Like many creative types, owning a shop was always a dream of mine. That dream came true back in 2005 when I along with two of my RN friends opened Raised In Cotton in an old farmhouse on the main street of a suburban town just south of Kansas City. We were excited to offer the vintage furnishings we had sourced on our weekend buying trips in a retail atmosphere. The best part was I had a place to showcase some of my talents and I was an actual shop owner to boot! We each had roles in our shop, mine was the creative stylist, photographer and marketer, all of which I adored. The day we opened our doors was a very proud moment for me. Over the years with much determination, hard work and occasional disagreements between the three of us, we were able to build a loyal customer base.
For eight years I was part of Raised in Cotton, but in 2012 I decided it was time to step down and sold my portion to another owner who still runs it to this day. I felt I had taken the shop as far as I could and I wanted to pursue other interests. It seemed very simple at first to step away, but to be considerate of my two other co owners who were also my friends, I needed to dig a little further in to why it was time to leave. It was probably the first time in my 8 years of owning the shop that I got real and made a true business decision.
So how did I arrive at the decision it was time to leave my shop owning dream? I decided to finally take a good hard look at what was really happening around me. I took the rose colored entrepreneurial glasses off that were also covering my heart and conducted an honest assessment of the state of my shop ownership. What I found was bluntly staring me right in the face.
The big picture was apparent to me. I could see that small retail shops were failing at a rapid rate, especially in my niche of home decor and vintage furnishings. Buying habits were being replaced with the advantages of online shopping that took little time. I also found that the same market type inventory we were buying from our wholesalers was readily available for a much lower price around the corner at the big box decor and hobby stores. Our main focus was always original vintage finds but we also added in market decor items to “fluff our look”. But how could we compete with the larger stores and the lower price points that they were able to offer? I also noticed that the popular DIY crowd could easily find inventory at busy thrift stores and recreate, redo, repurpose to Pinterest heaven. The smaller picture was our customer traffic was on a downward spiral. We always received wonderful compliments ranging from, “I just love your shop” to “Raised In Cotton always has the best stuff” but those compliments didn’t always translate into sales. The biggest and honest raw realization for me was that I never really made much money. It all seemed to go back into the shop. But wasn’t that the rule with being a shop owner? The first 5 years you put any money you made back into the business? I don’t think so.
But there was more….
Even though our customers appreciated the unique styled inventory we offered and vintage aesthetic, it just didn’t seem to be enough to keep them coming back and buying. I’ve heard this same story repeated many times by shop owner friends who closed stores because of low sales despite their best efforts. Read my friend Deb Dusenberry’s articles hereherehere and here featured in the New York Times about her popular Curious Sofa Boutique. It chronicles the challenges she faced in trying to keep the shop open and successful even after posting close to 1 million in revenue at one point. Published in 2009 and written by Jay Goltz the owner of Jayson Home, it is still very relevant especially if you are a business owner.
Looking back, am I sorry I spent 8 years of my life as a shop owner? No, not at all. I’m really proud that I set a goal of shop owning and followed through with it. I had no formal business education but just a desire and passion to create an environment that was creative, inspirational and valued. I was fortunate to have gained some amazing opportunities including having my photography and styling work featured in a few books and magazines. I’m sure part of which came my way because I took a chance stepping through those Raised In Cotton doors.