By Mary Beth Breckenridge Akron Beacon Journal
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Becky Dunn is among a growing number of creative entrepreneurs who are plying the home-decor trade in nontraditional ways. They hold occasional sales, run businesses with odd hours or find other compromises that let them feed their need to hunt or create.
NORTH CANTON, Ohio
For a long time, Becky Dunn wanted a store where she could sell her vintage and upcycled goods.
There was just one problem: She couldn't figure out how to do that and still have time for her passions, hunting for flea-market treasures and restoring and repurposing her finds.
"You can't be at a shop and go picking and working in your driveway, sanding and welding," she said.
Figuring out how to juggle all that took creativity. Luckily, that's Dunn's forte.
She is now the proprietor of Rust & Found, a North Canton shop that opens only occasionally. She calls her sales events, because to many of her customers, that's what they are, special occasions they await eagerly.
Dunn is among a growing number of Northeast Ohioans who are plying the home-decor trade in nontraditional ways. They hold occasional sales, run businesses with odd hours or find other compromises that let them feed their need to hunt or create.
Dunn typically opens Rust & Found just three days a month and closes for all of January and February. That gives her time for picking trips with husband Chris and for her countless projects, creative undertakings like turning wine barrel rings into chandeliers, making mirrors from vintage tin and refashioning an old metal table by giving it a top and shelves from reclaimed wood.
For her, the business isn't primarily about making money. She said she has yet to give herself a paycheck, choosing instead to plow her profits back into the business.
Rather, it's more an opportunity to feed her creative streak and get the satisfaction of seeing other people appreciate her work.
"It's not my income. ... I just love doing it," she said.
The creative drive and the need for flexibility are common threads among nontraditional sellers.
Jason Horinger regularly opens his Birchwood Supply Co. in West Akron, Ohio, only on weekends, because he doesn't want his flea-market shopping and design work to keep him from interacting with his customers.
If he were to open every day, he said, he'd have to hire help with the store, which sells vintage and found items as well as the upcycled furniture, lighting, wall installations and other pieces he creates.
"My focus ... is and always will be relationships," said Horinger, who used to be campus minister at Archbishop Hoban High School.
Although Horinger posts weekend hours, he's flexible about the store's schedule. He'll open by appointment, and he also tells customers to try the door if they see the shop's lights on. If he's around working on a project, he's happy to accommodate them.
In fact, he said he's planning to add limited hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because he's in the shop working on those days anyway.
Limiting his store hours also lets him devote time to his sons Emile and Ewan, who are 2 and almost 4. Horinger often brings them with him to work, where they love to race vintage Tonka trucks across the worn wood floor and roll the balls in Horinger's old Skee-Ball machine.
Mixing work and parenthood was also what motivated Mary Beth Filon to start holding seasonal sales of handmade goods seven years ago at her Portage Trail Barn in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. "That was wonderful for the stages of my life back then," when she had three young children and a building to house her shopping events, she said.
But she recently moved, so she has ended the barn sales. Instead, she has set up a shop inside Wild Birds Unlimited, the Cuyahoga Falls store where she works.
Filon intends to sell handmade items from her own Portage Trail Barn line on a regular basis, along with goods made by a few other vendors. In addition, she'll offer periodic pop-up sales featuring 10 to 15 vendors, probably in spring and during the holiday season. The first one is planned to start before Mother's Day, she said.
A small display at the store offers items such as birch candles, knitted accessories and decorative signs made from salvaged items.
Filon likes being able to give her barn-sale customers year-round access to goods made by her and some of her vendors. She also likes that those customers will be introduced to the gift items Wild Birds Unlimited was already selling, including fair-trade and American-made goods.
She's not sure how the shop-within-a-shop will work, but she said she enjoys the challenge of tweaking her business to fit her customers' needs.
"It'll just grow however it is," she said.
Most nontraditional retailers in this area credit the trend to Gina Bishop, a Hudson resident who has been holding periodic Homegirl sales in her barn off and on for close to a decade. She hasn't had a sale for three years, but she's thinking about resuming them in June.
Bishop, who has a background in retailing and designing store displays, said the barn sales were a compromise between her dreams of having a shop and her desire to avoid both the expense of renting a space and the hassle of constantly having to replenish her inventory.
Besides, her two daughters were small at the time, and she wanted to be home with them. "I didn't want to be tied to something that was all the time," she said.
Instead, she started by holding what she called "awesome garage sales" and developed such a reputation that she fixed up the old barn on her property and started holding sales in it a couple of weekends a year. She sold her own vintage and upcycled goods along with items produced by other vendors, including Rust & Found's Dunn.
Like Dunn, she said she's more motivated by the creative outlet than by the profit opportunities.
"It's a very tough way to make money," she said, especially now that painted furniture has become a popular do-it-yourself project and the demand for vintage pieces is driving up prices.
But selling gives her an excuse to create. "I always joke (that) it's supporting a habit," she said.