Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.
Julia: Marketing in the Wild guests, I’m excited to introduce you to a long time friend who I have known since I was in college. So basically half of my life, it now feels like. This is Grace. Grace I’ll have you introduce yourself, but before I let you do that, I already told her this offline, but Grace and I were in business together previously and a lot of what I know about business is because of those years. Props and thanks to Grace for teaching me and also learning alongside. We both run different businesses now and are seeing different kinds of success and also personal satisfaction in them. So Grace, tell us about yourself, where you are, your business, anything you wanna talk about.
Grace: Okay, well, you just made me really nervous saying all of that.
Julia: Don’t be nervous, don’t be nervous.
Grace: But yeah, my name is Grace and I am one of those people that owns a boutique and it’s called Grey House Goods. And we’ve been around for about four and a half years now. And we started in St. Louis, Missouri and then relocated to a teeny tiny town of a little over a thousand people where we have a brick and mortar now, it’s in Central Illinois. It’s just been a really fun journey. I’m sure I’ll elaborate more on this but this is the most fast-paced, ever-changing thing I have ever done. And so I’m curious to see what kind of questions you’re gonna pull out of me because as I was trying to kind of pin down this journey, wow, so much has happened in four and a half years. It’s just wild to really even think about
Julia: For sure. And it’s been fun to watch because we were just talking. Grey House is a second iteration of Grey House. Tell us about the first one.
Grace: Yeah. So the first one was around six or seven years ago and it was my mom’s shop. It was home decore, it was furniture that she repurposed. It was something I enjoyed shopping, a lot of the furniture in my house came from my mom’s shop and it was just kind of a weekend side project she did, something to keep her fulfilled and probably six months before I opened Grey House, she closed up shop. Life had just gotten a little bit too busy and six months later, I reached out and I said, could I take over Grey House Goods, kind of this concept that you had had built, but can we go in a different direction? Can we go into the direction of clothes?
And what I think is really cool about this whole journey is, growing up, my mom always had a shop, so her previous shop was called Freckles. And so all through grade school, I walked home from school. Well, I shouldn’t say home. I walked to her shop after school every single day, which was on Main Street. And I watched my mom be a business owner in this exact town on this same exact Main Street that I have my business on now. I watched her build that and do that. So then when Grey House came around, you know, six, seven years ago and that journey had stopped for her, I was really excited to continue it and kind of put my spin on it. And here we are today.
Julia: This is awesome. So what made you choose clothing?
Grace: Oh gosh, I have always been really drawn towards it. I’m not shocked at all that I am here in this position. I was thinking about, just even all the decisions I feel like I made as a 12 year old and as a teenager, I was so dissatisfied in middle school with the fashion that was in when I was 12 and 13 that I remember sketching out pieces that I wanted and then I talked my grandma into sewing these pieces for me. So all through middle school, I was the kid who, I just had a totally different style. I don’t know if people thought I looked cool or not, but it’s what I liked. It’s what I wanted to do. I just couldn’t find it in the store so I was designing it myself and talking her into sewing it.
And then all of my prom dresses were the same way. My wedding dress was the same way. So I feel like I’ve always kind of have this pull towards fashion and towards individuality, whenever it comes to clothing. It felt really like second nature to kind of go this route and a little history; my degree, I went to college for studio art. So I am just creative by nature. I am my happiest when I’m creating. Studio art, when it comes to painting and drawing can be a little bit of a slower process. I enjoy that through fashion, I can be creative. I can come up with these different visual concepts and then those concepts are going into women’s closets and making them feel amazing.
So saying, I feel like creative concept, allows me to have that piece of connection that you don’t necessarily have when you’re painting in a studio.
Julia: For sure. That’s awesome. Is it kind of strange to have this full circle moment? I see it as a full circle moment. You used to walk to your mom’s shop on Main Street, you moved away, did your thing, and now you’re back. Does that feel good or is that like weird?
