Columbia is a creative place — just ask the Missouri Arts Council, which gave CoMo the council’s first “creative community” award in 2007.
Art is all around us here but it isn’t that easy to make a buck in the creative field. There’s a reason the term “starving artist” carries such cachet. Creative passion and cold, hard business sense don’t often form a happy marriage but these imaginative entrepreneurs are fashioning ways to turn their artsy side into a paying venture.
Now that’s a creative community!
THE FEATHER PLACE
Fashion Takes Flight
Whenever the phone rings in Abby Arauz’s downtown office, opportunity appears: It could be Miss Piggy needs a new boa, or maybe fellow Muppet Big Bird needs a feather freshening. One day, Victoria’s Secret needs wings for its lingerie models; another day brings a call from a concert tour or the Broadway stage.
Arauz, the 43-year-old owner of The Feather Place, takes the brushes with celebrity in stride. Her third-generation family business has been supplying ornamental feathers from its Missouri base for decades, cultivating customers among sportsmen, hobbyists and the glitzy world of show business and high fashion.
“We’ve triangulated our market with crafters, fashion and movies,” Arauz says.
Growing up around feathers in California, Mo., Arauz never planned to enter the family business. Her grandparents traveled around the country, selling their Colfax Feathers out of their van to fly fishermen. Young Abby accompanied them during summer vacations. When her parents took over the business, they bought Zucker Feather Products to expand into the wholesale fashion market, and Arauz spent many hours counting feathers for the factory.
But she dreamed of becoming a dancer. Her father didn’t approve of her career choice, so he offered her a deal: she could study dance at Stephens College, but she had to study business as well. She happily agreed, and moved to Columbia. Four years later, she was off to New York City where she auditioned to clean toilets at Steps Dance Studio — a prized job because employees could take free classes. Arauz landed roles in a national touring production of “Singing in the Rain” and performed as a roller-blading penguin for a dinner theater-in-the-round in Wisconsin. Her big break came when she joined the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. And that’s when the wisdom of Dad’s backup plan kicked in.
“We wore feathers a lot on stage,” Arauz recalls. “I know feathers. When someone mentioned we needed to replace some ostrich feathers, I told them, ‘Those aren’t ostrich; they’re turkey.’ I helped them order feathers from my parents.”
Using her New York connections, Arauz expanded her parents’ market to Broadway and the city’s fashion houses. In 1998, she opened a Manhattan showroom, aptly named The Feather Place, as a side business while she continued to dance. A Los Angeles showroom followed, to tap into the film and television industry. Her company’s feathers have made appearances on “Sesame Street” and Muppet productions, in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, the movie “Maleficent” and the fashions of Ralph Lauren and Chanel. Products retail in Hobby Lobby, Jo-Ann’s, and costume and party shops. Arauz’s creations have been featured in Martha Stewart Living and the craft magazine Mollie Makes.
“And we still sell feathers to fly fishermen,” Arauz adds, “along with the feathers that go on the shafts of Top Flight arrows. We just keep reinventing ourselves.”
The heady world of celebrity business began to lose its grip on Arauz when she had children. “My priorities changed,” she says. With her husband — home designer Jack Chase — and two children in tow, Arauz moved to southern Boone County in 2013. She opened the Columbia office of The Feather Place overlooking Broadway and settled into running her far-flung business of 90 employees. In her Columbia “feather think tank,” Arauz and an assistant concentrate on marketing, product design, the DIY market, business development and website growth. Her shifting business plan for the Columbia location focuses on a growing presence here to tap into local resources.
International trade issues keep her up at night. A recently enacted bird ban in China threatens to cut into her export market to that country. The challenge of new product designs keeps her hopping as she continually tests the bounds of her creativity.
“You never know what feather emergency you’re going to have next,” she says with a smile. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The Feather Place
SCOUT & NIMBLE
Jesse Bodine has designs on the way we decorate our lives. She and her husband, Sam, are turning the design world upside-down with their curated website that brings the creative concepts of designers from around the country directly to the consumer.
Through the magic of the World Wide Web, the Bodines plan to turn the design world into a democracy.
“Design is for everyone,” Jesse says. “Your surroundings can affect every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. Design matters, and we want to make it accessible to all.”
The Bodines’ website, Scout & Nimble, is all about accessibility. “It’s a community,” Jesse says, “where designers and consumers can come together. Designers can live their passion, express their vision, gain exposure and share their designs. People want beautiful, well-designed homes filled with unique products that reflect their style and personality, yet not everyone has the means to be able to hire an interior designer to do this for them. We bring everything together in one place.”
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” says Sam.
