Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Coffee Table that started it all....

I honestly don't even remember how we heard about The Occasional Shops of Carver and Chaska. The first time I stopped into one of them was sometime between the offer being accepted on our new house, and the closing - I was coordinating fence estimates, noticed that Mustard Moon was open, so I stopped in. I spent so much time there, I never made it to the other shops before they closed that night!

At Mustard Moon: I immediately walked in, and was struck by the mix of industrial, primitive and rustic - they had things that would have been perfect for our old home's vintage-industrial-bar search {more on this some other day}. And then....this awesome, chippy, primitive-but-not-quite-shabby-chic-because-that's-too-country-for-my-taste cabinet that had been laid on it's back - effectively making it a huge square coffee table with tons of storage under the lid-slash-door. And it was white, and neutral - in my mind, a perfect fit for our new house....and at $70, I couldn't imagine finding anything better.

What you can't see is that it's on this little wheelie cart thing that makes it super practical, and mobile, and just the right height!

Seriously, imagine all the storage possibilities in this piece! Blankets, board games, crafting materials, all of the 85 remotes that normally live on top of the coffee table....

Of course, I had to get Chad's ok (we try hard to operate as a team when it comes to decorating our house), and Jane agreed to hold it for me until the next day. SCOOOOORE! We spent that evening with a couple of good friends, and the topic of our future coffee table came up. I showed them the terrible iPhone photo I'd taken, and then we discussed Chad's idea of the *perfect* coffee table - a restored antique railroad cart. Of course, the only ones of those we'd seen had been priced well over our budget - usually $500 or more!  (these have been big in the Room & Board and Restoration Hardware worlds recently)

The inspiration for Chad's vision of our future coffee table - this $995 railroad cart from Restoration Hardware.

Saturday: We started at Dunn Bros in Chaska - our lives are fueled by caramel lattes and white chocolate mochas. Neither of us had been to any of the Chaska shops, so we started with Linda's Cellar. It was a lot bigger, brighter, and reminded me more of a normal antique store than did Mustard Moon. We wandered through, looking for a potential bar cart/shelf for the new house, and then....at the back of the shop....was an old, dirty, antique railroad cart. It was priced at $375, which was still well above our budget, and much, much more than the cabinet-slash-coffee table that was still on hold for me at MM (which Chad STILL had not seen in person). At this point, he was ready to make the impulse purchase, and take that railroad cart home!  {Admittedly, it was cool....but I was still so excited about MY find....and I couldn't get over the cost.}

I convinced him that we should look through the rest of the stores, so we proceeded through LaLa Land and Southern Charmed. We commented on all of the Pinterest-inspired re-uses of items, the awesome refurbishings, and the downright old, cool items. We chatted with the ladies at Southern Charmed, who informed us it was their first month, and they were loving it!  (do you see where this is going yet??)

ON TO CARVER!  I was so excited to check out all of the places that would be in our new hometown! We stopped immediately down in Mustard Moon, and Chad was as in love with the place as I was...incredible. We looked at the cabinet-slash table, but he wasn't sold, and I grudgingly agreed to keep looking for something that would light a fire under us both. Bugger!

As we wandered through the rest of the shops, we talked about how fun all of the "finds" were. I am sure we bought a few things, though I couldn't tell you now what they were. We joked about how we would love to do something like this, if we could ever afford to quit our jobs. Ha! (ok, seriously, can you see where this is going?)

Back to Chaska, we reasoned with ourselves (aka - justified our now slightly-more-thought-out-therefore-not-an-impulse-purchase) that if we bought the railroad cart, put in a little elbow grease and refinished it, we could sell it for nearly twice what we paid. Not that we would, but...that if we regretted our impulse purchase, we COULD if we wanted to. Yeah, right.  Linda called the seller, and we ended up getting it for just over $300. Oh, that little taste of bartering...I think it's fair to say it's turned me into a negotiating monster. In a good way, of course.

The "Before" of our Railroad Cart Coffee Table....stay tuned for progress shots, and the "After!"
At the end of the day, we got a coffee table that we both loved. Check out our next post for a step-by-step of the refinishing, and a before-and-after of our coffee table! It felt like such a natural thing to refinish it, that we started looking for other items we could do the same with...I even started a Pinterest board called "My Refurbished Junk Store" after visiting the shops. The best part? This was 6 WEEKS before we saw the For Lease sign in the window of our current shop. We had no idea the hand that was about to be dealt us.....


UPDATE! In yet another strange, surely-this-means-it-was-all-meant-to-be turn of events, two things have happened SINCE I drafted the post above. Really, I'm not kidding.

1. We happened upon a graveyard of old railroad carts, that has given us a nearly endless supply of carts to refinish and put into our shop for others to enjoy. Coincidence? I think not.