Grace: Yeah. Yeah. So probably three or four months after I had bought my building on Main Street. I remember stepping out the door. It was like 8:30, 9 o’clock at night. I was preparing for an event the next day and I looked down Main Street. And again, this is a town of a thousand people. It’s tiny, it’s like three blocks. So yeah, there’s buildings there and I looked down Main Street and my brother is the only other car parked on Main Street because at that time he had a business that was about 40 steps away. Yes. I had counted the steps, cause I thought, how cool is it? We both have businesses on Main Street. And I remember getting choked up that night, thinking, really kind of full circle for both of us. We walked home from school or we walked to the shop every day after school, we watched my mom put something in this town, this tiny town and here we are, both have businesses on Main Street. So that was definitely a full circle moment. I think for me, where I got a little emotional.
And then I watched some buildings on our Main Street start to kind of crumble and fall in. And the building we purchased, it’s 140 years old and it had sat empty for quite a while before we totally redid it. And I think sometimes those are the moments when I’m like, this is just so cool. This is just even bigger than this sweater that I’m picking out to sell people. I love what we’re able to do for this little community.
Julia: For sure. I mentioned to you, I recently walked into a boutique and I was like, wow, there’s three people in here. How do they stay on top of things? I just know from a business owner, you have your expenses and you have to have your revenue; you’re in a tiny town. How have you made it work?
Grace: Oh my, so this is one of those really complicated questions because things move so quickly in this industry and they change so quickly in this industry. I had jot down some notes before we started, because I was thinking just of all the times I’ve had to pivot and really think through what are my next steps, what do I feel like my customers are wanting right now? How can I deliver that? What’s going to be the best next move to keep us in business, right? And make sure we’re fostering these relationships and taking care of employees and all of these things that go into it.
I think the first six months to a year that we were in business, I mean, you can utilize social media and it was the easiest thing ever. You could go live and there would be 200 people watching you, with no effort. I mean, it was crazy. And then I think of, six months after, well, three months after I opened the doors, I built a website and I really started leaning into email marketing and making sure we were redirecting people to a space that wasn’t just on social media. And then I bought a building, which I felt like was the next step of having the brick and mortar brick.
I feel like the reason we’ve survived and the reason we’re able to continue figuring this out is we have, we’ve never stayed in one place very long. Which is probably maddening for a lot of people. It’s funny, a lot of people will reach out and they’ll be like, “I wanna do this.” And I’m like, “I’m not sure you do because nothing stays the same.” And you’ll understand this Julia, I’m very much a numbers person. I feel that, previously, what I did from a sales standpoint, I had a formula. I had numbers. I knew exactly what needed to happen and I could achieve a goal.
It is nothing like that in this industry. It is so different. It is the most up and down. Nothing makes sense. This is probably not helping people who wanna figure out how to do this, you can do something that is super successful this week and then it’s crickets the next. So I feel like the key was that we just continue to brainstorm and think on our feet and pivot. I only purchased my building six months before the pandemic hit and we went in phases of opening up the building. We only did one third at a time and I only had the building open for one month before things really shut down.
I remember when things shut down, I started developing an app. Because I thought this is the next step. I have to figure out another way for people to engage in our business. You know, it was the website, it was the store, the store just got taken away so let’s add another piece somewhere. I mean, does that answer the question?
Julia: I think that’s great. It sounds like there’s a lot of pivots, a lot of staying on top of things, which I also think that that’s how businesses in general survive, because any business that’s dying is probably because they haven’t been changing.
My husband and I watch Restaurant Impossible and we were just watching an episode last night where they’re using their grandfather’s recipe, which was good. But they hadn’t improved it since 70 years ago and now their restaurant was dying and they kept on saying, “But the recipe is our lifeline.” And Robert Irvine is like, “But it’s not.” And he just needed to improve it and now they’re doing great cuz that’s how these shows go. So tell me, opening a building right before COVID had to be a huge challenge. What has been some of the other challenges that you’ve faced?
Grace: Oh, my, like I had mentioned, I feel like I’m such a numbers person. So I think giving myself permission to not hold onto anything too strongly or for too long. As a business owner, every little project is your baby and you wanna develop it and you want it to be successful, but releasing it when it’s not or saying, “That ran its course now, it’s time to move on.” I think that in itself is a challenge of constantly reevaluating, does this make sense anymore? And then allowing yourself to get rid of it and release it.
It’s so incredibly fast moving. And I know personally, going from what I did previously in sales and then moving into this where I have 100% control over everything, I have been very intentional to make sure that I’m always checking in and am I still doing the things that fill me up? Am I going to get burnout if I keep doing it this way? Am I working more than I wanna work? I have done, I feel like a good job of checking back in and making sure that I’m running this thing the way that I wanna work it or the way I wanna run it.