Scout & Nimble designers — nearly 120 strong now — maintain portfolios on the website, displaying their choices in furniture, décor, artwork, flooring, window treatments and more. They create entire rooms in cyberspace, offering colors, fabrics, styles and complementary pieces to pull together a look that shoppers can envision in their own homes as they peruse the website pages. Shoppers don’t have to buy everything in a room; individual items are also for sale. Designers earn a commission by creating room designs in their signature style, which showcases their talent and allows consumers to get the curated look without actually hiring them.
Scout & Nimble’s access to manufacturers and design catalogs makes it easier for designers to build their collections, Jesse says. “It’s a one-stop shop for them.”
The couple, both 35, launched their enterprise last November from a design blog Jesse started in 2011 under the Scout & Nimble name — a tribute to her grandmother, who lived on the Greene County farm next to Jesse’s family farm. “She named all of her vehicles,” Jesse says, “and the two that sat in the garage were a blue International Scout filled with hay and a gray 1968 Buick Rivera with personalized NIMBLE license plates. Depending upon which car was in the garage, we would know where my grandmother was. It was always a pleasant surprise to see both Scout and Nimble in the garage and know that we would be able to go in and hang out.”
The Bodines hope to offer happy surprises to their customers as well. Early growth has been encouraging. The site has seen 15 percent growth every month in registered users and a 40 percent increase in traffic since it launched. Scout & Nimble is also popular on Instagram; the company’s social media exposure has grown 40 percent.
Sam, who also operates Top Flite Financial, uses analytics to measure success. “We’re ramping up our marketing this year, building a base,” he says. “Analytics tell us what products or rooms attract people. We can use that data to convert attraction to sales.”
Both entrepreneurs gravitated to Columbia in 1997 to attend college. Jesse, from Springfield, earned a nursing degree from the University of Missouri; Sam, a St. Louis native, has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Columbia College. They met in 2001 while working at Harpo’s. Parents of two young sons, the couple finds new joy in this entrepreneurial twist to their lives.
“We’re working together and watching it grow,” Sam says. “Our goal is to make Scout & Nimble a household name. We’re doing something that’s never been done before, watching an idea come to life.”
Scout & Nimble
Capturing The Beauty Of The Heartland
Beth Snyder has always loved the creative process of starting a business. As a fourth-grader, this daughter of a school superintendent landed in the principal’s office when her friendship bracelet pyramid scheme came to light at Auxvasse Elementary School. By the time she was in high school, she had moved on to making jewelry and home accessories out of polymer clay. She sold her creations at Poppy in Columbia and at craft shows, and did well enough to pay her way through college.
A Kelsey 5×8 letterpress — a gift from her husband, Jason — opened up the entrepreneurial world to Snyder and her childhood friend, artist Carrie Shryock, in 2009. The two canoe enthusiasts had spent many a float trip dreaming and scheming of ways to make a living from their artistic talents; they christened the letterpress with a print run for a set of recipe cards and then packaged them in an open wooden box Snyder’s father made in his woodshop. The recipe box was the first product of 1canoe2, an illustration, design and print company that produces handmade artwork on stationery, cards, calendars, fabric and home goods. Nearly 1,400 retail shops carry the company’s products from coast to coast; the wholesale division supplies national chains such as Anthropologie, Papyrus, West Elm and Williams-Sonoma.
The appeal of 1canoe2 products is simple: “We produce hand-illustrated and hand-painted artwork that captures life’s natural beauty as we’ve enjoyed it growing up in the heartland,” says Shryock.
Shryock quit her job teaching art in Columbia Public Schools in 2011 to tend to the business, and Snyder followed in 2012, leaving behind a graphic design career in television and magazines. The pair added a partner when Shryock’s sister-in-law, Karen, a former English teacher and Columbia Independent School director of admissions, came onboard.
Business has grown steadily since 2011 — sales doubled in 2012 and again in 2013; last year, they jumped another 60 percent over 2013. Ensconced in a renovated barn on the Shryock family farm east of Columbia, the three partners now employ seven full-time and four part-time workers; a production crew of eight comes in biweekly for a day of finish work.
Each partner fills a role according to her talents. Carrie Shryock produces the artwork, the initial step in creating a product. “Mine are the first hands on a project,” she says.
Snyder supervises operations, moving Shryock’s drawings and paintings into product design. She also manages the company’s human relations, new product development and sales projections.
Karen Shryock handles administrative tasks and drives the company’s business development. When she joined 1canoe2 in 2010, there were 10 wholesale accounts; now there are 900. Brick-and-mortar sales take place in all 50 states; website traffic reaches customers worldwide.
