Meet John and Jane, the husband and wife design team behind Elegance Farm Homestead on Etsy. Both have degrees in science (John in Chemistry and Jane in Biology and Environmental Science) and work full time in science fields...
Once the owner of a victorian home restoration company, John is now a research chemist, but still loves creating things with wood. Jane, a full-time children’s science book editor by trade, has always been crafty. She can’t walk away from a pile of great fabrics, and has been known to make her share of quilts, dresses, and drapes. She also has another Etsy shop where she sells her personalized beaded book thong bookmarks (that’s right, book thongs!). You can check it out at http://www.elegancefarm.etsy.com/
Tell Us a Little Bit About Yourselves…
We are John and Jane, husband and wife, living in a turn-of-the-century colonial farmhouse in NJ. We love to make things together! We both have degrees in science and work full time in science fields.
Being creative in our shop is a fun opportunity to use the other halves of our brains. We work really well together and are celebrating another wedding anniversary next weekend! We also love to grow lots of our own fruits and veggies – even corn on our front lawn; luckily the neighbors like it, especially at harvest time. That’s why we used the name “homestead” in our shop title.
When we are not banging wood together or working, we enjoy hanging out with our families, including our 12 nieces and nephews, whom we adore. The oldest just left this week to start studying at Harvard, and he'll be hanging a magnet board in his dorm room, the oldest building on campus!
How did you get started designing & making memo boards?
Our niece Mary Cate was actually the inspiration for this new business. She liked the idea of a magnet board because her teacher had one, but Mary Cate wanted a pretty one with bright colors for her bedroom . John got to work in the shop and I went shopping for fabric. Voila, our new business was born. We opened the shop in mid-February 2011
Would you walk us through your creative process?
We love the look of really simple design, letting the material speak for itself. Whenever we see great fabric, we make sure to grab it. We are inspired by elegant cottage style and think it is reflected in the selection of items in our shop.
We individually handcraft each memo board frame from hardwood using our original design. We are currently offering four different sizes of frames for our boards, and each one can come in the customer's choice of wood color and fabric. Customers can also order custom sizes for frames. We pick fabrics that are either really rich and neutral or crisp and vibrant in order to appeal to a range of tastes.
John does most of the woodworking with me as his assistant. We work in our basement shop or out in the yard and garage when the weather is nice. John does not use nails or screws and the pieces fit together like a glove. Together we cut and apply the decorative molding, paint or wax the frame, and assemble the final piece. I photograph each board and do the Etsy listings and customer service. I think what we are most proud of is the quality of John’s construction and the duality of the magnet boards. They are both functional and artistic, with the decorator’s fabric complementing a home’s décor. We love knowing that we are giving a really well-made product to every customer that will be a special addition to their home. We also love offering an unpainted frame option: natural beeswax and carnauba oil finish. We are glad that we can use natural products like these instead of solvent-based finishes.
What has been the most gratifying part of running your own business?
Happy customers! We have started selling to brides for their wedding escort card displays and knowing that the board will be used on their special day is an honor.
We love hearing the little back stories of how our boards are being used: for a Mum in the UK who is in a home and can't use a pin board due to shaky hands but still wants a place to display her postcards;
a young girl getting a bedroom makeover; an adoptive family bringing home 2 daughters from Africa, adding to their family of 5, who need a wall organizer for the paperwork and photos. These are the stories that we LOVE to hear. Each board is unique and special to us and we take lots of care in making each one.
What advice would you give small business owners who are just starting out?
LOVE LOVE LOVE what you make, and love what you do! Don't make something because you think it will sell. Make something that you feel passionate about. Tell your story in your product descriptions; people who buy handmade like to connect with the seller and feel like it is more than a manufactured product. Also, keep records of all expenses from day 1, and keep all your receipts.
Don't undercharge for your items, either. You must account for your time to photograph and list an item, package it (up to an hour for a deluxe board), shop for materials, and still make a profit if you want to do this as a business. When we started out we added up the cost of materials for each board, right down to the glue, dowels, magnets, and paint and followed a formula for what we wanted to earn per hour (each board takes about 4 hours to make, at least). Charging a fair price makes it easy for us to take our careful time with each board and to never rush a job.
What are your best marketing tips?
Great customer service. We treat each customer with our full attention to all the details of their order, from the time they place their order to the time it ships. We all love special attention, right? And people remember that. Since we really love what we do, it is a joy to interact with the customers and create something for their home, office, or wedding. Word of mouth is also great. It is not in our nature to talk about our business or hand out cards to everyone we know, but we are starting to do that more and more. Since we work full-time in addition to running this shop, we don't have much time for blog posts, giveaways, or social networking. We were featured in the Etsy Finds email, and that sure boosted sales and shop hits. It also seems like our product is selling well on Etsy since there are not many shops offering custom made boards. Because we hand make the frames, we can create them in any size a customer wants, to fill the exact wall space they have in their home. Filling a niche is a great way to succeed.
What are your plans for the future of your business?
Cork boards, magnetic chalkboards, wedding table numbers in frames, magnetic picture frames, and on and on!! There is just not enough time in the day. But we will slowly get these into the shop.