Many small businesses have a strong sense of place that comes from being based in a specific community, whether it’s a business district, a small town, or a neighborhood. Often, small businesses get a competitive advantage by supporting their surrounding community and becoming well known as a hub of activity and inspiration for the people who live there.
One small business that is putting this spirit of community at the heart of their business strategy is HomeGrown Decatur, a one-of-a-kind local art store based in Decatur, Georgia. Offering “artful goods, local roots,” HomeGrown Decatur is Atlanta’s only exclusively local, co-op style artist market.
We talked with Lori Ronca, co-owner and CEO of HomeGrown Decatur (and a Kabbage customer) about why her business is growing bigger by embracing and supporting small local artists.
How did you decide to become a Kabbage customer, and how did your small business loan help you grow your business?
We discovered Kabbage just as we determined that the best way to grow HomeGrown’s bottom line was through adding a wholesale component that we didn’t currently have and did not have an existing budget for.
We operate largely on a co-op model. Artists pay a monthly membership fee to sell work here and the shop collects a commission on sales. Member-artists own their inventory and control the amount of artwork that they bring to HomeGrown.
This arrangement has, in the past, sometimes left HomeGrown not as well stocked as we would like. Additionally, our artists and producers make their work by hand; production amounts are limited by the amount they can physically make. Busy holiday shopping seasons often wipe out their stock long before the shopping season has concluded and, having no backstock of items, sales opportunities are missed.
How did Kabbage make it possible for you to do something new or do “more” than what you were already doing?
Kabbage funds have allowed us to buy art and handmade goods wholesale from local producers, thereby increasing our ability to have a consistent inventory for our customers. We are able to sell the work of more local artists, target specific desired items, and carry seasonal items we would not normally have. Specifically, more local food items, specialized accessories, and holiday ornaments. Kabbage funds have also allowed us to buy work from artists that aren’t able or interested in being a long-term member artist at our co-op.
So, in essence, Kabbage’s financing has resulted in the representation of more local artists and a more consistent level and variety of inventory.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Local artists and small producers often lack an affordable brick-and-mortar home for their work. While there are options for online sales, such as eBay and Etsy, you need a physical location to really gauge how shoppers react to your work and to begin to build a brand.
As a local artist, I sold through a co-op style artist market and saw the value it provided to not only artists, but to shoppers looking for unique art and items.
I was inspired to start HomeGrown after realizing just how amazing the talent in my own community was. I wanted to connect the small producers and emerging artists with a community that appreciates and supports items produced locally, and believes in the “Shop Small, Shop Local” mentality.
What does your business do differently from other companies in your field – what makes you unique?
We sell work produced exclusively by Georgia artists with a mission to launch emerging artists and craftspeople onto a larger stage.
Unlike other artist markets, we view our 100+ artists as clients and we work closely with them on inventory selection, product development, and branding. We provide in-depth reports highlighting sales trends as they pertain to their individual work and strive to grow their brand/name recognition within Atlanta and beyond. We believe by helping small producers grow and become more successful, we grow both our business and reputation.
We take the business end of things very seriously, but work hard to create a quirky, refreshing, and unique store experience for shoppers. It’s fun here! For example, our store has a Shrine to Mr. T, where visitors can pay their respects and take pictures, a shop fridge that our customers decorate with graffiti, plus unique shopping events, such as December’s Desperate Dude Days (geared towards those last minute male shoppers). All of these things help create a sense of “place” that draws visitors back.
What types of artists do you work with?
Georgia-based artists and craftspeople in all media, including fine art, print work, wood, glass, textiles, pottery, local foods, and jewelry. We also feature the work of several local student artists, ages 8-18.
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned from running your own business?
That the terrain is always changing and you must be responsive to the ever-changing factors that affect your business.
What’s the biggest challenge of running your own business?
Staffing. As a small, independent business, it is definitely a challenge to find the right balance between doing tasks myself and delegating. However, my co-owner Beth Thompson and I have learned that if we don’t delegate and are consumed by the day-to-day minutiae of running the shop, we are not doing our job as business owners to grow, market, and plan for HomeGrown’s future.
Basically, if we’re always swabbing the decks, there’s no one steering the ship. We need to steer the ship. But, it has certainly been difficult to find the right “deck hands” to bring on board. That is an ongoing challenge that I think a lot of small business owners can relate to.
What are some overall trends that you’re seeing right now in your market, or for small business owners in general? What makes this a good time to be a small business owner? Do you feel like there is increasing interest in local art?
There is a lot of community interest in supporting independent business currently. That feeds into supporting small, independent producers and artists, and we frequently hear from customers that they prefer spending their money with an independent retailer and keeping their consumer dollars in their own community.
Similar to the “Farm to Table” movement in foods, many consumers want to know the origin of the products they purchase and will choose a “mall-ternative” when they shop.
One big trend we’ve seen is that more people are giving locally produced art and goods as gifts. It’s viewed as a more personal gift than a mass-produced, big box item.
What makes the Decatur art scene unique?
Decatur is often referred to as “Where Berkeley meets Mayberry.” It’s a small town, but progressive. It’s folksy, but cosmopolitan. Decatur has a motto to “Keep it InDiECATUR” to encourage residents to shop local. There are many small, independent retailers here and Decatur is a mecca for folks in neighboring communities for food, drink, and shopping.
I believe Decatur’s appeal is that you don’t find the same thing here as you would elsewhere. It’s got its own unique eclectic style.
What advice would you offer to other small business owners?
Pay attention to the numbers! Track not just sales, but best-selling items, slowest moving items, busy vs. slow times, average foot traffic per hour, per day, etc., and make business decisions based on concrete information. We’ve refined staffing needs and inventory needs, plus managed overhead costs such as supplies and packaging, by paying attention to those numbers and making decisions accordingly that grow our profitability.
And take advantage of free resources for small business. We meet with a University of Georgia Small Business Development Center consultant quarterly. It’s 100% free. Having an outside set of eyes look at our annual budgets, Profit and Loss Statements, etc. and give us feedback and ideas has proven to be invaluable.
Constantly evaluate how effective and successful your current practices are. Be willing to change and improve. Never keep doing something just because it’s the way you’ve always done it!
Follow HomeGrown Decatur on Twitter at @HomeGrownArts, on Facebook at @HomeGrownDecaturFans, or on Pinterest.com/homegrowndec.
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