Our featured shop this week is Old New Again, based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and owned by Rick and Elizabeth Duckhorn. Their story is truly an inspiration especially for people who have lost their jobs and are planning to start a small business. Let’s meet this husband and wife team and listen to Liz as she talks about the steps involved in their creative process.
What’s the inspiration behind your shop’s name?
First, we are a husband (Rick) and wife team (me, Liz). We love old things with a fresh spin, like a fresh coat of pretty paint on a dingy wooden box. My mom was an antique dealer when I was a child, and my dad has been a full-time artist ever since I can remember, really. He’s made a nice living off his art, so I learned a lot about both creating and how to sell, too. So maybe I mixed the “antique dealer” with the “artist” and that’s how I got “old with new”? Hmmm…. I just figured that out!
How old is your shop?
I opened my art shop, primoriginals almost 3 years ago. Old New Again is turning a year old this month! Woohoo! Etsy has been good to us. (Rick lost his very good job in Jan 2009, so we are so fortunate to be doing well on Etsy!).
What inspired you to start your own home business?
My parents were always self-employed. We are a very independent family and I knew from early on that I would want to have my own business. Rick has joined right in and loves having his own business!
Can you give us a peek on the creative process involved in your craft?
Rick normally buys (or finds!) our wood, but I’ve been known to go on a “wood run”.
We do things in batches so we use our time wisely. It’s typical for Rick to sand 20-30 items, then attach hooks on a big batch of items waiting, then maybe cut out a bunch of letters and states I have traced out on the boards. We are a busy shop, and we are now at a stage where I think we have a very good system for processing orders.
It’s been a long road and we are still learning (and always will be!). It helps that we are married. We can be blunt with each other without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings! On the other hand, we are together constantly. This can be hard sometimes, but we are getting used to it and figuring it out. I like to be alone more than Rick, so if I feel a bit overwhelmed, I just leave for a bit or go in a room in our house with the laptop and a glass of lemonade and CHILL!
Items are cut and sanded by Rick. I used to sand sometimes, but I hurt my hand very badly once from overdoing it. I sanded using an electric hand sander for an entire day and woke up the next morning barely able to move my fingers!
It was extremely painful, but mostly I was devastated because I needed to work! I had to wear a brace for a long time and sorta used my left hand to do everything. It was a rough time! I’m healed now (chiropractor, yeah!!!! and exercising and ice). So now I try to limit my sanding. What I’ve learned is that most sanding tools are designed for “man-sized” hands, and when women use them (heavily) they can really cause problems.
We use various saws depending on what we are doing (scroll saw, table saw, band saw, jigsaw, etc). After the cutting, the wood gets the royal treatment with the sanders. Rick’s super fussy (aka: perfectionist!), and when he’s done sanding the little buggers are super smooth!
Then it’s my turn to apply the stain. That dries a minimum of 8 hours.
The next step is to apply various mediums (those are secret, sorry!) that create the depth and textures that we love. After they dry, it’s time for the first layer of paint wash. This is where my art background comes in! I love this part, as I get to have some fun with the finish. After the first layer dries, I normally apply two more coats, letting each layer dry in between. I work on several different pieces at once, or else I would spend most of my day waiting for paint to dry!
I typically have 3-4 colors going at once. We’ve had to expand our studio at a very fast pace, with lots of drying shelves, storage units, shipping station, and tons of machinery (my new love is our Dewalt scroll saw! Some women want jewelry and nice clothes, I want new saws and sanders!). We also had to install a dust filtration system to keep us healthy. Initially, all of this equipment was costly, but we’re so happy to have it!
Then Rick gets the items again for the distressing. He does his magic, then it’s my turn again. Time for a nice coat of varnish. We don’t like glossy or matte… we love a satin finish that sort of mimics a rubbed wax finish (again, old and new!).
Most of our products have hooks on them (except the letters, words, ampersands, etc.). Rick applies the hooks and hardware on the back for hanging. Voila! Ready to go to the shipping table with the order sheet, which is my job. Oh… I stamp “oldnewagain.etsy.com” on the backs of every piece we make. 🙂
I won’t bore you here with my shipping process and computer tasks… you can imagine that part. 🙂
What was the toughest challenge you faced so far?
1) The dreaded “picture” issue. I am a perfectionist about pictures. I had a cheap point and shoot camera that was fine, but I knew I needed something better as I was spending so much time dragging my backdrops and lightbox around to various windows to get the best light (we live in Wisconsin and the light changes daily!). Then the editing was taking huge amounts of my time.
I got a DSL (Nikon D40) and it has made the photo process so much easier and also more fun! I am happy with our pics, but I am one to proclaim that EVERYONE can improve their pics. For instance, right now I’m thinking about the 3 hook sage green shelf that I want to retake! It bugs me!
2) Worrying too much about copycats. It’s one thing to be “inspired” by others, but to copy designs, colors, listings, the name of a shop, even the story behind the shop, etc. is just so wrong…. When I stumble upon a shop that is an obvious copycat (both of our shop and others’), it really hits you right in the stomach… that sort of “sick” feeling… I hate that feeling! The worry that can overtake you is really scarey.
How did you get over it?
