Here at Creative California, we serve a host of clients across and even outside of the U.S. But our main mission is to support businesses in our own back yard. That’s why we’re re-invigorating our Creative Crush series, where we profile small businesses doing big things around Sacramento. (See here for our first profile of our own client, The Local Bark).
This time around, we thought we’d seek out a new business that opened its doors this year to the ever-growing creative class in Midtown Sacramento. Harmony Rogue Interiors is rogue indeed, in that it’s one of the few retail spaces amid a sea of restaurants and bars on Midtown’s busy J St. We sat down with business owner Jennifer Keller to chat about how she parlayed a foundation in art into a small business. Her shop, which opened in April of this year, is a window into her colorful, eclectic perspective.
The storefront alone represents the small town charm of Sacramento, with its arched signage and eclectic shoes and books arranged to entice you inside. Once I ventured inside, I noticed Jennifer assisting shoppers with quirky recommendations and the confidence of someone with an art background. We sit down in the middle of her store for a brief interview, and I observe that she feels no need to remove herself from our conversation to jump on customers who walk in. She has an easygoing confidence and a laid back willingness to help, but a venture into her shop does not mean you’ll be hawked over. I may or may not have lingered afterward to browse her collectibles!
CC: Describe your business and what makes it awesome, in your humble opinion.
JK: I have a vintage shop with home décor, with furniture and a little bit of fashion. What makes it awesome is that I’m really passionate about it and that I get to be creative painting furniture and curating things that are “Harmony Rogue.”
CC: What is your background? Describe your education and work experience.
JK: I got my studio art degree at Humboldt State and went on to work in art galleries in San Francisco and Sacramento. I worked in frame shops, galleries, art supply stores, and the KVIE art auction. (Which I still do, and it’s coming up with the on-air auctioning. I’ll be the art expert for the auction). It’s very creative and fun, and adding the vintage to it really plays well with the art. Art businesses struggle a little bit more in my experience so it’s nice to pair the two. The art really sets off the furniture and the art gives it a face to see it against, not just floating in a gallery. It gives it a vignette.
CC: Why did you start your business?
I was getting really interested in vintage and I had a spot over at the Antique Mall but I wasn’t getting the right exposure there. I just really loved Midtown. I live in Midtown and I really want to work here, and having a shop on J St. really makes a difference with foot traffic. It really pays for itself; it’s totally worth it. And I could go out and get a job, but I prefer to work for myself because I work to my own drum beat. I’ve always been interested in creative entrepreneurial stuff, and between the vintage and the location and the art, that’s the way it was going!
CC: What are the pros and cons of owning a business in Sacramento?
I like to have a little peace and quiet, which Sacramento definitely has. But it would be great if this was more of a solid retail area. We’ve got a lot of yoga studios and restaurants and bars. It’d be nice to see the retail meet with that and maybe be open a little bit later, and have the street feel a little bit safer after dark for groups of people to tour around after work or on the weekends after their dinner or whatever. You have to go through some dead zones before you’re back into an area with businesses. There are little blocks like that like the MARRS Building – they’re doing well. But after a certain hour, it seems like it’s just a lot of people on their bar crawls.
CC: What is the biggest risk you’ve taken that’s paid off?
JK: Probably the location. It was more than I wanted to spend – although it was a pretty good deal being on J, it’s a pretty small shop – I lucked out with a great landlord. I’m next to Fleet Feet which is a huge draw. For every marathon in this region, you have to go sign up at Fleet Feet. I viewed the space and it was all of a sudden happening. I didn’t really plan on getting the space but it worked out and I’m really glad I did!
CC: Has your business taken a different direction or form than you initially planned?
JK: Yeah, I do business online with Chairish.com and I didn’t expect to do that. I’m also doing a blog, and getting into more of the styling, and creating blog content to add value for people who come to the site. I want to make it a place where they want to hang out and check out photographs and articles and the blog. It’s interesting doing both and a way for people to stay connected when they’re away from the shop. Slowly but surely, [the digital marketing] is on the upswing with the blog and online sales.
CC: What type of business form do you have — sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and what are the advantages of the form you’ve chosen?
