In this special episode, Natalie answers questions from fans and followers of graced! Hang out with Natalie as she answers your burning questions collected from Facebook!
Hey, guys. Welcome to The Graced podcast. This week is kind of fun because I am going to be doing a Q&A session. I asked for some questions on our Facebook page last week that people basically could ask me anything, anything about myself or the business, and I did get some really good questions. So this week is going to be kind of a short episode, but I'm going to just go through these questions and see if I can answer what you guys have got on your mind for me. It is a very snowy day here in Wisconsin. I did go out this morning, and it was pretty rough and slow on the roads. So I'm back home, and I'm going to just hunker down, so it's a great time to work on things like the podcast.
So to start off, I have a question from Nicole. Nicole asked, as an entrepreneur, what has been your biggest hurdle in getting to your success today?
That's a really good question. I don't necessarily think that I've had a lot of hurdles, but I think that getting to where I am is just a series of trying things, like trial and error and just walking the journey in life, and figuring out what exactly you want to do and learning as you go. I had a career as an RN for about 15 years before I started the store and learned a lot there and just did a lot of learning on my own about being an entrepreneur and about being a small business owner. Just kind of learned as I went, and in starting the first store, I think that there was a lot of challenges in figuring out exactly what you need to do, all of those legal things, like a business license and sellers permits and all of those things you have to figure out — taxes, of course. That's the real fun one. I think I just learned as I went. I made mistakes. I missed deadlines. I found out the hard way on some things. But you just learn and live, live and learn, I guess is the way to say it. I can't say there was one big hurdle, but I think that it's been a succession of learning opportunities and just growth as I started the first store.
Obviously, now that I'm going into opening our second store, it's so great to have that experience. I don't feel as stressed about opening the Sheboygan store because I feel like I know what to do. I know what comes next. I know what kind of boxes I need to have checked before I get started. It makes this process a lot more exciting and less anxiety provoking, I think, for the second store. So I hope that answers your question. Like I said, I can't say I have one big hurdle. It was more of like little hurdles that you just conquer along the way.
The next question, Caitlin asks what does the process look like when choosing products to offer in your shop? You have curated such a beautiful collection that keeps growing.
There's not really any special trick to curating everything that's in the store except that it does take a lot of time. One of the best things that I did is once I had my brick and mortar storefront opened, you can actually become a member of what's called Etsy Wholesale. With Etsy Wholesale, you have to have a physical store. You can't have just an online store. So you have to have a storefront, and they ask you lots of questions, and you have to verify that you have this physical store and your address and send pictures. Once you get approved for Etsy Wholesale, you have access to all the Etsy sellers who have set up wholesale accounts. That is awesome, and that's where I find a lot of products. But it does take a lot of time. So depending on the category for the product, like jewelry or stationery, there are pages and pages and pages, like over 100 pages, I think, of sellers for just paper goods alone. So it does take some hours of just plugging away at it and looking for the products that are the right fit for the store and being rather choosy.
I do have criteria that I look at. I look at, of course, aesthetic. Is the aesthetic going to go with Graced? Is it an aesthetic that I love, that I feel like is a reflection of my style and the style or the brand that I'm going for in Graced? I'm sure there's a ton of great products out there, but honestly, packaging is really, really important to me. So if the packaging doesn't look professional or have the right tone, the right brand for Graced, then I have to pass it by. That's really, really important that the brand fits within our style. And then of course, cost is important as well. I strive to keep all of the products at Graced really reasonably priced because I want it to be a place that anyone can come in and purchase a gift or something for themselves. So a lot of times, there may be Etsy sellers who have really, really great products or even just wholesalers in general, but I feel like the price, once I do the markup for retail, is going to be a little bit out of the price range for our customers. If you guys have been to Graced, I don't think we have anything in the store that's over $75. Everything is really reasonably priced, so that's a huge criteria for me as well.
So I would say aesthetic, branding, cost and just the overall fit with the store is how I choose the products that come through the doors. So that was an awesome question. Thanks, Caitlin.
So let's see, Crystal asks what is the most interesting request you've received from a customer involving something they had wanted to purchase?
