Business Gals: Emily Benziger of Fine Life Co

I am thrilled to be chatting with the talented woman behind Fine Life Co,  Emily Benziger. In this age of fast fashion and items that hold no real value, Emily has set foot to create a marketplace that is far from that. From swoon worthy  clothing to a well-curated vintage section, to desert prints taken by Emily's mother, there is certainly no shortage of beauty found at Fine Life Co. 

Tell us a little bit about Fine Life Co. How and when did it all begin? 

Fine Life Co is an online women's & home shop based around the concept of new, found and made. The idea of owning my own shop stems back to years in retail through high school and beyond. Working at a local boutique during the rise of eccomerce really gave me a taste of both worlds, but I quickly became infatuated with the online industry. I studied a little bit about it in school, did my own "research" by shopping too much, then finally took the leap and opened FLCO a little over a year and a half ago!

Can you walk us through a typical work-day routine?

Right now things are pretty hectic, as I still work full-time for a local family business- crazy, I know! Monday-Friday I work in their office (often multi-tasking FLCO on the side), drop orders at the Post Office, get off work and pack orders from the day, answer emails, organize new inventory, etc. I spend most of Saturday working on the shop, which typically involves shooting any new products, getting it online and creating content to post for the week. 

You've got such a beautiful store filled with everyday essentials; can you name some items you can't life without? 

Oh man... tough as I love/use so much! Can't live without my Favor ring stacks- so many options! I probably wear Miranda Bennett pieces 2-3 times a week- they're that good + so comfy. I live for Rose Face Mist by Herbivore Botanicals & spritz on my face before bed- it's incredibly soothing + calming. You can always find PF candles burning around my house and workspace. Last but not least, our Tucson Tote by Apolis is an everyday carry for me- I use them to tote around shipments, then grocery shopping afterwards!

 

Running a business can be exhausting -- both mentally, physically, and creatively. What are some ways you keep inspired?

It sure can! Some days it's just a little change in scenery or a new discovery here in our beautiful town that get's me going on new content. Other times it's browsing the internet for way too long, to finally discover that perfect piece on Etsy that customer's would love, or a new designer that we HAVE to carry. I get easily excited, and from there my brain spews out ideas. Also, the studio (more on that below) has brought on a whole new concept of inspiration, which has been so much fun!

I am passionate about... 

Loved ones, Arizona and our local community, well-made products, plants I can't kill, photography, sunsets, etc etc. 

What is the best piece of advice you could give someone who is pursuing their own retail business? 

Owning a retail business takes a ton of dedication, hard-work, creativity, long hours, etc etc. Nothing happens over-night, but it's the most rewarding/fulfilling experience and I can't recommend going for it enough!

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Any exciting new projects planned for the future? 

We are currently in the middle of a studio renovation (!!) I'm so excited to have a space to be more creative, meet with customers face to face + looking forward to having the second bedroom in my house back. ;)

All images courtesy of Fine Life Co. 

Business Gals: Casey Shagena of Menagerie

Portland is filled with many wonderful shops, however, Menagerie shines brighter than most. They are located in the most charming renovated Airstream, which is filled with a wonderfully curated selection of products that are great for you and make the earth happy. On top of that, they proudly support local makers and only carry well-crafted goods that are made with meaning and purpose. I was able to chat with Casey, owner, about how she made her dreams come true and what it takes start up and run a successful business. 

  You can find them at: Tidbit Food, Farm & Garden, 2880 SE Division Street, Portland, OR

1. So tell us all a little bit about Menagerie and how it all began. What made you decide to choose an Airstream over a traditional brick-and-mortar shop? 

Since I was young, I always wanted to open a boutique that supports small-shop makers and artists. My background is in package design for beauty brands and small businesses, and natural beauty is an industry I care deeply about. Opening Menagerie allowed me to create a space where good design and good-for-you products could live hand in hand. I have to admit, having the shop in an Airstream is such a dream! The idea all started when Lou (my boyfriend) and I were both working as freelance designers in Chicago and decided to Portland so we could open a small store (and because we love the design community and nature out here)! After spending a little bit of time exploring the neighborhoods, I realized that one of the most unique things about Portland is its food cart scene. Then the idea dawned on me, “wouldn’t it be amazing to house the boutique in a mobile setting instead of a brick and mortar store like everyone else?” It allows the shop so much flexibility to move if I want to move and gives people a different shopping experience than a regular storefront. So I bought the trailer, completely restored it and kept it as open and light as possible so all of the products could shine. Right now, the shop is parked year round in a new outdoor market on SE Division Street called Tidbit with some of the best food carts in Portland. AND we just happen to be situated next to the only other retail cart in the city! It’s a dream come true.