1) I bought a nice camera. 😀
2) The first time I saw a copycat it took me several days to recover. Now I just sort of ignore it and keep on plugging away. No sense in wasting my energy and time on it! We just do the best we can and always try to stay ahead of the game with new cool, functional designs and great customer service.
We love our customers and that is our main goal: to make them happy! I am a stickler for details and keeping the customer informed, making each and every piece exactly the way I would want it myself, and getting the products out as quickly as possible.
We have a wait time, and I’m always aware that there are people waiting! This makes me want to work even harder! Lately we are both working 60 hour weeks, but we love it! We wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
the things you do when you’re not busy in your shop:
Take care of our house and hubby and two daughters (Molly, 16 and Samantha, 7) and fluffy little white dog, Teddy. Right now I’m spending a lot of time on trying to convince my husband that we NEED a bunny. ;o)
Our girls are growing up fast, so we try to work very hard when they are in school (Samantha goes to the babysitter up the street during the summer and Molly is 16 and works and is busy with her friends, etc). This way we are able to have some balance in our lives and enjoy our family. It’s taken me a long time to value routine, but it is absolutely necessary when you work at home.
I do spend a LOT of time on the forums… too much time! I’m addicted. But, I have learned a ton there! Lots of really nice, helpful, knowledgeable sellers there!!! I have also learned a lot about SEO on the forums and reading the storque on etsy. SEO is so important if you want you to take your shop to the next level. It’s a lot of work, researching and applying it to your shop, but it has really helped out sales!
stuff inside your bag you can’t leave home without:
my phone so I can answer convos when I’m not by a computer
lip gloss or balm
debit card or cash… do people use cash anymore?
(I travel light so that’s really about it!)
your favorite shops:
so so sorry about the humungous list, but hey, you asked:
sushipot (super nice seller and PERFECTIONIST!… she rocks – seriously)
noodle and lou (jenn is the absolute nicest person… she is amazing to me, and could you die when you see the little dress print!!!??? Her art makes me so happy.)
michele maule (michele has such a unique and fresh style… I have one of her prints on my mantle right now)
mystele (mystele is one of the people that gives me the goosebumps when I see her work… her style is absolutely amazing… she makes it look so easy, and it’s not)
pilosale (her “look” is so soft and appealing to me)
old crow farm (love their pics!)
art by teresa asheeley (I love paintings of ordinary things, like thermoses and RVs… just doesn’t get any better than that, don’t ya think?)
suili (could you die at how stinkin cute these are???)
lemon tree studio (absolutely A D O R A B L E)
mck254 (oh oh oh the craftsmanship… amazing)
truche (you know I love the state stuff! And her banner is to die for)
loulou and oscar (super cute loveliness)
I could go on, but I’m afraid I overstayed my welcome already. 😛
your top 3 favorite picks from your shop:
Ohhhhh I love the “holey” shelves! I invented the hole because I love flowers, but NOT ON A TABLE. I love them out of the way and in a HOLE so they will never get knocked over. This is always my fear, things getting knocked over! So I create things for others who are sorta anal that way, too. 🙂 This is why many of our items GO ON THE WALL! LOL! I love clean, clutter-free tables and countertops.
I also like the states. I must admit I don’t know every single one of them, what shape they are, so when I create a new one that I’m not familiar with, I love that I am learning! I can’t help that I had a really cute Geography teacher! Who knew I’d need to know all the states so well??!! ;o)
I think they are so unique and functional, and love it when people from say, New York, buy a North Carolina and tell me why. Many times people have relocated and want the state they grew up in on their wall. Isn’t that just the coolest thing!? I’m so sentimental. I know, I know.
Many times customers don’t tell me why they are buying a different state from where they live (I wouldn’t, I’d just order it, yk?), so I get to sort of dream up reasons. Did they meet their hubby there? Are they giving it as a gift? Do they secretly want to move there? Did they go to college there? And once I even wondered, Did they buy the wrong one? Haha!
What tips would you want to share for aspiring home based entrepreneurs like you?
If you are starting an etsy business, my two biggest pointers would be to
1) TAKE GREAT AWESOME SPECTACULAR PICS!!! Learn how to edit well… learn what makes your product stick out in the pile of other similar items, don’t be afraid to take odd angles, close-ups, and for USE ENOUGH NATURAL LIGHT.
2) Spend 90% of your time on creating MORE items, taking (and/or editing) great pics, and listing them, instead of promoting on facebook, twitter, blogs, etc (GASP!).
Some may disagree with me, but I’ve seen so many new sellers spend massive amounts of time trying to drive traffic to their shop, but when I look at their shop, they only have 15 items and the pics are dark, etc… the more items you have available, the more you will sell. It is my opinion that any shop on etsy can be improved, including ours! I use my time do improve my shop. This has been a successful method for us.
Any message to your customers and the people who support you?
WE LOVE YOU! Seriously! 🙂 We are so fortunate to have such FANTASTIC customers!!! I am not kidding, we have the BEST ones! We appreciate every single customer and strive to make them soooooooo HAPPY when they open that box! This is what makes us love what we do. To think that our shelves, letters, states, clocks, etc are on people’s walls all over the world, well that gives me goosebumps!!! THANK YOU!!!
Thanks so much Liz!