trying to figure out my next move or creating a new identity for myself would be a strange undertaking. After closing her store, my friend Elizabeth told me it would take a year for me to feel like myself again and she was right.

It was strange to feel so connected to a business; to know that others only knew you because of this thing you had created. For 45 years prior, I was a local Kansas Citian working at many jobs with many people but never did I feel so identified by what I did for a living as I had during the life of Curious Sofa. Perhaps that lead to one of the reasons I wanted to close. I wanted to believe I was much more than a retail store and of course we are all more than what we do for a living. As Americans we cannot help ask that proverbial first question at a cocktail party, "So what do you do?" Remember the scene in Eat, Pray, Love? "You Americans! You do not know how to live! You work too hard, you get burned out. You come home and spend the whole weekend in your pajamas in front of the T.V. You don't know pleasure. You have to be told you've earned it." Those lines pretty much sum it up.

It took me a full year of tying up loose ends with the store, doing a couple freelance jobs, and then finally buckling down to buy and sell for the website which was my plan and now I think I have found my groove. I have to say, I am really liking (dare I say loving?) doing my online store. I can still antique and buy great things for you, use my photography and graphic design skills, stay connected to readers and fans and all the while still work for myself. It can be very time consuming to make it successful, but it is not stressful. Today while antique shopping a former customer asked if I missed the store and my answer is always- no. I would not have closed Curious Sofa if I knew I would have those feelings. It was just time to move on.

I will say that the one thing that is strange now is not having any big plans for the future. Owning my own shop was on my mind forever and I finally accomplished that. Now, at 55 years old, I am learning not having a big dream to aspire to is not such a bad thing. I have worked at a lot of creative jobs, met some amazing people over the years, traveled a bit and was also fortunate to have been published a time or two so for now, I am totally content not having a big dream to haunt me.

Over dinner recently a girlfriend asked if I was happy. (Doesn't that question always stump us?) Happy? Most of us would say, "Yes... for the most part." 'For the most part' meaning we have nothing to complain about but there is always so much more we want for our lives. We get caught up in our daily routine and never think about what we really want or what will make us "happy", we just keep rolling through our lives out of necessity. Later that night, I thought of what I was trying to find after the store closed and what would make me happy for the New Year:
1. I want work that is not stressful.
2. I want to be with people that do not make me uncomfortable.
3. I want to avoid situations where I wish I were somewhere else.

These things would make me very happy. And I will say, this year I have been trying to live my life in that direction. Is it possible to do all that all the time? Of course not. But if I can try to achieve it 85% of the time, it would be a very good thing.

This week I am off to the the Atlanta Gift Market. I will be hunting for new merchandise to offer online and also shopping the Scotts Antique Fair (yippee!!!!) and although I am flying, I will be shipping items back and jamming what I can in my suitcase. I cannot wait to offer these items online for you in the next few weeks. I have also been asked to research merchandise for a museum's gift shop which will be different and fun.

Pearl and I now spend our days hunting down antiques on selected road trips. My spare bedroom is now my photo studio to shoot and manage the online merchandise. The computer is on one side and the tables, backgrounds and props are on the other. I am fortunate to have an enormous window on one wall to shoot everything with natural light. I have my routine down now loading the van with tubs of items I find, I carry them into the house, shoot three pictures of each, measure, tag them with a sku, add to the master log, load back into the tub and take back to the van. Then I make a photo and text list of all the items (trying to add at least 25-50 new pieces a week) and email that to my fulfillment company. (Yes, I hired a company that warehouses my products, downloads my orders and carefully packs and ships your purchases to you.) Then once or twice a week I drive the van full of new products to the warehouse. Back at home I download the images, resize and retouch each, then organize and load them to the online store while I try to write a cute and clever description. All the while hoping I got all the idiosyncrasies of html/web/cart systems right. Whew, like I said, time consuming but I have a beverage at hand while listening to the radio, Pearl by my side with my house slippers on and loving the solitude.

On my off days I do the networking thing. I try to let you know via Facebook, the blog and direct emails of the new merchandise I just added. I always have mixed feelings of doing this because I know we are bombarded by junk mail, online stores and businesses wanting you to buy things but there is no other way for you to know what I just added and it always works. It is the wave of the future as much as I know half of you hate online anything.

I still get emails from customers that had no idea I closed the store. Most are from out of town who only make it through KC once a year. I run into former customers who continue to say they miss touching, feeling and seeing my displays and getting Curious Sofa inspiration. I get that and I knew that would happen. Every once in awhile I run into someone who really cares that I have moved on and are genuinely interested in my well being and not just missing the shop, which is nice.

Most of my online sales are from followers across the country who found me through the magazine articles Curious Sofa was featured in and this blog. This year many have discovered me for the first time through the Martha Stewart Thanksgiving issue, Etsy and some from Better Homes & Gardens. Ironically, the local Kansas Citians are my smallest demographics. They still want me to do a pop-up shop or join the First Friday craze but I concluded it is just not for me right now. I even signed a lease at a local mall but freaked out at the last minute and changed my mind. The idea of creating the big wow again got the best of me. It's just too soon. I pondered selling at Marburger or Junk Bonanza this year too but again, the online store is less hauling, less overhead, more profitable and just easier- for now.

I do a little Google advertising and an occasional ad here and there for but I am fortunate to have built a following despite some of that. This year I have been asked to join a new online marketplace (similar to One Kings Lane or which will be very exciting to announce when it launches. (hint: 95% vintage and featuring hand chosen 'stylemakers'). My goal is to keep hunting and gathering from Atlanta to Round Top to KC, expand the online store, maybe change the graphics and format to make it even more user friendly and add the crucial online networking links. I think BHG wants me for another project this year and I am also adding a new notch to my belt by doing DIY interior advice. I come into your home for 3 hours and show you what to do. Its been quite fun actually and the clients I have helped have been thrilled.

Earlier this year I felt like some of you must have felt when the kids went off to college and you became empty nesters, "What to I do now? Who am I!!?" I guess there is nothing wrong with getting so wrapped up in something that you lose your balance. Looking back I know I would do shop owning much differently now but we can all say that about something we've been through. I am still so proud of those ten years and all the items we sold, the events and the inspiration my staff and I created for our customers. I hope some business owner somewhere is reading this and wants to do the same for her community. It is an amazing experience and I only hope you have the success I did. I am so glad I did it then and now I am glad to be doing something else. I hope you follow along for what else is to come.