A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved with Stephanie Howerton and Jenny Rawson de Venegas
Katerina: Hi Stephanie, Hi Jenny.
Stephanie and Jenny: Hi… Hello.
Katerina: Great to see you and thank you for being on the show. So, I guess the first question everyone wants to know about you is how did you start the Local Artisan Collective? How did you meet?
Stephanie: So, Jenny and I both have our own businesses, and we kind of became friends in a funny way actually. I used to do a Christmas boutique at my house where I’d have all of my friends that make handmade items come and sell at them and Jenny would come with her husband who is a 16th generation silversmith to those and so we never knew each other at that point. But we have been in my house so that was kind of funny, but then we started going to boutiques and shows and things like that and became friends and started saving spots for each other, so we can hang out together and we… I did a fashion show. Sorry. Before that, and we were so excited that she and her husband were going to be part of it. We’re like we have a real silversmith that’s gonna be part of this fashion show.
So that’s how we actually became friend friends, and then we started doing all the shows and all of those kinds of things. And then at one of the shows, it was, it was supposed to be this huge show they’ve done all this advertising they were supposed to be thousands of people at it and there it was totally dead. And so we’ve put… we grabbed our pencils and put it to paper and just said, what do we, what do we want this to be about and how do we want to create this. And so we really decided we wanted to give a spot for other artists, to be able to sell their stuff and to be successful and there’s kind of three prongs to our store that we really wanted to incorporate. One was a retail space for artists, two was a classroom space and three was studio space.
Katerina: But you’ve been running this business for three and a half years. But you both also have your own separate businesses, how do you manage to run separate businesses and run The Local Artisan Collective?
Stephanie: That is a million-dollar course, it’s a struggle and we work towards having that balance… Okay, I’m in my personal business mode right now to create things that will sell in our store. Okay, now I’m store owner, working on the logistics, working with the other artists, doing the marketing, all that stuff that goes on behind the scenes and we just do our best and work when our kids are in bed and all that stuff that you have to do.
Katerina: Are you co-founders in The Local Artisan Collective? Are you partners in the business?
Jenny: Yes, we are. Besides we wanted to do a partnership and.. and so, we had our paperwork set so we the partnership, and we have decided that it’s always best to divide and conquer so there are some of the tasks that I am solely in charge of some of the things that Stephanie is in charge of. There are a few overlaps and some things that we both do together. We have a great partnership and makes it a whole lot easier how to have someone else in your corner and someone else to pick up the slack when you need a little bit of help.
Katerina: Yeah. So how long have been friends?
Jenny: Oh, I don’t know
Stephanie: Like five years or so.
Jenny: Yeah, about five years.
Katerina: Five years? So, how do you make decisions because if you say… Jenny, if you make a decision and Stephanie disagrees with you. How do you compromise? Who wins?
Stephanie: I think that’s something that’s pretty amazing about our partnership is that even like we’ve had to make some really tough decisions lately, you know, and even if I don’t 100% agree with it or she doesn’t 100% agree with it if one of us feels really strongly like in our heart like this is what we should do, then the other person really respects that, and I think … We have conversations where we say, um, I’m not sure about this, and I think that that’s something that I really appreciate about Jenny is that we can have those hard conversations and then we come together as a team.
And so we’re supporting each other, and also supporting the artists in the Collective. And then we’ve seen in the last… we’ve seen businesses that have gone under because they couldn’t have that communication with each other and that’s something that I really appreciate about Jenny is that we can come together and I would recommend that like if you are getting into a partnership for a business like you have to make sure it’s someone that you can have those hard conversations with, and not just keep it inside and bottled up, you know, so that it … each other.
Katerina: Yeah, because when you read different entrepreneurship books, some say, well, it’s better to have a co-founder because you can split the tasks. And, you know, two brains are better than one. Other people say well actually if you are in the business with someone else then potentially you know that another person may not share your vision about the business, and there might be a conflict.