I like this question because it is funny. Everything in the store is people think is for sale, which, I guess, everything is in a sense. Everything has a price in terms of like I could sell that if it was at the right price. I think the funniest things are like, I buy plants for décor, and I'll pot them. I don't put a price tag on them at all. But I bought this bigger potted plant that we just had near the front door, and it was really just part of the décor of Graced because I really like house plants, and I've been trying to incorporate that more into our look. People asked if they could buy that plant. The funny thing to me is that for most of my plants, I'll pick them up at Lowe's. It's not like you can't just go to any Lowe's, Home Depot, Menards, Fleet Farm, anywhere and pick up a plant exactly the same. So it's funny that people ask about buying the plants.
I'm trying to think. There's just random things people will ask that might be more décor-like items that are just part of the store's décor. They may ask if it's for sale. Like I said, if it's something reasonable, like we have this sled, old vintage sled that I decorated for Christmas. I actually rented it for some photo shoots for some photographers who wanted to use it for their setup for Christmas photos. I had people ask me can I buy this sled? Or I had an old pair of skis that we used for Christmas décor, and people would ask if they can buy the skis. So I've learned that if it's in the store, it's fair game. People are going to ask if it's for sale. A lot of my employees will ask, "Okay, is this for sale and how much should I say it costs if people ask?" It's challenging sometimes because you don't want to say no, but then again, it's like, oh, but that's part of the store décor. But fun question, yeah. A lot of people will ask to buy some really interesting things. asks how did you decide one day that you were going to open a store and how did the Manitowoc location come about?
This is a great question. I actually moved to Manitowoc about three years ago, three and a half now, I would say. My husband has worked in Manitowoc for about eight years. Prior to that, we lived in Sheboygan, and he was commuting. We just decided that we really wanted to get closer to his job and that we really wanted to move to Manitowoc. After I was here for about a year and a half, I actually rented my photography studio, which is located in the same building that Graced is located in. It's upstairs, and it's this beautiful space. It has great light. It's just an awesome space. After I had the studio for a while, I noticed, and I obviously recognized there was this great space off of Eighth Street downstairs in the Dempsey Building. I had an idea for doing a wedding and event rental store. Since I already knew the landlord, it was really easy for me to just get in touch with him and say, "Hey, I have this idea for a business. What do you think? And how could we make it affordable for me to start my business and rent this space?"
He was super supportive and awesome. He created a way for me to start my business and make the rent really reasonable. So that's how the Manitowoc location came about. It was just this space was open and I was like, I have this idea. Since we opened, the store has really evolved to what it is today. Some of you might know that we still do wedding and event rentals, but the retail side of our business is bigger and more significant. It brings in a lot more revenue. The whole idea of Graced has morphed over time. So that's how the Manitowoc location came about. Again, it just keeps changing and growing and evolving over the years. We have been open ... It's going to be over a year and a half. Our second birthday will be in June. So in two years, it's really changed a ton.
I actually have a follow-up question to that, which is kind of fun. [Therese 00:12:58] says, why have you decided to open a store in Sheboygan? I think you should open a store in downtown Appleton. Congrats on your second store.
It's funny because I have had a couple of people ask me about Appleton, doing an Appleton location. The reason I actually stuck with Sheboygan is because it was a happy accident in terms of how I found the property. A friend of mine who works between Sheboygan and Manitowoc said, "Hey, I know of this great space, and the current business is closing, and it would just be the perfect location for Graced. It's on Eighth Street," which is what I wanted in Sheboygan. I had been thinking about it for months, but I didn't pull the trigger on it because I just didn't feel like I was ready yet. And then this just dropped into my lap, and things started happening really quickly. Because I had lived in Sheboygan for about five years, I have a lot of connections there and was ... I really love Sheboygan as a city. It's just such a great place where a lot is happening. So for a second location, it made sense, and again, it just kind of happened.
But I do love Appleton, and Appleton is definitely on my radar for a third location if it seems like that's the direction that we're going to go after the Sheboygan store opens. So don't give up on us. We are definitely thinking about it. Appleton would be a great place for a location, and I love it there as well. So definitely a possibility for the future.
All right. Let's see. [Katie 00:14:51] asks ... Katie is a friend of mine back in our nursing days. She asks, are you still doing wedding photography?