2. What do you look for when sourcing items for Menangerie? 

I always start with packaging and aesthetic. Maybe it’s the designer in me, but I refuse to put anything on the shelves that doesn’t have a thoughtful style and package. Then I look at the makers behind it. Do they care about the ingredients and quality that goes into making the goods? Do they have a similar philosophy as we do and what’s their story? Are they friendly, kind, “good people”? If the answer is yes, I try the products out for myself and make a decision.

3. The best part about running a business out of an Airstream is. . . 

Being part of the food cart community! Because I’m only one of two retail carts in Portland, my neighbors, friends and business sounding boards are the food cart owners. Every day I witness unparalleled tenacity, hard work and passion from these folks. Food cart owners are some of the hardest working and talented business people in the city and it makes me humbled and feel most at home to be working along side them. I also love the flexibility that owning an Airstream gives me. I own the trailer so I can do with it what I please!

4. The most challenging part is. . . 

Getting people to know the shop is here. Because the boutique isn’t situated in a traditional retail setting next to multiple other brick-and-mortar shops, I work extra hard to get the word out that the store is here! Come in! And yes we sell goods! The store recently opened in September so it’s growing organically by word of mouth, which is exactly what I want.

4. What does the average work day look like for you? 

I wear many hats from day to day in operating the boutique to owning and running a growing design business as well. My typical day usually consists of client calls, design or illustration work, planning social media and new product updates for the store and website, scoping out Pinterest for new small beauty brands, going to estate sales, doing the shop financials and oh yeah! working in the actual store! Thankfully I have Nadia, our sales associate and Lou who often helps work in the shop when I can’t. My days always include some sort of schlepping goods to and from the shop, creating plant arrangements for sale and if I’m lucky eating too much Ramen with Lou and getting out for a much needed hike in Forest Park. Having the ability to go for a hike on a busy afternoon is one of the main reasons we decided to move to this gorgeous city! Clean my apartment? Ummm… maybe not so much.

5. In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting a small business? 

1) Are your relationships strong and do you have (emotional) support? The road is as tough as it is rewarding. Especially in retail, no matter how small. I’ve been doing the design business for a while and it’s a world away from opening a store. There are going to be good days and hard days…sometimes really hard days…and having strong relationships whether it’s a patient significant other, best friend, business mentor or family member, you’re going to need their support.

2) Do you understand finances, or (but mostly AND) do you have a willingness to learn? I’ve always considered myself to be really good with money and managing budgets, but I’ve learned so much in terms of financial planning in the last 5 months of being open. There are so many small business owners with, amazing ideas, but struggle or don’t make it because they don’t know how to manage their finances. You don’t have to go to school for finance, you just have to be willing to learn and work really hard!

3) Do you have a point of view? This one is tough for a lot of small business owners, myself included. Everyone on Instagram and Pinterest look so creative, they have such good ideas. The ideas seem like they’re all taken. Your business doesn’t have to be completely novel or new, but having a point of view will help set you apart from the millions of creative people out there trying to do the same thing you are. For my design business, it was deciding to only work on beauty/fashion brands and, besides one of my long time small clients who works with large retailers, deciding to only work with small to medium sized companies. For the shop, it was deciding to go a non-traditional route with the storefront and similarly, to only work with small makers and artists for the sake of making a difference.

6. What's the best piece of advice for dealing with difficult customers? 

Put yourself in their shoes and don’t become negative. What are they really looking for by sending you that nasty email? Most people just want to be heard and get their point across… without thinking about their manners first. My advice is to not take it personally. Try to figure out the underlying issue of what they want and strive to be empathetic. I’ve dealt with some really difficult design clients in the past. The worst thing to say to someone who is being problematic is “no, that won’t work” (even if you want to scream no!). My answer is always “yes, and here’s how”. Approaching things positively but also sticking to your guns is the best way to gain trust and respect. Kill ‘em with kindness (and be strong minded) is what my mom always taught me!