Jenny: Yeah, definitely. Well, we… you know we were in the creating a plan for our business… we talked about everything, and anything… what happens is this, what happens if that… What if I you know I wake up one day and I’m done and I want out what do we do, and we put that all into writing. When we went to a lawyer to drew up our paperwork to make our company, we had put in all those little things “What if I get mad at Stephanie and I want her to be gone?” “What if I die in a car accident,” “What if I am heading home and like, Ooh, I am so done with the world and I heading to Canada I live in the forest.”
We wanted to be transparent with each other, and we wanted to have it in writing. So, heaven forbid if something were to happen, we would… it stated there in black and white what happens to the company what happens to our business.
Katerina: Yeah, that makes a lot of business sense isn’t it yeah because some intrapreneurs… treat their business as a hobby. And, this is probably why that why they fail. If you think about, you know, the exit plan, then this was a good start, isn’t it?
Jenny: Yeah. Okay, so The Local Artisan Collective, you know… quite a lot you know, in this business… you run classes, you have a podcast, as well? Yeah. Could you just tell us a bit more about what The Local Artisan Collective is all about… what services do your offer? We look at each other., who is talking?
Stephanie: So we have a retail area, we have over, 80 artists in, and we really have everything from fine art, you know that thousand dollars plus to jams and jellies, you know. So there’s really a really broad spectrum that was important to us that everybody felt like they could come to our store and support local artists that we weren’t just going to be a stuffy museum that everything you couldn’t touch you know.
We wanted it to be really friendly to the community and really just supporting the local artists in our community. So we have a huge retail area that we have all those items in. And then we also have classroom studio space we have two spaces that we can teach classes and so we do everything from silversmithing to painting to kids camps. All sorts of fun things. Really pretty much anything you can think of, we’ve probably taught it or, you know, so it’s pretty fun. And then we also in the very back have the artist studio space so you can come and actually watch the artists working on projects like you can come and watch my do glass-blowing or Roxanne doing hand-dyed clothes or, you know, Jordan — wood burning because there are so many cool things always happening.
Katerina: Yeah, that’s, that’s great. So in the last three and a half years, what was the most difficult challenge with this business that you had to overcome?
Jenny: For me it was. Well, two things one was all the little nitty-gritty details — Do we have enough office supplies, is there enough toilet paper in the bathroom, are things getting cleaned, are the doors locked at night, all those little things that you know have to get done but you don’t really think about them when you’re planning stuff. And then the second one is just the nature of dealing with eighty different artists. Sometimes we call it herding cats. And it’s fun, and it’s enjoyable and we love her artists, but sometimes… they’re artists, and they can, it’s a little bit difficult to relate what our expectations are, what’s good for the store and find that balance what’s good for the individual artist.
Katerina: Stephanie and for you?
Stephanie: Um, I would say probably her second it’s probably my first. I absolutely love artists and couldn’t imagine, you know, working with a better group of people, but you’re working with eighty different personalities and sometimes that can be difficult trying to get it right.
Katerina: Yeah. So, you’ve signed art licencing agreements with these artists because… that’s how you.. You have separate contracts with these different artists as well when you sell their artwork?
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah. So they all have their own businesses, and they’re all independent, they do their own thing but then they have a contract with us. So, whether they’re a member that helps… new items in and help you in the store or they’re consigners that bring their items, it’s really important to us that they’re still part of The Collective and doing things to help, so they can come and do demos at the store or hand out flyers at a parade or you know just different ways that we can support each other.
Katerina: So, have you ever thought of quitting?
Jenny and Stephanie: [laugh].
Katerina: I have to be tough… This is supposed to be inspirational for startups.
Jenny: Yeah, there have been a few moments that I just, like, Okay, I’m done.
Katerina: What kept you going?
Jenny: Well, after you know I’ve been to Stephanie or my husband and usually I have a good night’s sleep, the next morning and like, Okay, maybe it’s not so bad, maybe this is doable. Let’s try again.
Stephanie: I think the same for me too. I think anytime that, again, I would say that’s a great thing about having a good partner when one of us is struggling and all… And I’ll say “Hey Jenny, I am feeling so overwhelmed right now. I don’t even know how I’m gonna do it this week, with everything going on”. And Jenny will be like “ I got you, together we can do this you know and vice versa, you know, and she’s struggling and saying those things and I’ll say I got it. I’ll pick it up this week you know and we can work together really nice.