But I think that is really hard with how fast paced this industry is. Because you can never take too long to check in with yourself. The other thing, and this is wild. I just never would’ve predicted this for myself and it has been challenging for me, I do not love having employees. And I always worry about saying that. Not because I don’t want employees. I think it’s just really hard to hand things over and even as wonderful as they are and I have really wonderful employees, they go above and beyond, they are so talented, but they’re never gonna quite do it the way that you do it because they can’t read your mind. They’re not you. And so figuring out as a business owner who is putting their heart and soul into something and developing something that is really unique to who I am as a person, it’s been challenging to watch how other employees kind of swoop in there and put their pieces of the puzzle into it. It’s not a bad thing, but I’m just being transparent. That’s challenging. It’s probably my personality type, but it’s challenging.
Julia: I agree. I always think about it as a muscle that has to be exercised because I feel, at least in my life, the more I do it, the easier it becomes, but it is extremely hard, especially in the end, you have the most on the line out of everybody and so you want it to be successful and they do too, but it can still be really unnerving.
Grace: Oh, absolutely. And I think through that process of admitting to myself that I really don’t love being a boss, which again, it’s such an odd thing to be like, “Wow, I, I didn’t realize this.” It’s helped me kind of settle into this place too, where I don’t wanna have 30 employees. I don’t wanna move into that space. I know the size that I wanna operate at because I don’t wanna move into a space where my only job is then managing employees because there’s so many.
Julia: Right. For sure. And I think that that helps you really align even your business goals and things like that, too.
So tell us about one of the things that I’m curious about, is you said you can’t hold onto anything too long. Let’s talk about that with marketing. I’ve watched you, you’ve done a ton of different things. What are some things that you’re like, “Hey, we tried, that didn’t work or it did and it stopped working.” Tell me more.
Grace: When we started four and a half years ago, you could just jump on a live on Facebook and you could say, “Go order something” and people would order something. It was nuts and it’s because so many people were seeing what you were doing on social media. That just doesn’t work today. I mean anybody who’s pumping anything out on social media knows that she’s a totally different game. The game changed significantly two years ago. It changed again a year ago. I would even say in the last three months, it’s shifted big time again.
I think we are always putting things out on social media to see like what sticks. But I know personally, in the last 12 months I’ve really released holding onto too much there. I put it out there because there’s value in being consistent but I’ve really zoned into where can I add that one on one customer service value. So I think a lot of things, social media wise, are just not working like they used to.
What else have we done that didn’t really work. Oh my gosh, I don’t know. I could tell you the things are working.
Julia: Well, I wanna hear those too. But what’s actually fascinating is, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Lush Cosmetics, but they’ve exited social media because they’re like, “It’s not working for us. Our marketing dollars are better spent elsewhere.” And so I think that’s one thing that you’re picking up on and that I am learning from you is, you can’t hold onto something that’s not working.
Grace: Well, and I will say, so we even paid for ads through social media and a year ago I pulled all ads because I thought, there is a dollar amount that I am allocating for ads and this dollar amount is no longer putting me in the feed of people. I don’t know if it’s just because some big players came in and put a lot more ad dollars and it just totally kicked all of us small businesses to the side. But I will say I took that money and I did not just throw it into a lump sum. I really kind of thought through what can we do with this from a marketing standpoint or even an ad standpoint and redistribute it in a different way? Because clearly social media ads are just not working for us at this point.
Julia: Totally. And I think that’s the thing is, I heard a podcast this morning that they said every marketing strategy works if you try it long enough and can invest enough money into it. But, for those of us who have small businesses, we don’t have unlimited resources. So we do have to be really wise and pick what’s gonna bring the most in and how is that gonna serve our people? It sounds to me, one of the things that is working really well for you is one-on-one connecting with clients. Tell us how you do that.