7. Can you name the biggest lesson you've learned running a business? 

Honestly, I’m still learning new things every day! I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that things rarely go the way you plan. Some things happen slower, some things faster, some easier, some harder. Maybe this week my sales are down but there are a ton of positive people through the shop doors. And the next week sales are up but we have a leak in the roof and no time to fix it! I’ve learned to be open to change and evaluate circumstances as they happen.

8. Lastly, what inspires you most? 

Nature, hard-working people, my parents, and other small business owners.

Business Gals: Rodellee from Adored Vintage

I can honestly say that Adored Vintage is one of my favorite vintage shops. Rodellee has such a keen eye for beauty, detail and curating vintage to feel fresh and modern. Whenever I need to be inspired, aesthically or business wise, I head on over to her Instagram or site. Her ideas are always fresh and her brand is always evolving. You can tell she puts her heart and soul into her business and everything she creates is wonderful. So.... enough talk! Let's hear what Rodellee has to say!

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When did you first get into vintage clothing? 

I’ve been a fan of vintage since I was a child without realizing I was into vintage. It’s mostly because of my Mother. She sewed many of my clothes (and her own) and unbeknownst to me, most of these clothes were based on vintage patterns from the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

What is your average working day like? 

Depending on what’s on the schedule I can get started at 6 AM or 11 AM. I try not to make my days too monotonous and try to take time a couple days a week to honor some leisure quiet time which involves reading (usually history related) and a cup of good coffee. On a regular work day I’m in the office by 8AM, check my emails, check for orders, and write down a list of things I want to accomplish that day. Then I just work down the list and put on music usually 70s folk rock, show tunes, or classical.

What do you look for when you are sourcing items for your shop? 

My eyes are always drawn to my favorite colors which are usually neutrals and pale shades of pink and peach. I also always have my eyes open for lace, florals, and pretty feminine lines that are classic and timeless.

What is your favorite vintage find to date? 

Oh there are so many! Some vintage finds are my favorite because of its provenance or my made up story behind it. Others are my favorite because they’re the most wearable and I wear my vintage down to the threads! I have a vintage pale pink 1970s maxi skirt that has a 30s bias cut that I wear at least a couple dozen times a year. 

What are the top three things someone should consider before starting up a business? 

Ask yourself why you want to start a business. Then consider all the pros and cons for the business. Like really think about the pros and cons. I’ve received several emails from women that have decided to quit running their vintage shops because they didn’t realize how much work it involved. You have to really love what it is you do or want to do so during those times you’re “running the business” you’re just as passionate about your chosen vocation. Once you’ve got your pros and cons panned out, then ask yourself how will you get it all going.

How do you deal with difficult customers? 

I’m a very small business and have one part time assistant so I want to make sure customer service is personal and professional. I don’t know what is going on with the other person’s life so I try never to assume anything about a situation and just face things as they come. Luckily I’ve had very, very few difficult customers!

How do you promote your business and what do you think gets the best response? 

Quite accidentally Instagram has become the most responsive promotional tool I use. I like to share what is inspiring me, things of beauty, and behind the scenes of running an online vintage shop (although, let’s be honest, it’s edited for Instagram! You won’t see the piles of mess in my stock room!) I love that I can have a conversation and easily connect with girls that like the same things I  like.

Being your own boss is great, but it can be difficult to stay motivated at times (at least for me!) How do you get out of these ruts? 

I know the feeling oh too well! There are some weeks where I work 8-10PM (or later) because I’m in the zone. Then I burn out. Which is why I start taking those mornings where I allow myself to have a nice long breakfast, make a cup of coffee, catch up on reading, tend to my plants… it is so important to do things for yourself separate from your work!

The best part about running your own business is...

visualizing an idea and then making it happen and the creative journey of that process!  

The most challenging part is..... 

visualizing an idea and then realizing it’s just not going to happen in the time or way I want it to. But then you just try something else.

What is the next step for your business?