The partners — all in their mid-30s — have no formal business plan, “but there’s lots of discussion among the three of us,” Karen Shryock says.
“If we’d sat down to write one, we would have thrown it away in the first month,” says Snyder. “We just keep taking the next step.”
Deadlines, competition and worries over sustainability challenge the partners at each next step but they stay focused on the creative joys of their business.
“There’s something in me that needs to create,” Carrie Shryock says. “It’s a good feeling to make a living in art.”
Snyder chimes in with a nod. “I can’t believe we get to do this every day.”
Custom Gifts From The Heart
Julie Lloyd waged an internal war with herself for years. The battle over her professional life pitched her banker self against her crafty self — after a 15-year fight, crafty won out.
“I am creative,” Lloyd says. “Banking is structure …”
Drawing on the sewing skills she learned as a young girl in Brownies, Lloyd purchased a programmable embroidery/sewing machine four years ago and set out to learn embroidery. Her skills grew rapidly as she discovered a knack for monogramming and creating custom items.
“I never looked at it as a gift,” she says. “I’m realizing now that it is.”
So she bought two more machines and expanded her undertaking. Her professional priorities shifted to retail, nonprofits and health care. Lloyd got so good at her craft that she quit her job in an oral surgeon’s office last August and went into business for herself. Her first product was a personalized baby blanket for a neighbor.
The 51-year-old owner of Embroider More is a one-woman shop with a varied product line of customized wedding and baby gifts, children’s wear, logoed business and club apparel, and personalized pillows, purses, blankets, boots, toys and more. You name it — Lloyd can customize it.
“I can do anything,” she says. “I love collaborating with a customer. That creative energy runs through the process to solve challenges and give my customers what they want.”
Embroider More is a retailer for TwoAlity boots, totes and liners, and a personalized line of Cubbies plush toys. Lloyd is also licensed to produce products with the logos of the University of Missouri, Columbia Public Schools and other groups. She works out of the Columbia home she shares with her husband, Brian Lloyd, the director of enterprise architecture at Veterans United Home Loans who pinch-hits for his wife on the technology end of the business. E-commerce sales through the website have drawn customers from all over the United States and Canada.
“My customers primarily come from referrals, word-of-mouth, parties, special vendor events and Internet sales through Facebook and my website,” she says. A brief stint during the holiday season at a Columbia Mall kiosk gave Embroider More some local exposure, but the break-even experience convinced Lloyd that her young startup isn’t quite ready for a brick-and-mortar iteration, although she has discussed placement options for her products with specialty boutiques. Contract work and a focus on business-to-business sales supplement her growing log of Web orders.
In business for just half a year, Embroider More is paying the bills, Lloyd says. An “evolving” business plan gives the startup flexibility; Lloyd’s business background gives it structure.
“I’m still learning how to run this all-consuming business wearing about eight hats,” she says. “I’ve heard all the clichés: It takes money to make money … You must have the proper tools … Confidence is the key to success … Patience is the key …
“I’m not just hearing those clichés now; I’m living them.”
Like any startup, Lloyd faces many challenges that keep her up at night. “It’s exciting, scary and exhilarating,” she says. But her favorite part of the business — bringing a project to fruition and seeing the light in the customer’s eyes — reminds her of why she started down this road.
“I love to make people smile,” she says. “Sewing used to be my hobby; now it’s my business. I guess I’ll have to find a new hobby.”
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A Pretty Place To Buy Pretty Things
They say life begins at 40. When Kelly Gilion’s 40th birthday came around, she threw a party to mark the occasion and opened a new chapter in her life.
The birthday party on Nov. 1, 2013, served as the grand opening for Gilion’s retail shop, Plume. The boutique carries an eclectic collection of handmade items and vintage treasures from about 100 local vendors.
“Plume is a brick-and-mortar version of an Etsy shop,” Gilion says, referencing the e-commerce site for crafters and other producers of handmade goods. On opening day, Gilion rung up sales for handmade and vintage jewelry, vintage napkins and napkin rings, baby gifts, doll clothes, cards, hair bows and pillows.
“I remember being so thrilled and excited that people actually came and found things they loved,” she says.
A year and a half later, Plume’s inventory has grown from this still-popular core of products to include candles, soaps, creams, home décor items and furniture.
Growth has been steady during the life of the shop, Gilion says. Year-to-date sales for 2015 are up 35 percent over 2014, “and we’re on target for more growth,” she says. Goods sell on consignment; Gilion charges vendors a commission on each sale.