The answer is yes. I am actually a wedding photographer as well as owning the store. In 2017, so last year, I actually did 20 weddings. That was a lot of weekends, and it was very, very busy. It was great. I loved it. I loved all of my brides. My couples were awesome. It went really, really well, but it was a lot of weekends away from home. In 2018, yes, I am still shooting some weddings, but I pared it down quite a bit and have been a little bit more picky about the weddings that I take. I'm doing about eight for 2018, which is good because I think with the more stores that we open, I'm going to need to have more time to work on the stores. Honestly, Graced does really ... Not that photography is not my passion because I love photography, and I'm going to continue to do it, but the business side of Graced is where I feel like it's really my sweet spot and what I consider to be something that from day to day that I really love doing. So while I am still going to do photography, I'm going to pare back a little bit on that, do a little bit less so that just frees up a little bit more time for Graced and hopefully a big future for Graced.
Let's see. I have one more, or two more, I think. Amy asks how do you stay so motivated? That's a really good question. How do I stay motivated? It's hard sometimes. I'm sure everybody can agree. It's hard to always stay focused and motivated. It's hard, especially during times when it's really slow at the store. Our slow months are definitely January and October. It's really hard to stay optimistic and focused when there's not a lot of customers. It's hard since I work for myself and work from home most days. It's hard to stay focused on getting things done when you're like, "Oh, there's a load of laundry that needs to be done, or I could be doing this or I could be doing that."
Over time, I've gotten better at it, at making lists, crossing things off those lists. I feed off all the positivity that I get from the Facebook community, our Instagram community and just customers coming into the store. So I still like to work at the store at least one day a week because I love talking to people. I love it when people come into the store for the first time and say, "Oh, I heard your podcast, so I really wanted to come and check it out," or "I heard you on the radio," or "I found you on Facebook" or "I came to one of your classes." I just love getting that positive feedback from people. I love it when people say, "Hey, Manitowoc really needed a store like this, and we're so glad that you're here." That just makes me feel really, really good and like I'm making a really positive impact on the community and getting people to shop local again, getting people to get to the downtown area and hopefully making the downtown area a nicer place for people to come and spend their time and just making a positive impact on our community that we live in. That really helps me to stay motivated and helps me to stay focused.
But hey, I do have those days where it's like, oh my gosh, why am I doing this? This is really hard. It's hard to work for yourself. Or days where I just want to binge on Netflix. I think that's okay. It's okay to have those days. Every once in a while, I have those days. And then the next day, I feel better, and I feel more motivated. So I think that there's a time to be working really, really hard, and then there's certainly a time where you need to step back and rest and rejuvenate and give your brain a break, give your heart a break and then come back when you're feeling motivated again.
I think that is all the questions I had. I do have to follow up on a question. Helen asked about if we will be carrying decaf coffee soon from Tall Bean Coffee. Actually, we do carry decaf. We just don't keep a lot of it on the shelves because it doesn't sell very quickly. We usually have one or two bags of decaf all the time. And then asked about the different flavors. We don't necessarily carry different flavors of coffee. What we do carry are just the beans and the different levels of the roasts. We carry a light roast, which is like a breakfast roast, a medium, which is like a Graced blend Guatemala, those types of coffees. And then we also have a dark roast. We do carry whole bean and ground, so depending on if you like to ground your beans at home, I do have whole bean. So we can definitely start carrying more decaf if it seems like there's more people out there who want decaf, but like I said, we do have it. I know we actually have some in stock right now, just that it doesn't sell very quickly.
Thank you so much for all of these great questions. I am actually going to be on vacation next week, so I'm really excited. My husband and I are going to Hawaii, and we're going to spend a week there. The goal is just to rest, relax and rejuvenate. We haven't done a vacation like this, just the two of us, for several years. It'll be great to get into the beautiful tropical weather and just have time again to rest. I will be back after that. I will certainly be posting tons of pictures, I'm sure, from our trip. So check us out on Instagram. I would love to answer more questions in the future, so if you have any questions, feel free to send me a message on Facebook. Shoot me an email. Just get in contact with me in any way you can, and I will write those questions down, and I will happily answer those in another episode in the future.
Thanks for joining us today, or me today. I really appreciate it, and if you have a moment, it means so much to me if you could leave a review on iTunes for our podcast. It helps us spread the word about our podcast and gain credibility. I will be back with you guys here in a couple of weeks. So stay warm out there and have a great week.