Katerina: Are you anxious people? Are you worrying about tomorrow? About uncertainty in life.
Stephanie: I think Jenny’s really good at saying… Stephanie.
Katerina: Yeah, so that’s great when you have a support system like this isn’t it.
Stephanie: I think the other awesome thing we live in Ogden, Utah, which is a really cool city. And it’s really a lot about supporting local businesses, and there’s a lot of different people that are there to help and support you too. And so I think that we also just live in just the coolest city, that is supporting arts, and supporting local businesses and even through all everything going on with a quarantine, you know, putting out information on how to help and it’s a pretty cool place to live.
Katerina: So, is there anything that you wish you’d known before you started out?
Jenny: Oh gosh, yes [laughs]. I had in my mind when we were starting out that I could open a business and put in about 10 hours a week. And really it’s like 15-18 hours a day when you’re first starting. So … pulled me aside and said Hey Jenny, you know, there’s a lot of stuff you got to prepare and organise and do and set up and people to talk, licences to get. Yeah, it’s not gonna be 10 hours a week.
Katerina: What is the proportion of time you spend on this business together as opposed to you, your own business… because you’re running two businesses apart… How did you manage? How do you prioritise?
Stephanie: I think honestly… initially we both lost some of our own business, creating this business, and I think we’re just now, maybe the like the last… What do you say Jenny the last six months or so… we’re finally being able to say Okay, I still want to create and I still want to make things and I need to focus on that also so that I can have a better balance. Because I think anytime you’re starting a new business your focus so much on that one business but you have to be careful not to totally lose, you know everything else you’ve built up for your other business. Yeah, we have a situation where our businesses are part of our business. Yes.
Katerina: So what do you think is the most important entrepreneurial trait you have that keeps you going and keeps you think about tomorrow and start again and try again. What is the most important skill you have or the traits?
Jenny: I think we’re pretty good at seeing the long term picture, the broader picture that if we put in these procedures now… if we set up this protocol for our expectations of customer service, then that’s going to bring in some great dividends down the road, and so on our late nights and on exhausting days we’re like “Okay, it really sucks right now and it’s difficult, but it’s gonna make life easier down the road and it’s gonna make our business, a better place, next week or next month, or even perhaps next year.”
Katerina: Yeah. So before you started The Local Artisan Collective you were running your own businesses but before that? How long have you been running your previous… you know your own businesses before you started The Local Artisan Collective? Did you have nine to five job before that, or you’ve always been an entrepreneur?
Jenny: I have nine to five jobs before this. I was a public school teacher at the secondary level. My husband comes from a long line of silversmiths, and when we got married he kind of dabbled as a hobby. But we both could see this was his love. My husband’s nine to five job — he was a lawyer in Colombia before he immigrated to the United States. And we just slowly worked on building for his hobby of fixing jewellery to that being a business. We did, we sold his jewellery and top-class jewellery making classes out of our home, probably for about ten. Yeah, probably about 10 or 12 years now. So we’re, our long term goal was to have our own place. My husband’s father was a silversmith and he had a silver shop down in Colombia that was his profession. And my husband always wanted his own shop, his own boss to his pain. And we just never quite had the resources or the energy or even the know-how to do that. And so when we got talking to Stephanie at that… boutique… it was like yeah, this, this is gonna work we have a partnership, we can do it with a business background that Stephanie has. Let’s go for it.
Katerina: Right. What about you, Stephanie?
Stephanie: Um, I so I’ve been doing my businesses at Our Children’s Earth, and it’s been eleven years now that I’ve been doing it. And prior to that, I supported people with disability so I used to supervise the Northern part of Utah State for a company where I would make sure that kids were finding homes or finding jobs or, those kinds of things. And then, with the birth of my third child, my husband and I decided I was gonna stay home, which I love staying home and I love my kids but I also was like, I need to do something else too. So then I started doing Our Children’s Earth and making eco-friendly and nature-inspired clothes jewellery and household items and kind of started slowly and kind of built up.
Katerina: Yeah. Fascinating. So, what would you say to people or young people who just want to get a nine to five job? Would you advise them to become entrepreneurs?