Grace: Yeah. I think I’ve been really transparent along the way and I think I’ve been the face of the company along the way. So with both of those aspects, I’ll say being the face of the company, it’s interesting because over the last four and a half years, when there have been moments where I’ve had to kind of step back and maybe an employee started to be the face a little bit more than I was, or was just engaging a little bit more than I was, which, at the time, it was needed. Obviously there was something going in my life where I said, “I have to step back. I need you to step forward a little bit more,” sales have always dropped. And even posting on social media, if it’s an image of me or someone else, sales drop when it’s someone else. So at least for me, I think because I was the face of the company from day one, I will always have to be the face of the company, which I think is something to think about when you’re starting a company; do you wanna be the face? Because if you start out that way, you’re going to be.
Julia: And what are the long term ramifications of that?
Grace: Yeah. So that’s something that I feel like I have always come back to, and then I’ve just been very transparent about the journey of being a small business. I had shared a couple months ago, how I feel this industry is very split between, kind of hobbyist and then people that have to bring home a paycheck. And that’s the case in any type of creative industry, I feel like.
This is gonna be super personal, but my husband’s a teacher and they do not offer health insurance at an affordable cost for the family. So me as a business owner, I have to generate enough money to make sure that myself and my son can have health insurance. That’s a big thing that’s on the line and that’s something where I can’t afford to make frivolous business decisions that aren’t going to allow us that income where I can pay our family that. I had even shared that to our customers of, “I just want you to know, I am on this side of, this has to work and I have to be smart and I have to run it like a business, because the moment it is no longer working, I’m gonna have to close the doors and go find something else because our family has to have this income.” And there is a difference, I think, if you’re running things from a hobby standpoint, if you make a mistake or you go a little under, it’s not the end of the world. There is a difference, I feel, for those of us where there’s something bigger on the line.
Julia: Totally, and I can see how even some of those personal posts or transparency really helps connect and create loyalty because your customers are like, “Well, she’s a human.” And it’s not like they’re pity shopping per se, but they are saying like, “Hey, these dollars count in a way that my dollars to Amazon might not count, per se.”
Julia: That’s awesome. We talked about challenges. What are some of like the successes that you’ve seen as a boutique owner?
Grace: Oh, man. I kind of touched base on this earlier. I am four and a half years in, in a very fast paced industry and I’ve not caught burnout.
Julia: Oh, that is a feat in itself.
Grace: Now I have teetered very close to getting burnout. But I think that’s a huge success. I think that I have taken the proper steps along the way and stayed very true to myself. And I’m constantly evaluating because I’ve always thought of it this way. If I have to pivot to make sure that I don’t get burnout, that is a service to my customers, whether they realize it or not, because if I’m not checking in to make sure I’m moving in the right direction, the reality is this company that they like supporting won’t even be here in a year. So whatever pivoting or changes I’ve had to make to make sure I can continue to do what I’m doing, I’ve just always looked at things at the long term goal of, can I keep this up? Can I keep doing that? So that’s a huge success.
I think the other thing is I, in my previous career, I achieved big numbers. I achieved really big goals and I have never let myself get into the head space with this business of trying to be the best on the block or the biggest in the industry. I have looked at the numbers, I’ve looked at what is required to make sure that we can live a comfortable lifestyle, which also means that I have time at home, it also means that I’m not working 24 7, you know, all the factors that go into building something that I truly enjoy and is financially taking care of us.
I think there is a number and I don’t wanna do more just to make more or achieve more. So to me, I feel like that’s a huge success, is I’ve figured out that balance of where I wanna sit and given myself permission to adjust that balance. I’ll share this Julia, I have a special needs son. And even probably a year to 18 months ago, as we really started on the journey with him, I gave myself permission to even lower that number and we made adjustments in our family so that I could lower that number and not feel so pulled to, how am I gonna achieve this and get him to his therapies? And I wanted to balance it in a way that felt healthy and I could feel fulfilled. So that’s huge. I always go back to that.
Julia: I think that’s actually something that I’ve been reflecting on, this conversation was perfect timing. I feel I’ve been reflecting on the fact that I started my business to have a life that I enjoyed, not to work just as much as I did before. And not that I don’t, I feel I’m always thinking about my business so you can’t count those hours, but yeah, I didn’t start my own business just to be chained to my desk for a nine to five, because that’s why I left a nine to five. And so I think that so often we get tripped up in achievement that we convert our passion back into what we were trying to leave.