2. We have signed the lease for 300 Broadway Street in Carver. The significance? It's the former Mustard Moon space that we fell in love with so many months ago.


Do you have any crazy single-event-turned-life-changer stories?  How did you get into junking?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Shop Your A$$ Off!

We signed our lease on August 1st, and immediately committed ourselves to opening our doors for the first time during Carver's annual Steamboat Days Festival. That gave us five weeks. FIVE WEEKS. to collect our inventory. As I mentioned here, this was a total "impulse purchase," so we had no inventory built up to supply the initial store opening.

Our friends asked how we knew what to buy, from where, and how to price it. Truth? We didn't. We shopped a lot. We went to nearly every occasional junk shop in Minnesota, price shopping, checking out what seemed to be selling well, and just taking notes. Along the way, we bought some stuff. We started to build a network of people, learned where to shop, how to negotiate, and where to keep coming back to week after week (you didn't think we were going to share our secret spots, did you??). We contacted our network of local MN-based artists and crafters for the handmade items we sell. We made a very simple business plan, tried to outline the vision we had for our products, and how we'd differentiate ourselves from the other Occasional Shops of Carver and Chaska.

We woke up at 5am every weekend. We stayed up late. We made things, we cleaned things, we painted things. We piled and stacked it all in the storefront, and made sad faces when the other shops opened for their monthly sale in August. We made a sign promising a Grand Opening in just 2 more weeks. We created a Facebook page, we ordered business cards, which would double as our price tags. Before we even opened, we were selling items to people we'd never met, that found us through Facebook. Word of mouth and good friends are an amazing combination!

After all of that, we shopped some more. In fact, we never stop shopping. Five free minutes over lunch? We're checking Craigslist for old furniture we can rehab. Driving to work today? Checking for garage sales along the route home. This "one-weekend-a-month" business is a full-time job.

Brandy spend nearly 5 hours prior to opening, just rearranging and staging the store (which, now that we've done this for a few months, feels like no time at all). Here's a look at what that first month's sale looked like:

And it was a success! We opened for Steamboat Days, and were the only shop in town that did - we met tons of people, celebrated with our friends and new customers, and sold stuff. We made a profit. And then, we finally breathed a big, giant, long-held sigh of relief. This crazy dream is actually going to work!

Plus, now we have the best excuse ever to shop on a regular basis, without cluttering up our own house :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

An Adventure in Retailing

This adventure we're calling our "shop" - Carver Junk Company - how did it all start? Here's an excerpt from Brandy's recent interview with the Good People of Earth:

We live in a modern world that tends to take a “throw it away and buy a new one” approach to most things. Your shop, Carver Junk Company, embraces a very different philosophy by specializing in vintage, repurposed, rustic and retro décor and furnishings. What inspired you to open the store? And what is your philosophy when it comes to the value of something old vs. something new?   

The decision to open Carver Junk Company was an “impulse purchase” of sorts, but also a great example of life presenting an opportunity we couldn’t refuse. It’s always been on my bucket list to open a local arts and/or crafts store. On the eve of closing on a new house in Carver, MN, Chad and I noticed a For Lease sign in the window of a small brick storefront on the historic main street of our new town.  We signed the lease the next day – never having previously discussed opening a junk store.

We believe in shopping local, and being very involved in our local communities, and this allows us to do and encourage both. In addition to that, I’m an habitual refurbish-er. As much as I personally love the before & after, I love showing others that it’s possible to take “junk” and turn it into something very desirable. Of course, there are also the “ooooh”s and “ahhhh”s from those who see and buy our junk – it’s so satisfying to watch someone fall in love with a piece that has narrowly escaped a trip to dumpster heaven. It’s even more satisfying if they’ve seen the before, doubted the possibilities, and then realized the value of refurbishing, recycling, repurposing.

As far as old vs. new – they both have a place in our lives. I’m not sure I’ve developed a clear perspective on when old is BETTER than new, or vice versa. Old things have so much character, such stories behind them. There’s always that “if these walls could talk” sort of allure with older pieces.  We actually write down the stories we know on the tags we attach to each item at the shop. I’ve debated writing down the stories I’ve silently made up about the unknown pieces {and of course disclosing that they’re made up}, just for fun – I feel like every piece deserves to have its story told. Our house is a mix of old and new décor, refurbished and store-bought. It does seem true that things just aren’t made as well as they used to be – whether that’s because of a lack of time, the cost to make things that last, or the economics behind the ability to sell more product if every piece has a shorter lifespan. I have a concern for the future health of our world – which is certainly impacted positively by continuing to reuse and recycle - but for me, this adventure is more about doing something that feels good, that engages us in our local community, and that allows others to share our passion for local, quality goods.