Oh goodness! I am going to be very transparent and honest that I’m not really clear on what that is yet! Other than I want to keep doing what I do but in a slightly different way and I want to expand from just selling vintage. Oh, and open up a brick + mortar shop. So, I kind of know what the next steps are, but it’s more a question about which patch do I take my first steps in to get there because currently there are a few different paths to choose, but the final destination is pretty much the same.

WEBSITE | SHOP | INSTAGRAM

Business Gals: Jessica from House Working

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As a vintage seller, I often wonder how other successful ladies run their business. Being your own boss can be amazing, as well as challenging, so having a support base is very important. I am so blessed to surround myself with successful, wonderful women who are passionate about the same things I am. "Business Gals" will be a bi-weekly feature and will include lots of awesome ladies, so stay tuned! First up will be the lovely Jessica, who is behind the lovely shop called Houseworking.

I found Jessica through Instagram and was completely in love with her aesthetic. She has a wonderful eye and seems to be very lucky when it comes to thrifting! Hope you enjoy the interview! 

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When did you first get into vintage goods?

I clearly remember my first vintage purchase: a deep red v-neck cashmere sweater that smelled like mothballs, purchased for maybe a quarter at my grandmother's church rummage sale. I was eleven, My So-Called Life was my favorite thing ever, and I desperately wanted to have big, grunge-y old man sweaters like Angela Chase.

What is your average working day like?

I do most of my picking on weekends, when I hit flea markets and estate sales. My fiance likes vintage too (mostly clothes and records for him), so we make dates out of it, going out for lunch or dinner in between stops.  During the week, I usually pack orders in the evenings so that I can start my day with a walk to the post office, which gets me out of bed and ready to work. I am very easily distracted, especially at home with music, my sleepy cat trying to snuggle me, sunshine coming through the window...but if I buckle down and start my work right away, I get in the zone and am a lot less tempted by those distractions. I usually make myself a Chemex full of coffee and get it all of the tedious photographing and listing done at once. 

What do you look for when you are sourcing items for your shop? 

My personal rule is to only buy items that I would have in my own home. More often than not, I will find something I love, keep it for a while, and then sell it when I'm ready to let it go. Integrity is important to me and I would never be comfortable trying to sell something I wouldn't personally own. Though my items aren't all from the same era or have the same style, I think having a genuine love for each item gives my shop an intimate feel -- like being in a friend's home where you just covet all over their beautiful things.

What is your favorite vintage find to date? 

What a tough question! I think right now my favorite find is a Hasko Mystic Board from 1940. It's a  wooden ouija board with amazing hand painted details. I had been eyeing it at a local antique shop for about a year and finally pulled the trigger on it recently -- it definitely wasn't an incredible deal, but it's something special.

How do you deal with difficult customers? 

As hard as it is sometimes, "kill 'em with kindness" really is the way to go. After you've done that, go home, drink a big glass of wine and know that you can't control what other people do. 

How do you promote your business and what do you think gets the best response? 

Etsy is so self-contained that I don't do very much outside of it to promote my shop; people find me quite easily just by searching for keywords or items. I'm also very into instagram. I usually do a post when I've added new items to my shop (but I'm careful not to over-post or spam people!)

Being your own boss is great, but it can be difficult to stay motivated at times (at least for me!) How do you get out of these ruts? 

My fiance runs a small record label, also from our home. He comes home from his 9-5 every day and spends hours into the night working on artwork, packing packages, and sending emails. His passion for what he does constantly impresses me and helps me stay motivated. When I'm feeling down or having a slow week sales-wise, I'll go through my shop feedback and read what people have said. Looking back at someone saying "hey, this is amazing, thanks so much!" is like a little pat on the back and makes me want to keep doing what I do.

The best part about running your own business is....

I'm admittedly a bit of a control freak so getting to do everything exactly how I want to is pretty darn satisfying.

The most challenging part is..... 

Running a vintage business from a 750sf apartment that I share with another person (and his business!). Oy.

What is the next step for your business? 

Opening a brick and mortar shop within the next couple of years. Vintage home goods, books, and records. I'm hugely inspired by General Store in SF & Venice, Book/Shop in Oakland, and Maven Collective in Portland. Those shops are so full of heart and soul, and it shows.