Category Archives: Business Owner of the Week

BOTW – Painting the Town Red: How one Artful Entrepreneur Took on Toronto’s Creative Scene

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In this week’s instalment of our Business Owner of the Week series, we speak to Claire Hall, founder of Claire Hall Design. 

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘artist’?

For some, the word may conjure up images of a bohemian painter holed up in a city loft with an air of eccentricity about him. Others may think of traditional caricatures of the profession; a beret-wearing man sporting a handlebar moustache with a paint palette in hand. But one image that isn’t typically associated with the word is that of a smart, savvy businesswoman — and that’s where Claire Hall breaks the mold. She rejects the ‘starving artist’ stereotype and instead, she achieves that elusive balance of both sides of the brain; the logical left with the creative right.

Claire’s innate entrepreneurial acumen has carried her business through the difficult startup phase, and at a time when consumer spending is down, her company has thrived. So what pearls of wisdom does Claire have to offer business owners? “Never do anything for the money,” she says, “Decide what it is that you love to do the most, and then find a way that you can make money doing it.”

And that’s exactly what she did.

Giving up the day job

Ever since she was a child, Claire had been creating artwork to adorn the walls of her friends and family, but it wasn’t until she reached her late twenties that her hobby became a viable business option. It all began when one day, while working as a sales manager for a high-end fashion label, she decided to upload some images of her artwork to Facebook. The response she got was overwhelming. “I just did it for fun,” she says, “but within a day I had over 20 orders. I took it as a sign, and within a week I had quit my job and was on my new career path.”

“I started off by selling to friends and family, but once those contacts were out, I had to think about marketing my business”. Claire had hit one of the roadblocks that is all too familiar for many business owners – getting sales. However, her fortune soon changed when she was featured in the Toronto Star in September 2011. Within hours of the article being published,  orders came flooding in. “My website got over 1500 hits the day the issue came out and I received around 100 orders for artwork that same day.” This experience, she says, was a turning point for her, where she realized free media exposure was the way to make her name known and get more business.

State of the Art

Claire credits the success of her business with the unique system she has in place to handle client requests and orders. “After a client has sent me a picture of their space, I’ll make a digital mock up where I superimpose different options of artwork on their walls so they can see what the art will look like in their room before I start painting.” This removes the element of surprise for clients, allowing them to see exactly what they’re getting before placing an order for a custom piece. Claire also believes that the affordability and quick turnaround of her paintings have contributed to her company’s growing success. “I am actually the only artist I know who is doing what I am doing,” she says.

Financing the dream

As any entrepreneur will know, starting your own business requires much more than just passion and artistic flair – it also requires capital. “I had some savings and used that to pay first and last month’s rent at my studio space,” Claire explains, “From there, I made sure to charge clients half up front to ensure that my supplies and time were paid for before I started.” As a VISA customer of 15 years, Claire also decided to use a VISA Business card to help manage her cash flow, “It gives me the ability to always be able to afford supplies and all the other costs associated with my business,” she says.

Perks of the package

Giving up the daily grind to start a business is a dream for many, and for Claire, the reality of owning her own company has more than met her expectations. “I just love the flexibility and freedom of making my own schedule,” she says, “I like meeting clients and getting to know people that I probably would never have met if this wasn’t my profession.” But above all else, Claire enjoys the satisfaction she gets from watching her business grow. “That’s one of the most rewarding things that I have ever experienced. The harder I work, the luckier I get!”

But as any entrepreneur will be aware, no business story is complete without a few lessons learned along the way. For Claire, she quickly learned that persistence is key. “Never give up. If you can get through the lows, the highs will be so incredibly worth it.”

Looking to the future

With the business growing organically, Claire is able to focus on developing other aspects of her business – namely prints. “Moving forward, I would like to expand the prints area of my business,” she explains, “Prints are the best way for my art to become even more affordable and more accessible to the masses.  I know that there is huge potential business to be done with prints and my goal is to be picked up by several major chain stores in the future.” But her business ambitions don’t end there. Ultimately, Claire would like to open her own high quality, affordable home décor store, and eventually she hopes to score her own interior design programme. “I’d love to become a design personality on television,” she says.

So now, with a flourishing business, a lucrative new revenue stream to grow and a move to the small screen on the cards, Claire’s story just goes to show that sometimes risking it all and following your passion really does pay off.

Click here to visit Claire’s website

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Business Owner of the Week – Monica Stanciu, Staged 2 Sell Solutions Inc.

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Professional home staging is both an art and a science. A talented home stager is able to not only maximize a property’s best features, but also minimize its flaws. Staged 2 Sell Solutions Inc. was founded by Monica Stanciu, a real estate stager specializing in vacant or lived in properties, interior decorating and furniture rental.

The best analogy to describe home staging, she says, would be to compare a property to product packaging: the better the packaging, the more likely it is that it will sell. And given that the company has helped in selling over $400 million worth of real estate since it was founded in 2007 – it would seem that her analogy is an accurate one.