Stephanie: I think it really depends on the person. And I think that you know, it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of self-motivation. And I think that that’s a really big thing that you have to have as an entrepreneur is being able to get off your couch or get out of bed. And, you know, and I think especially in our field with art, we work with so many artists that are so talented and so amazing, but we also get a lot of artists that are equally as amazing and talented but they think I can just do art and that’s it. But you also have to do art, and you have to do marketing, and you have to do accounting and, you know, you can’t just sit and do art all day. You have to market yourself so people know where to find you or like we were talking about social media and websites and Pinterest and YouTube and Instagram and all those things and, and then accounting knowing what your numbers are knowing what you’re spending and… So, I think. I think people can definitely do it but I think that self-motivation… and…
One of the things that we really pride ourselves on is having a growth mindset so that we’re always open to learning, I mean we have just the coolest artists and you know we’re like, you have an idea, please let us know so we can switch it up or we can learn together because the more that we’re all learning together the stronger we are. If it’s just like if I and Jenny have tunnel vision, then we’re not going to get far.
Katerina: If you had one superpower, what would it be?
Stephanie: I think… supporting people like seeing the, being able to see what someone’s potential is and trying to support them to achieve that. We work really hard with artists that are struggling to get their business off the ground or they have this idea and they don’t know how to do it and so we spend a lot of times, a lot of time doing coaching with our artists and just teaching them how to even do Facebook Live or how to create a business and Jenny helps put on quarterly classes where we have our lawyer come in that can talk to people about you know do you want to be a sole proprietor or do you want to be an LLC or you know any of those things and then we have our accountant come in that you can come and ask questions to because, you know, we didn’t know, or you didn’t maybe know you. You know, like that and then also we tried to do a social media one where like we’ve had Tim he does a really popular Instagram page called This is Ogden so he’ll come in and talk to people about how to set up your Instagram or, you know, all those cool things just trying to support people.
Katerina: Yeah. Do you have a different idea from me, Jenny?
Jenny: Often-times, I wish I could figure out what goes on in computer programmers minds as I’m learning these, the new technology and the new social media. At one point in my life, I was on computers and I was the person that people would ask for help, and now I have to go and ask my 13-year-old “Hey, come and help me.” And she just throws her eyes, like, Oh, Mom. Now Facebook is for old people, it’s all Tick Tock now.
Katerina: I’m still figuring out Tik-Tok what it’s all about but it’s a new rave isn’t it. So, do you any fears about, you know, your business life in general? How do you overcome your fears? That’s a good question I think.
Jenny: I have a fear of what if the business doesn’t make it. What if people don’t support it when if they don’t like the art or the classes that we are offering. And before we opened my husband and I sat down and we thought long and hard. Really, okay if we do this, what are we willing to risk, and what is the worst thing that could happen. And we listed out notes okay if the business goes belly up what money would we be out, how would we pay off the bills. At the end of the business, how would that affect our personal life, what we have in store? And, and we made a plan to deal with those worst-case scenarios. So that, that gave us kind of peace of mind. Okay, we are willing to risk, up to a, b and c. And this is what we’re going to do to compensate. And are we going you know to change jobs, I’ll go back to teaching, whatnot and move forward.
Katerina: What about you, Stephanie?
Stephanie: I think that some of the hardest things for me have been just finding that balance the last while you know we had some, we had an artist lately put a lot of time and energy into, and I think that was a real wake up call for me to just be like, Oh, you need to also focus on your own business, you can’t always just give and give and give and give and. So, finding that balance I think has been really important for me I, I said, in the year 2020 my, my goal was going to be having intentional yeses. So being intentional with what I say yes to.
Katerina: Yeah. So what can you? What can you tell women who, who are about to give up on their dreams, maybe they’ve started a business and things, and they just hit this wall, and you know difficulties, and they’re bound to give up. What can you tell them?
