Happy New Year, guys! I hope you all survived the holidays and at least had some fun! I didn't escape without catching the plague, but I'm finally feeling better and I'm ready to resume being a productive human being.
I've been meaning to start a series of posts about blogging and/or owning a business for a WHILE now and I'm glad to finally be getting to it! As you may have seen in my Insta stories last week, I put out a call for topics and got a ton of awesome responses, so thanks to everyone who sent one in! It helps me tailor the posts so I can be sure to answer your questions properly.
First, I thought I'd share a quick background on how I got SS up and running, since many of you asked. I don't think I've ever posted about this so it seems like a good time to do so. Some of you might not know me personally (hi and welcome!) so I'll share my story with you here.
I've always, always known that I wanted a creative career of some type. I've been drawing since I was little and immersed myself in art classes throughout high school. I went on to study Visual Communication Design (aka graphic design) at Kent State and graduated with a BFA in 2008. For me, college was fun but it was f---ing hard. Ask anyone who studied VCD at Kent and they'll tell you the same thing. There's very little sleep and lots of self doubt and competition. The program is no joke, but that's why it's good, and why I'm proud to have succeeded with it and why I take this craft so seriously. As with anything, you have to know and understand the rules before you can break them — which is why I think a design education is so important. But that's a post for another day...
After I graduated from college, the job environment was rough — the market crashed and left all of us scrambling — no one was hiring. I got a part time job at Urban Outfitters while I job hunted, and decided to start an Etsy shop to make money. I had tons of sketches and pieces of art from school, so I started selling prints of them online. I had no idea what I was doing, but the nice thing about Etsy is the built-in community of sellers and makers. I was able to connect with other shops and get a feel for what made them successful. I only had a handful of sales, but it really lit something within me. I loved the feeling of making something for fun and seeing people buy and enjoy my work.
Once I finally got my job at American Greetings, I kept my shop going and loved having a creative outlet outside of work. I had a "Lake Erie Love" design that began to pick up steam as a print, and a coworker presented me with the idea of turning the design into a shirt. I never thought about getting into the t-shirt game — this was back in 2009 and the local pride/Cleveland t-shirt movement wasn't quite a "thing" the way it is now. I decided to test it out — I found a screen printer and ordered the smallest batch of tank tops that I could (I honestly think it was 12!) and listed them in my Etsy shop. They sold quickly and continued to sell out with each order and I realized, I think I have something here.
At the time, there wasn't much out there that celebrated Lake Erie and I felt like I was tapping into a gap in the market. A lot of the lake-related products I was seeing were of a certain aesthetic — they weren't modern or stylish and most weren't well designed. It was clear that people were interested in representing their regional pride for our shore in a more sophisticated way. I loved the idea of a brand that encompassed those values and I wanted to be the one to create it. Additionally, I didn't want to box myself entirely into that category (I still do custom work and other types of projects) so Jim and I had a ton of brainstorming sessions to plot out my approach. I had been doing business under my own name, so it was also necessary to have a new brand name to match what I was building. We landed on the name Shore Society and within a few weeks, I had it registered with the state and it felt so official and real and exciting.
In the beginning, I kept very little inventory and tried to DIY as much as possible to save money. I printed my own business cards and hang tags and eliminated any unnecessary expenses. There were several tools that might have made things easier (like a label printer...life changing now that I have one!) but I kept things simple until I had the profits to put back into the business. I was still catching up on post-college debt, so sinking a lot of money into inventory wasn't realistic. I had also started a blog while I was still in college, so that was a great way to keep content flowing and connect with my customers. It evolved as I evolved.
The first real retail experience I had was with Made in the 216 — a pop-up handmade market that happened each year. The exposure was great and I started to meet more people in the Cleveland community through those events. I then started doing consignment with a few local shops, and that allowed me to increase my inventory. Eventually I moved away from consignment and began to wholesale. Continuing to network, market with social media, and create more products all paved the way for me to keep growing the business each year. The more I put in, the more I got out.
Running SS while working full time was (and still is) a balancing act. It took me a few years to hit my stride, with life often getting in the way. I have that lovely problem that plagues many creative people — having tons and tons of ideas floating in our heads and not enough hours in the day! But I've gotten better at letting go of excuses and dedicating time to make my ideas a reality. And truly, not doing this full-time has its perks — it takes the pressure off and allows me to enjoy it and create things for fun, not just to survive. I just set goals each year and keep pushing upward. I now have vendors I can count on to make my products, a workflow for order fulfillment, tools to make social media easier and more effective, and wholesale relationships that I love. It didn't happen overnight, and I think that's the trickiest thing. I am not a patient person but in this aspect of my life, I've learned to be. If I'm being true to myself, fulfilling my promises to customers, and doing my best at it — that's all I can ask for.
I'll be back next time to go into more detail about what tools and software I rely on to keep things running around here. If there was anything I missed, please leave a comment and let me know if you have questions! And if you made it to this point — bravo and thanks for reading! ;)