Today, in the second instalment of our Business Owner of the Week series, Monica shares her entrepreneurial success story with us.

How did you come up with your business idea?

As a chemical engineer by profession and a marketing specialist by trade, if someone had asked me seven years ago about my future career path I would never have guessed that it laid in the home-staging industry. It all started when we sold our first home; it was the ugliest townhouse, but it was all we could afford at the time. But with a bit of paint, some decluttering and some elbow grease — we made it look nice, and it ended up selling at the first open house for a record price in that neighbourhood. A few years later, we sold our second home in the first day of showings for way more that we thought we could get. Friends started asking me to help sell their homes, and one day someone suggested that I should charge for the service. I had no idea that what I was doing was actually called home staging until I stumbled across an ad for staging training offered by the Canadian Staging Professionals. I got my certification in 2007.

What makes your business unique?

There are a lot of home stagers around, but what make us unique is the quality of staging inventory we use in our projects, the fact that we deliver projects on time and on budget, and our resourcefulness and creativity — we often repurpose existing furniture in order to keep the fees as low as possible. We have clients who couldn’t believe that by just moving pieces from one room to another, we were able to define the functionality of each space and deliver the ‘wow’ factor that lures buyers in. Over the years, we’ve gained some international recognition and I’ve mentored over 50 graduates — most of whom now own their own successful staging businesses.

How did you raise money to start your business?

I started with $3000 and our vacation money, and invested all of it into marketing and a few staging accessories. I was lucky that my husband was able to support our family during my first year of business. After I started to get clients, I invested everything back into my business and increased my inventory. Renting out staging accessories is another revenue stream that adds to our bottom line.

What do you love about being a small business owner?

When I started, I thought that having more free time would be the biggest bonus of owning my own  business. Now, although I work many days more than eight hours a day, I have the flexibility to choose the hours I want to work or when I want to be home with my family. I can afford to take a full month off over the summer and travel overseas or go skiing for two weeks in the winter while my business is still bringing money in. But when I do work, I work hard. What I love the most is that I get to help people make more money on their investments and make a nice living out of it — it’s very rewarding.

What lessons have you learned?

To be persistent, patient and try to do things differently. Stay on top of industry developments, continue educating yourself and develop a marketing and business plan and stick to it.

What are your plans and goals for the future?

I want to develop my second staging team to allow me to focus more on developing my business and brand to attract more clients.

If you could offer one piece of advice to someone who wants to start their own business, what would it be?

If you have a dream, follow through. It is very easy to be discouraged at the beginning, but the more you work on your business, the more successful you will become.  I might be old- fashioned, but I truly believe that more work equals more success.

To visit Monica’s company website, click here

 

Business Owner of the Week – Sharon Middup, Rac n Roll

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Rac n Roll is the brainchild of Sharon Jayne Middup, affectionately referred to by her customers as ‘the bag lady’. Her business idea was born after several years of juggling costumes, makeup cases and garment bags while packing for her daughter’s dance competitions; and after one too many years of chaos, she felt compelled to try and find a solution. The result was a practical pull-along bag that keeps dance gear visible, mobile and easily accessible.  Today, in the first instalment of our Business Owner of the Week series, Sharon shares her entrepreneurial story with us.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I came up with the concept for Rac n Roll while my daughter was competing in dance competitions. There was a large room packed with dancers, but there was nowhere for them to store any of their costumes, accessories or personal belongings. It’s essential that dancers are organized before they perform, so I soon realised that there was a gap in the market that could be filled.

What makes your business unique?

The unique design of Rac n Roll means that once the bag is assembled it becomes a closet on wheels. Not only does the dancer then have her very own portable wardrobe, but it’s also ideal for travelling and for use as a suitcase. It’s very versatile and ideal for sales people – particularly in the clothing industry. It’s a great way for them to be able to show their product to customers.

How did you raise money to start your business?

Raising capital to start a business is extremely difficult, but I was fortunate to be able to take a small loan from my husband’s company. With his backing I was able to start small without getting into any debt.

What do you love about being a small business owner?

The amazing part of owning your own business is looking back to the beginning and realizing how much both you and your company have grown. There are ups and downs, but I can’t think of anything else I would rather do. You get to choose your own hours and decide how to fit working life around your family. I still have to pinch myself everyday.

What advice do you have for people who want to start up their own business?

Start small and surround yourself with great people. I also highly recommend using BizLaunch’s online courses and materials – Andrew is the most motivating person I know and I took his course twice. I’d also advise people to try to think with their heads and not their hearts, but above all else, I would say to anyone who has an idea to follow it through.

What are your plans and goals for the future?

I currently sell in the US and Canada and have recently introduced the product to the UK. Sales haven’t been great there so far, but I’ll keep trying. I’m also trying to obtain an Australian business number with a goal to expand there in future. Ultimately, I would love to help other entrepreneurs reach their goals.

To visit the Rac n Roll website, click here