Jenny: One thinks — it’s okay if you need to cut some losses, there’s no shame in that, there’s no shame in doing your best. And if your best isn’t what you want it, isn’t want what your customers want, there’s no shame in that whatsoever. And two. I think it’s always helpful to have as Stephanie mentioned that a growth mindset. So, if it’s not working, what can you do differently, what can you do to change it up. What… is there anything that is working well can you improve on that can you help that out a little bit more and grow that… if there’s something that’s not working and not what you want — can you change that and how can you change that? Can you get some help to come in, whether it’s outside help like an accountant or bookkeeping, or is it internal help like me to hire a, you know, an employee or an assistant or even a virtual assistant or things like that?
Stephanie: I think also just like stopping and taking a breath to like. So underrated don’t you know sometimes when I’m getting really overwhelmed I’ll just stop and take like three deep breaths and think, Okay, you know what, how can we go forward from this so kind of looking at like Jenny was saying, you know, even like how are we making revenue and how are we spending, and where, where does that work out, you know, and looking at the accounting sideways and also looking at like the marketing side of it and seeing, you know, have we slacked off on Pinterest. Yes. Yes, we have. And … can help me, you know, kind of get motivated again and get that renewal of energy and get the customers coming in again and I’m looking at those kinds of things to see.
Jenny: Just for … or to reach out for help. If someone is feeling overwhelmed and their business… feels like it’s failing — to reach out to networking groups or other small businesses or people that are in the similar or maybe if they had a brick and mortar store to their business neighbours. There are so many people that are willing to help and give ideas and people that have given Stephanie ideas of the year like wow. We just don’t know about this what’s going on and they’re like “Oh, that is so easy, here’s what I do to deal with that, like, Oh yeah, that is a doable thing.” Now ask for help, ask for specific help of which, what you need, what’s your business.
Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah, we’ve had some really cool neighbours, we partner together we have a really cool cupcake shop that’s been great and frozen yoghurt and, you know, I mean, there’s just so many cool businesses around us that will say hey do you want to partner up and we’ll do this event together where people can buy dinner and do an activity and, you know, and so sometimes if you just ask, they’re willing to help and even just give ideas we have one of our artists that owns her own brick and mortar shop, that’s, you know, twenty minutes from where we are so we also have her stuff in our store and simply even if she’s great she’s wonderful to work with and be like “Hey, did this programme work for you or not.”
Katerina: Yeah. Any advice to women who want to start the business, but they kind of in a wait-and-see situation because of the COVID-19? I know a lot of people are binging on Netflix and kind of waiting it out. But we just don’t know when it’s all going to end. Is today is the right time to start a new business?
Stephanie: It depends on what your business is. I think if it’s service-oriented or online — it’s a great time… we have been scrambling trying to move the products in our store to our website because that’s what people are doing they’re looking for. You know, people still have birthdays and they still have anniversaries and our states Mother’s Day is coming up next month, and we still have the art, you just got to get it to the people in a different way so I would say online is a great time because everyone’s seems to be online these days.
Katerina: Yes. Yeah. There’s I guess some people are just not quite sure whether the market will change after this, COVID-19 situation because, you know, will marketing stay the same or will use different marketing channels altogether then we’ll have to learn new things. At the moment is just so… everything is so uncertain isn’t it?
Jenny and Stephanie: Yes, definitely.
Katerina: My husband actually been checking out some roles, and he said “Look at these numbers of applications for roles like 204 for each role. So I guess a lot of people now lost their jobs and they kind of started looking for new jobs and the job market is actually getting saturated as well. So yeah, what advice can you give to people, you know, should you start a business should you try to apply for a new job, but like you’re saying it depends on the business, but maybe today is the right day to actually start thinking strategically, what you can do with your business?
Stephanie: Right. Well, I think, I think one other thing Jenny and I try really hard to do when we have to make a difficult decision about something as we always try and do with love. So we figure if we look at a situation from our hearts and think like we’re doing this from love then you can’t really go wrong and I think probably for people that are looking at doing a job may be looking at that also like, is this something that’s gonna really bring me joy, or is this you know something that’s just temporary and I’m going to end up pulling my hair out in a month. You know, doing it, and finding what brings them joy and love, you know, in their heart so…
Katerina: Trust us as women we don’t have intuition. Sometimes we just don’t pay attention to it. Yeah, that’s been absolutely great. No, thank you so much for being on the show and good luck with everything.
Stephanie and Jenny: Thank you, you too.