JK: I have sole proprietorship and the advantages are “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” I’ve been in a partnership and it’s tricky. It’s like a marriage in that you have to be a really good communicator, which I actually am, but it’s more dealing with different points of views. I like to get involved with different partnerships out in the community where it’s like, ‘let’s team up and do a project together,’ but when it comes to my business, I like to be the sole proprietor so I can make the call.
CC: How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?
JK: My parents are artists. My dad’s an art teacher. They met in college in an art class. We had a ceramic studio attached to the house. So [it was only natural that] I got into art and this is nice because there’s a lot more crafting involved so it’s not a ‘serious art academic philosophy’. The idea of the more serious kind of art is kind of a turn off to me. [My shop is] not as serious. It can be a little more light-hearted.
CC: How do social and economic environments impact your business?
JK: When [the economy] took a downswing, the art community in Sacramento really felt it. So that was one of the pushes to get started doing vintage because shopping went down, but vintage was a little more attainable and useful.
CC: How did you determine the size of team you would need to support you in your business?
JK: I’d love to grow and get employees but for now, it’s just me. I have a little help if I want to take a vacation or if I get sick, but in general it’s just me. It’s doable, but of course I’d like to hire on and have a little bit more time, vacation, and freedom to do a little shopping for the shop, or go on site and do some photography for a blog post. For now, I’m just four months in. Being here and running the store is super easy. Doing the inventory is a little bit more challenging and finding the right things for the shop, and that’s about my bandwidth. When I’m here I can work on the website.
CC: Do you know who your competitors are? Is a big part of your business plan focused on competing or do you tend to focus on your own developments?
JK: I don’t compete much. In fact, I think the more the merrier. I’d like to see Sacramento have more style as far as vintage goes. Scout Living is great, and if somebody’s looking for something I don’t have in stock, I’ll send them their way. And Tina’s is right down the street and I’m a customer there. I think it’s nice to have a hub because all of our efforts aid each other. I’m sure I’m naïve in that sense.
CC: How do you market your business? How are people aware of your business?
JK: A lot of social media – Facebook and Instagram, which feeds out to Twitter. I don’t spend a whole lot of time on Twitter. Basically I want to get everyone to the website so they can see the blog and get funneled into the online shop. It’s a growing thing. Photographs are my favorite type of media so that’s why I gravitate toward Facebook and Instagram.
CC: What is the most fun part about being a small business owner? The most challenging?
JK: The most fun is playing with the styling. I love projects and making things look cute. The most challenging is the stuff under the hood – dealing with the books, dealing with ‘Oh, I’ve got to replace a light bulb that I can’t reach.’ All those little details that are not as glamorous, they’re not up front. A dream job – I don’t know if there is such a thing. You can create as much of it as you can, but when it comes down to it there are always those times when it’s not dreamy.
CC: Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? Ten years?
JK: In a year, I hope to be rocking and rolling with foot traffic and able to get employees and have grown on a local level. And in five years, I would hope to be doing national business with the online shop and having relationships with more affluent people in the field. And in ten years, same!
CC: Where do you feel like you’re the weakest? Need the most help? Maybe don’t know where to start?
JK: Probably the financials and the bookkeeping. But I’m taking steps to get that under control. I have a great accountant so that’s a good thing. I’d also like to be more of a destination, versus just people coming through via foot traffic. The other thing is, being a sole proprietor and being alone, I don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of. The closest I have is pitching a question to my personal page [on Facebook] or talk to my boyfriend. He knows nothing about this stuff, but he’s really supportive. Or just other artists I know who might not have the business sense but have the style sense. Yeah, just being in a bubble in the shop. That’s something I hope to change.
CC: What do you find most exciting about being in Sacramento right now?
JK: It seems to be growing and everyone is talking about the Kings stadium and I can see it daily driving around – developments starting back up, and there’s the McVillage (McKinley Village) opening up.
It feels like something’s bubbling up. Sacramento’s been saying that for a long time, so I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for things to really get off the ground because I think a lot of cool stuff is happening. I’m hopeful for the future, and I think it is slowly getting to a point where we bridge it to that point.
CC: What piece of advice would you pass on to someone about to open up his or her own business for the first time?
JK: You want to be really prepared in some regards but you also want to start before you’re ready because if you had everything covered, you wouldn’t do it. Be willing to take a risk. Location, location, location. And make sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing, that it’s not just for the money.