Year One

I blinked. And when I opened my eyes, my little shop was a year old.


To be honest, it's a year and two weeks old by now. I've been trying to write a shop post for two weeks and this is my fifth attempt. I had always hoped to do regular shop posts during the year but there was never enough time or energy...And now that I am writing a shop post, I keep trying to add everythinggggg to it because there is so much to share. There is a line between sharing and not shutting up and I am not finding that sweet spot. Also difficult? Being honest without sounding whiny...
But here we go, shop post attempt number five...

If I could sum up my year, I would say it was really, really awesome.

Maybe you are sitting in a cubicle at a job you don't particularly enjoy or staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. wondering 'what am I going to do with my life?'. In that moment, owning your own retail space seems like a sweet little dream. You see my Instagram account and I'm going on vintage appointments, hanging sparkly stuff all over my window displays or wearing a crinoline on a Tuesday and you think that would be so very fun. And you're right! It is as fun as you dream it will be.

(Another great perk of running a retail space. Meeting so many new people and making lovely new friends. Like my girl Nat who came on my opening weekend last year and is now my go-to for texting cute animal pictures...)

There is something about seeing your dream come to life. I can walk in my shop (and curse a little because I am constantly running out of room...ha) and still have this moment of joy over seeing my vision come together and that vision looking, well, pretty adorable.
For me personally, it was affirming to have other people 'get' what I'm doing and to be able to turn this love for fashion into a business. I mean, it started with me just loving fashion, thinking I wanted to be a bridal designer, hating that and then starting a blog, thinking I mayyyybe wanted to be a pro blogger, realizing I sucked at that and years later, finally feeling confident enough in my skill set to take the leap and start a shop. I'm good at picking unique vintage pieces, I'm good at putting clothes together and I'm good at displaying things in an appealing way and I get to turn those talents into my day job. Yup, pinch me. It is kind of a dream.

On the flip side, I could also sum up my year by saying it was really, really hard.

I feel almost like an ungrateful jerk the moment those words leave my mouth (or appear on the page). I really do have a great life. I have a perpetually positive and supportive husband who does not mind when vintage jewellery takes over the dining room and I have perpetually adorable and ungrateful cats who do care that vintage clothing takes over 'their' room. I have a great family, amazing friends and blog readers who genuinely care to support me. I have a lovely home, a mediocre car and a giant closet full of crazy vintage and black pants. Most of all, I have the opportunity to take this chance on a small vintage store and I know that is such a luxury in itself.
And yet, I want to repeat that it is really, really hard.
I was talking to a friend about it and trying to articulate exactly what makes it so difficult. I think part of it is that because your business is tied so closely to your own self that you feel every success and failure and mistake so deeply. You can't shut off your business obligations even when you step away from the shop.
Also worth acknowledging is the fact that retail is a beast. A beast that cares nothing for hard work, visions, excitement and the tender young hearts of starry eyed entrepreneurs.  I think any unexpected business fluctuation can be explained with a small head shake and by muttering 'that's just retail'. Yes, the weather, the time of year and 'events' certainly have a role in determining your sales totals but so often you just can't predict it at all. At all. And when sales are really slow, you get thrown for a huge loop.
'I should re-do my windows.'
'I should re-do my displays.'
'I should re-do all my merch.'
'What am I even doing with my life right now????'

And if it is slow in the shop, it's not like you can stop working or just shut the shop for a few days. You need to still show up, bring in new merch and paste a smile on while you silently beg for that lady to not crush your spirit and ask for a discount on the $30 dress which will be your first in-store sale this week. I come from a landscaping back ground and I'm used to working 6 hours and getting paid for 6 hours. And now I've started a shop and as can be expected, you don't draw a salary as you are growing your business. Personally I've had two really slow periods in this last year and they both came at times when I was working extra hard. The early spring and late fall were really rough. It's just a busy time of year for me; in addition to running the shop and finding, cleaning, fixing and prepping the merch and planning some events, I was also trying to get online collections up and I was really busy at my other job (remember, no salary for a year or two... and I still love landscaping;)). So I would live off my to-do lists everyday and fall into bed at night exhausted from life and yet the shop was so slow that it felt like there was nothing to show for all that hard work and teeth grinding.

I'm not sharing this for sympathy (yes, I am. I need a hug.). I'm sharing this because this is what happens when you start a small business. You get blind sided by how hard it is and you question why you ever, ever disrupted your life to do that stupid thing and follow your dream. I am not special. This little post about the struggle of a small retail business is not unique. And yet, we don't often talk about it because it's kinda crappy to admit that you are not always a shining success. Other shop owners warned me beforehand that it would be tough, especially establishing yourself and building your consumer base. They warned me that is would be slow and you would see your bank account dip and your spirits would dip with your bank account. Maybe your consumption of spirits would rise though... (see what I did there). I believed it when they warned me but I was still shocked at how defeated I could feel.
And so I'm sharing this to be honest. And to encourage anyone in the same boat or hoping to hop on their own boat someday. You have to hustle, you have to have a solid business plan and you have to know some days will royally suck. But it will be worth it because past those terrible days are days when you are living the dream.
I hope to wear crinolines to work for a few more years at least...;)


Anonymous said...

This is the first time I comment, but I have been reading your blog for a long time and I have been shopping at your shop.
Since I bought that yellow coat I have been coming in whenever I had money to spent on me or others - and I have wanted to buy at least half of what you put up on instagram. Don't let the slow times make you feel down - those are just the times when your customers/fans of the shop do not have any money to spent. But they still would like to! And they will come running the minute they do :-)

myedit said...

