Last summer we had the chance to visit with Cat Seto, designer and shop owner of Ferme à Papier. Cat was kind enough to show us around her boutique/studio and give us the every day details of running a small business in San Francisco.
We are so thrilled to be debuting a new interview series on our blog called Shop Visits! We will be spending time with some shop owners around the country and talking to them about their experiences and insight into the world of independent craft, wholesaling, and retail. Back in December we had the chance to take a little road trip up to Ojai and visit the perfectly styled and curated shop, Summer Camp. Rachel and Michael Graves re-vamped an old gas station in Ojai and turned it into a lovely shop featuring many of our favorite RCF makers. Rachel was kind enough to offer some insight into their business.
What is the history of Summer Camp? Why did you choose this theme?
I was a girl scout and went to every camp every year so the name is near and dear to me. We both have a love for mid-century and the outdoors so its really combining all of our favorite things.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I have worked in retail for 15 years and Mike and I have a combined framing experience of over 10 years.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
We had always dreamed of owning a shop but never thought we could make it happen. We really fell in love with Ojai and knew it was the right fit and the right time.
What are some important factors that potential business owners should consider before taking that leap?
Starting a business can be risky so I would try to minimize risk, such as keeping a full time job and starting your own business part time. Try to keep costs down because they add up quickly..don’t try to have the perfect business right out of the gate. You can build your business slowly and keep your debt level low.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
We always try to stay positive but we did have a bit of natural disaster a few months after opening. The majority of our merchandise was damaged in a flood from a bad rainfall…we lost a lot of vintage items that we can’t replace but in the end we made the best of it. We had great support from our friends, the community, and our vendors. We were able to get items replaced quickly and back in business. As a shop owner you have to expect the unexpected and just know that it could always be worse!
What has been your proudest moment since opening?
Knowing how many people we have reached since opening (thanks to Instagram) is pretty amazing….to be able to create something that people love is the reason we do it!
What would it take to make you feel successful?
I think success is a mind set and not so much a monetary marker so I have felt successful since day one. Just having the courage to open the shop and the positive feedback from the community has been more reward than any amount of money. Seeing a kid smiling in the shop or hearing stories of people who come to Ojai just to visit our shop is just the best!
What changes do you want to make in your business in the next 5 years?
We are currently renovating a vintage trailer with Brody Travel Supply that will serve as a mobile shop…we want to bring Summer Camp on the road! We also will be expanding our online shop so we can reach more people.
What are some of your favorite products/makers in the shop currently?
We love all our makers but some of our favorites are PF Candle Co, Small Adventure, Bernscott Pottery, Chaparrel Studio, Moon calendars by Margins Imprints and Secret Holiday Co.
What advice do you have for any potential business owners out there?
It’s a 24/7 job so be prepared…you will work harder than you ever thought but it will be so much more rewarding.
As a buyer, when do you do most of your product research and ordering?
We typically buy small but the holidays are our best season so we stock up in the fall…we also do a bit of ordering in March and April since summer is a high tourist season. But we are always looking for new makers so its a constant process.
What are some tips you have to vendors out there wanting to get more wholesale orders?
I love when a vendor sends me a personalized email or sends a sample to the store! I wish I could order from everyone who approaches us but unfortunately that isn’t realistic.
What sets a vendor apart? When receiving an order, does a pretty package and presentation with a hand written note make a big difference in remembering the vendor, or would you prefer straight to the point demeanor?
As much as love pretty packaging I prefer great communication with my vendors. I am friends with many of the people we order from and it helps us connect with the items which in turns helps the customers connect with the story behind the products.
Any important resources or tools you want to suggest to vendors out there?
Instagram is the best business tool I can imagine…it connects everyone and makes the world a smaller place 🙂
Thank you Rachel and Michael for sharing your insights into Summer Camp! Want to see more photos of their beautiful shop? Take a look at our Shop Visit Flickr Album! Be sure to check out Summer Camp’s droolworthy Instagram, too!
If you’re a shopowner interested in collaborating on a Shop Visit, feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.