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Kiss Your Creative Life Goodbye: The Mistake in Aspiring to Own a Retail Shop

by Kristen Rask
craft & maker

retail stores

First, let me start by saying that my story is not everyone’s. There are many people in the world that own retail shops and also manage to find time to be creative. It didn’t work that way for me.

I owned a store for 11 years. Here is my story:

I ALWAYS wanted to own a store. Ever since I was a kid. There is something romantic about being a shop owner. You get to surround yourself with things you like, play music you like, wear whatever you want and have time for making things in a space you love.

You also have to work A LOT and pay a lot of people and pay a lot of of bills…and have money and what the heck was I thinking?!?! In my late twenties I had a job I didn’t love but it did give me time to make stuff. I was selling wholesale and had a good list going. I transitioned to part-time, still had insurance, and I had a lot of time to make and sell.

In retrospect, I had a pretty sweet life.

But I had my dream of owning a retail shop and I really wanted to be self-employed. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do. And miraculously, through a series of events, I became a shop owner! FINALLY! Rainbows were shining everywhere and little birdies high-fived me and money came down like rain.

YEAH RIGHT.

That whole first year I did not actually make ANYTHING. I got so intimidated by the cool things I was looking at and selling that I figured, “why bother?” A year in, I realized I was getting really sad not making stuff. They dry spell could not continue.

I have been known to say “crafting is my personal Prozac”. So I started making again but the amount of time I had to make had slimmed down A LOT. I used to do a few craft shows a year. Now that I was a retail shop owner, I could only manage to get enough stuff together for one.

You see owning a store is a lot more work than I imagined. You gotta get people to shop to pay the bills. And you gotta market to get people in the door. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogging, websites, etc. On its own that stuff takes forever. Then add in mailing lists, buying, paying bills, answering emails,merchandising, window displays, cleaning, hiring, firing, event planning…

I found myself with very little time for anything but keeping that place afloat. Then the economy tanked and I needed to get a JOB on top of my shop owner job. Can you imagine?

Luckily I found a job that I loved, but it was a juggling act like none other. After 11 years, I closed my dream retail shop.

I was not that sad.

I own another store now but I share the workload with my UCU business partner who loves to do everything I hate and vice versa. Sharing the load makes it’s a lot less stressful. (Not stress-free, but less stressful!)

Many makers talk to me about their own dreams of owning a shop. And I don’t want to discourage them. Like I said, my story is not everyone’s. But I do want to be honest with them. So I have some standard questions I advise them to ask themselves before they make the leap:

1. How much free time do you want for yourself? For personal development, and time for inspiration for your own creative endeavors?
2. How/why do you think owning a shop will elevate your business?
3. Are there other ways you could elevate your business? (The CreativeLive catalog is a good place to start!)
4. How do you see your creative business growing in 5 years?
5. Do you like vacations?
6. Are there aspects of shop owning that you would not like and therefore have to pay out for? (Examples: customer service, bookkeeping, web development, buying, shipping, etc.)
7. Do you like being beholden to a certain set of hours each day?
8. Do you like spending time with your friends and family?

Your answers will tell you a lot about whether opening a retail shop is right for you. There is no off switch when you own a business. You just work, constantly and forever. I would not change that experience for the world but the romantic delusion is no longer there. Owning a store is hard work. Really hard work.

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Kristen Rask

Kristen Rask is the President of Urban Craft Uprising, the largest craft show in Seattle. She is also the owner of Schmancy Toys in downtown Seattle.