Tucked away on a side street just off Route K, the shop would be easy to miss if not for the sign on the highway. The cinderblock building, a converted garage once used for storage by her landlord QDC Construction, had been home to Patty’s Place, a vintage resale shop.
“The day it clicked, I saw a yard sale here,” she says. “I pulled in and looked inside. I went on home, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I came back to look again and thought, ‘Oh, what I could do with this.’
“I took over the lease in September and opened Plume on Nov. 1. It wasn’t necessarily a dream I had; it just happened.”
Plume is open just three days a week — Thursday through Saturday. Gilion’s after-hours life revolves around her husband Jeremy, an underwriting supervisor at State Farm Insurance, and their 6-year-old twins and 3½-year-old toddler. It leads to a lot of multitasking.
“I’m never just a mom,” she says. “I’m never just a business owner. There’s a lot of intermingling.”
A native Kentuckian, Gilion earned a marketing degree from the University of Louisville. She ran a decorating side business while working as an account manager for Wyeth pharmaceuticals. “I have a design-oriented mind, but I lack the technical expertise to accomplish it,” she says. “My strongest asset is marketing. I’m a people person. I love being the person who’s here when people come through the door.”
She carries her business plan in her head, she says. Her notions are supplemented by spiral notebooks “full of chicken scratches,” she says. “There was a two-week period when I couldn’t sleep, so I just kept making notes.”
But her favorite aspect of her business is “what happens when we’re not open,” she says. On days the shop is closed, Gilion opens the back room for a ministry to women with fertility and miscarriage problems.
“Psalms 91:4 says, ‘He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.’ To me, that is the bigger meaning of ‘plume’ — a place of refuge. So a plume is a decoration — and this is a pretty place to buy pretty things — but it’s also a refuge.
“My business is for profit,” she adds. “I want it to be profitable so I can share it with others, and it can be a refuge.”
165 E. Hoe Down Drive
THE CANVAS ON BROADWAY
Art For Everyone
Angie Bennett and Stephanie Hall are two girls who just want to have a good time.
“This is the most fun ever,” says Bennett. “It’s fun to come to work.”
Bennett and Hall own The Canvas on Broadway, an entertainment venue with an art twist. Wednesday through Saturday, the pair offers instructed painting classes, beginning to end. The classes become social events; amenities include a beer and wine bar, and all the supplies needed to paint the evening’s artistic endeavor. Customers leave with a complete painting at the end of the evening.
“Our customers range from beginner to quite talented — and everything in-between,” Bennett says. “It’s art for everyone.”
The idea for The Canvas on Broadway caught fire with the two friends when Stephanie’s husband brought home three easels for his wife’s 37th birthday celebration three years ago. The Halls, the Bennetts and another couple enjoyed dinner and wine while they painted.
“That was Saturday night,” Bennett says. “On Monday, we went to the city to file paperwork for the business.”
Through Paul Land at Plaza Commercial Realty, they found the perfect location to lease at 706 E. Broadway, where The Candy Factory had once stood. The women’s husbands — Brent Bennett of Landmark Builders and cabinetmaker Mark Hall — brought their skills to bear in converting the former confectionery to a paint party palace.
“Our kids even got in on it,” Bennett says. “It took a lot of elbow grease, but here we are.”
The two friends wrote their business plan in a matter of weeks. “We accounted for everything,” says 44-year-old Bennett. “Right down to the cleaning supplies. We priced everything, and we were right on the money.”
Both took out second mortgages on their homes to finance the enterprise when they couldn’t get a commercial loan. “We were the first of our kind in Missouri,” Bennett says. “The banks didn’t know what we were.”
The financial gambit succeeded. They expected to reach profitability in nine months, but The Canvas on Broadway turned a profit after just three months. Both families quickly paid off their loans as the business took off. Classes grew steadily, increasing 20 percent each month until they reached capacity, Hall says.
“It’s cyclical,” Hall says. “We plateaued in the third year and now we’re entering our fourth year on the upswing. The seasons affect business. Summer day classes and winter weeknights are usually good, Hall says; football Saturdays are not.
The business draws customers from all over Missouri — in February, customers came from 60 communities around the Show-Me State. In addition to the evening classes, there are family-friendly day classes on Saturdays, unique and seasonal theme classes, and special events. Plans include increasing the private event and team-building offerings, including some off-site sessions and convention events.
“There are always new ideas,” Bennett says. “You have to read your crowd, entertain them and keep them engaged.”
The benefits come back in tangible ways.
“I love it when people recognize me at the store or the drive-thru,” Hall says. “They look at me and ask, ‘Aren’t you the paint lady?’ It’s great!”
The Canvas on Broadway
706 E. Broadway, Suite 100