Anon- you are so sweet! And I appreciate all the support I get and I am so flattered people chose to spend their extra money on vintage from my shop. I think one of the biggest things over time is just that I develop a thicker skin to riding out the slow times. That is probably the biggest difference between a newbie shop owner and an experienced one, they can handle the slow times knowing it will turn around while newbie owners get caught up in serious self doubt.
But again, thanks always for your support. You make that yellow coat look👌!

GFS said...

I love the honesty. BUt remember you get to wear a crinoline any day that you want to.

(I needed to read this. I need to follow a dream or two of my own before I become a Lifetime Movie character)

I wish I could surprise and visit you!

The Suburb Experiment said...

I'm so glad you did this post. My husband and I've discussed me opening a little store when the kids are all in school. It's great hearing the perspectives of entrepreneurs in the trenches! I don't know how successful vintage would be in Alaska though and that's where my passion lies. We'll see.

Jill said...

For what it's worth, you are such an inspiration. Your shop is beautiful (though I've never been and live so far away I don't even think it's a possibility) and I've always admired your stellar sense of what works for vintage and what doesn't. And being honest about the challenges of owning a small business isn't whiny at all! It's informative and helpful and inspiring, but it's NOT whiny. I'd love to hear more about what you do. Keep on keeping on!

Linda said...

I was going to say almost the same thing as Jill! I'll just add that I admire your bravery and forthrightness, along with your amazing fashion sense.

We are all pulling for you!

Anonymous said...

Girl, you're admirable. And you do have a great eye. I should totally wear more sequins and crinolines to work.

Birgitte said...

Ooo, I like what you said about the business being tied so closely to your own self - that's exactly how I feel! I do custom sewing/costume work on the side, so I don't have to rely on it for my main income, but it's tough to experience how much your business = yourself. Best of luck, many happy days for your second year - and beyond!

Lab geek said...

Thank you for the honest post. And while I do not own a small business, I am extremely invested in what I do and I take every win and every failure personally. It can be extremely hard when things are not working. For me, it spills in every aspect of my life outside of work.
But the high, they are pretty freaking awesome!
I'll keep shopping on your etsy or instagram sale as long as you keep have the most awesome vintage items. I don't see that stopping anytime soon.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings! When I stare at my ceiling at 3am wondering 'what I'm even doing with my life' I feel very alone.. it's nice to know I'm not.'
So Congratulations, Yen! I wish you happiness and growth in the coming months and years. YOU DESERVE IT!
Heather Wyancko

AlineB said...

I love your blog, your way with words and your fantastic sense of style. If I ever make it to Hamilton, I am heading straight to The Edit! Best of luck with your retail journey.

Suzanne said...

You have summed up what it is to own your own business perfectly. Any success or failure is seen as reflection on yourself. And the low parts are hard to get through, but then as another reader pointed out, the high points are supreme.

As a previous business owner I understand your struggles. You're doing everything right...now you just need lots of vintage loving Hamiltonians ( and maybe more people from the GTA...do you advertise in TO?) coming out to your store and spending some big $.

I wish for you nothing but success.


Grace @ Sense and Simplicity said...

Hugs coming your way. I love that you followed your dream and are using your talents. I've had a rough and busy year, but I plan on making the trek to Hamilton one day in the new year to visit your shop. Onward girl!

Anonymous said...

You are a treasure, Yen. An artist is never paid what he/she is worth. But our world is so much the richer all the same. For what it is worth, I plug your little shop and blog at random places. Even my bariatric consultant at the weight loss clinic (How's that for brutal honesty from a fatty, huh?) or my rellies from abroad. Em's Mum

Catherine said...

I've been a nurse for 37 years. I dabbled in Interior Design for a few months which paid commissions only. Hard work either way. Kudos to you for gutting it out! Your little shop brings us joy and makes the heart skip! <3

Elaine said...

loved this post! my parents owned a small store for years and i had to go in on the weekends or holidays so i understand the whole small business mindset. it IS hard. i adore your ambition and hard work for chasing your dreams! i love your little shop on insta!

Unknown said...

I can't imagine opening a shop since im a wimp with no vision, but you on the other hand live and breathe this and I can't imagine having to go through the slow times and not get paid at some points, but again, you're a tough bitch with really the greatest style and strong eye for cute shit no one else sees dirty hanging up in the thrift store. I can't believe it's been a year already since you opened though!

Lara said...

Retail IS a beast, and at the same time it's entirely personal so it becomes YOUR beast. So don't feel guilty for saying that it's really, really hard; it'd be untrue and also unfair to yourself to say otherwise.

Don't doubt yourself and your vision. The first year is really the hardest!!

g.r. montero said...

...sending you a mental hug!!!

gleeps said...

I hope you're proud of yourself, Yen - I'm certainly proud of you. Checking your blog is a part of my daily routine. I love your style, and I love your shop! I live many hundreds of miles away but hope to visit it someday. You were courageous to take a chance, and I really admire that. Wishing you all kinds of success, fun, and fulfillment with your shop. Think of how much you now know about running a business that you didn't know a year ago!

@shoppher said...

Just wanted to also say how much I've loved reading your blog all these years (and now, the instant gratification of Instagram). I'm proud of you too, which sounds weird to say when you don't know someone, though following your blog and shop makes me feel a bit like I do, you know? Best wishes to you in 2015. You have the eye, it will work out!

Erin said...

Oh, Yen, I loved this so much! Thank you for being so honest. Even though our businesses are quite different, I share many of the same stresses, doubts, and anxieties. I'm 5 years in and there are still many days that I question what the heck I'm doing and whether the hard work is worth it. It's usually a shift in goals or putting a new plan in action that gets me out of those funks. Posts like these help too. It's really comforting to know you're not alone. Keep doing what you're doing. Ottawa St. is growing exponentially these days and your business will grow right along with it! All the best in 2015! xo