And I agree, in the end, as a new mom, this nap time is way more important, it suddenly is because I swear right now we’re not napping at all, but things like that are more important than who’s gonna remember me more is my kid more than my clients. I love my clients and they’re the best, but in the end, that’s why I started my business so I could have the flexibility to be with my kid.
Julia: So yeah, and I’ve even been really careful on this journey. Again, this may not be the best thing for your podcast, but I am really conscious of reading a self-help book or listening to, there was a podcast I used to listen to and it was all about boutique strategies and I had to step back because there are a million ideas being thrown at me. I need to just sit in what’s working and what I’m enjoying and I don’t have to do all 100 things because then it is gonna throw me over this balance that I’ve worked so carefully on for. I mean, the amount of podcasts I listen to is ridiculous. I’m consuming a lot of information, but I really guarded myself from putting anything into my mind where then I feel like I have to do more and more and more because I don’t wanna go into that head space.
Julia: I used to listen to a billion business podcasta. Now I’m like, let me listen to fun things and educational things that aren’t business. Because I even find that some of those things spur on better ideas for business that my competitors aren’t doing. And not that it’s about that, but I become a richer person too, right? Nobody wants a friend who can only talk about their business because they don’t know about anything else.
Grace: Yeah, it just fosters creativity because you’re enriching your mind with other things. mm-hmm
Julia: For sure. And I mean, in the end, one thing that you’ve talked a lot about is making sure that you’re in tune with your clients and your customers and really, those are the people who are gonna drive new ideas, new sales, new initiatives. How do you stay in touch with them or in tune with what they want?
Grace: Yeah. There’s a lot of one on one conversation that happens. I’ve seen a lot of boutiques that get really large and have to move to a system where you can only email them. And I totally get it, there is a point where you get way too big and that you are either hiring a person that is solely dealing with emails, or it just all has to go there and you sit down and you deal with that three hours a day, you know? That’s also been a driving decision for me in keeping things at the level that I am, is I wanted to be able to keep that like one on one conversation. I want them to be able to text the cell phone that we have at the store, which is a real cell phone with a real number and a real person on the other side. I want them to be able to send me a message on social media and show me a picture of something they have in their closet and ask what kind of jacket or cardigan they should get to go with this piece.
And the reality is, there is a level in this industry that if you reach that level, you can no longer do those types of things. And I think for me, I figured out, that’s part of this that I love, I really enjoy. And so figuring out again where that sweet spot is, what that number is where I can continue to have that one-on-one relationship.
And I will tell you, the numbers in this industry are crazy. I’m not gonna share what I do in a year but there are discussions between owners of what we pay ourselves, right? As the CEO, the goal is always that you can run payroll in and you’re paying yourself plus your employees. That’s the goal. And I know owners that are doing 5, 6, 7 times the amount that I am doing and they’re paying themselves the same amount because they’ve added to their payroll expenses because they have to have someone there that is responding to emails or they’ve cut their margins down and and they’re not making as much as they should on a product because they’re now serving five times the amount of people who want a certain price.
There’s just so many decisions along the way of, do you wanna go bigger? Because bigger isn’t always better in this industry. The numbers are really wild to look at.
Julia: Yeah, that’s fascinating. This has been really great. I feel like it’s been really, like I said, perfect timing, cuz these are a lot of the things that I’ve been thinking about. What do I want my business to look like? What do I want my life to look like? And it sounds like you’re doing the same thing. I really appreciate this. You have no idea. But if people wanna connect with you, how would they be able to connect with you?
Grace: Yeah. So on social media, we are just Grey House Goods. We do Instagram and Facebook, so you can find us on there. If you wanna connect with me, I’m just Grace Snively on all of the platforms. And then we have a website which is www.shopghg.com. And then we have an app, like I had mentioned. So just search Grey House Goods, and you can find it on there.
Julia: This is awesome. Grace, I just really appreciate how much you’ve talked about pivoting and not holding onto an idea too long and making sure that you’re willing to just change, both for your business but also for your personal life so that you’re really seeing satisfaction, but also serving your customers. I think it’s really good and there’s a lot that people could really adapt to their own kind of business cuz in the end we are here for our customers. So thank you.
Grace: Well thank you for having me on!
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have, if you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and want to give us a rating or a review, I promise we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys. Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week and I hope you will be too.