Getting to Know Beth Styles of Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods
We are so excited to get in gear for our Spring Pop Up Shop in the Grove Neighborhood on May 5, 2018. As always, when we find ourselves setting up shop in the Grove neighborhood, we love to hit up Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods as one of our hosts for our pop up shops. Since this will be our 4th time popping up at Lemon Gem, we wanted to highlight the wisdom of Beth Styles, owner of Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods and Parsimonia on our blog. Though she definitely has a full schedule owning two successful small businesses, we are so happy that she created some time to answer a few of our questions about her entrepreneurial awesomeness:
Read more about her creative entrepreneurial mission, vision and experience below:
A Little Bit More About Beth
Beth Styles is the founder and co-owner of Parsimonia Vintage on South Grand and found/owner of Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods in The Grove. Born and bred in St. Louis, she lives in the city with her husband, shop dog Sadie and, come mid-May, will welcome a baby girl into the fold. She loves baking as a form of stress relief, plays cribbage when she can and is continuously adding to her shamelessly large collection of brass animals and vintage Vera Neumann textiles.
1. You are a woman of many talents and interests, two of those being creating good food and vintage clothing. What inspired you to to seek small business as your chosen career path?
My journey into the small business world is certainly not something I feel like I purposefully chose. If you went back and pulled me aside at high school graduation and said, "Hey, in 10 years, you're gonna be a business owner," I would have thrown you some serious shade. I definitely feel where I am now is the result of a lot of small decisions, life changes, observations, responding to opportunities and perhaps just having a little bit of that naïveté you need to take some risks in life.
For me, this all started in my mid- to late-20s with my choice to move out to Los Angeles right after college, where for five years I pursued a career in magazine journalism. My last job out there, I was the editor for a small trade publication, and I definitely wasn't happy or very inspired in that job. Then the day I got back from my honeymoon, I was laid off, which turned out to be a good thing in that they kind of made the decision for me that I'd been wanting to make for a while as far as leaving, but I didn't know what else I'd do and, like everyone else, needed a paycheck.
So once I was cut loose from that, my husband, who has always been the biggest champion of my dreams, said to me, "If there is one thing you could do the rest of your life and be happy, what would it be?" My immediate answer was "thrifting" (ha!). It was something I was always known for among my friends and family; the source for all my clothes, accessories and housewares; and a part of how I got exposed to vintage at a young age. A bit serendipitously, this was also around the time that selling vintage on Etsy had started to become a thing, so we decided to take a little chunk of money for me to amass some inventory out in L.A. that I could use to start an Etsy store, and that's how Parsimonia started.
Six months later, we decided to move back to Missouri (I grew up in St. Louis), and by that time L.A. had already been creating spaces and events for people to try out their small business dreams. Food trucks were at their peak, shows like Renegade Craft Fair were huge and, probably most important for me, these shows were combining handmade vendors with vintage sellers, showing how there was a big overlap in the customer demographic. So when we arrived in St. Louis, I was excited to see the indie craft show scene was growing here, too, but things were still very much geared toward handmade vendors. So I decided to just start applying to shows anyway as a vintage vendor, and after a LOT of no's, Indie Craft Revolution was the first show to let me in. I did really well and people really responded to my setup. After that, little by little, I was able to get into more and more shows and saw that door for vintage in the handmade scene open a little wider. Fast forward a year and I was back at ICR as one of the first mobile retail businesses in St. Louis (the other one being The ReTrailer [now Big Heart Tea]), and we both launched our trailers on the same day at that show. Fast forward a couple years later and I was opening a brick-and-mortar shop on South Grand, where we'll be celebrating 5 years this September.
2. What inspired you to open Lemon Gem?
Well, the answer to that comes from a couple different directions. On one hand, my husband and I both come from families that really enjoy cooking, so we both grew up having learned those skills. Once we were married, we were always trying out new recipes in our own kitchen or recreating recipes from favorites restaurants. I am also a vegetarian — and had been for several years by the time we moved back to Missouri — and was really into learning new techniques and ways to prepare meatless dishes that would appeal to me and his meat-loving, Texas-bred self. So while this was being nurtured at home, and Parsimonia was being grown in the show scene, I decided to apply for some freelance writing and editing positions I'd seen pop up at some local publications. Eventually I was hired to do a combination of both for Sauce Magazine, where I started out writing some features and eventually became one of two writers who contributed to a newly monthly segment called "Vegetize It." Fast forward a couple years and, once Parsimonia's brick-and-mortar shop opened, I eventually stopped working freelance, but now was really into the local food and restaurant scene, which was quickly booming. Fast forward a couple more years and my husband and I buy our first house. I decided I want to stress-bake amid all the unpacking but can't find my tart pan. So I go to the closest local option to get a new one, and by the time I make the drive and deal with traffic and get home, the baking winds have gone out of my sails, and I'm frustrated that there isn't a closer local option for such an errand. The idea of starting a kitchen shop in the city, stays stuck in the back of my mind for another couple years and I float the idea around casually to friends I'd made in the small business scene to see what they thought. I check out similar shops in other cities as we travel here and there, and eventually I just can't shake the feeling that this might be my next adventure. Then the right space opens up, funding falls into place and I kind of ran out of excuses to not give it a go!
3. What was your style inspiration for the store?
I am far and away a "balancer," and I love Lemon Gem's aesthetic because it's a good representation of my taste: I love the beauty and character of things that are old, but also the clean lines and brightness of modern design. So I just tried to blend to two as best I could. The building itself was already gorgeously and lovingly rehabbed by the Rise Coffee team, and once I settled on a name, I could immediately envision what the branding could look like and how that could carry through the shop. The logo was inspired by lettering from the mid-1800s, and then I liked contrasting that with the modern kitchen-tools pattern. The walls are a beautiful old brick and wood floors dark, so I wanted to balance that with bright white shelves and a section of black-and-white hex tile to keep the space from feeling too tiny. And then I liked the feel of adding in new, unfinished pine as something to bring the two together.
4. As a creative female small business owner, what words of encouragement can you offer a woman looking to set out to start her own creative business?
I'd say a difficult thing for creatives is to be able to pursue what inspires you and what you're passionate about, but to also be able to look at it with a business-y eye. We're in a tricky time in our culture where starting a business has become more accessible with regard to having an online store, etc., and it's become something that seems pretty romantic. So it's easy to have an idea and then just start going for it, and I think it's important to have a bit of that go-getter attitude. But I think a lot of people don't ask the non-creative questions before they do, and those are the ones that help set up your expectations and how you determine down the line if you're business is "successful" or not, because that definition is about more than numbers.
So, I'd say you need to be able to answer the question of "Why?" first. What is the purpose of starting the business? What do you want to get out of it (i.e. Is it something that you want to have as a creative outlet but not your main source of income? Or do you want it to be the only job you have)? What does your business being "successful" look like to you? Is it something that fills a hole in the local business scene? If not, how will what you're doing be different from what's already being done? Where will the startup costs come from?
I'd also seek out current business owners that you naturally click with and ask them questions. Find out what it's like to be that business owner (the good and the bad), see what they think of your idea, ask what resources they found helpful (or not) when starting their business.
5. Having a small business is about learning to flow amidst the peaks and valleys. What motivates you to keep going in your entrepreneurial endeavors when your businesses are experiencing challenges?
Well, I own two retail shops amid the fervor of Amazon and online shopping, so I can definitely relate to this question. I've even had people come into the shops and tell me my job will be obsolete down the road. And maybe that's true ... maybe not. My hope is that people don't completely lose their desire for human-to-human interaction; that seeing something in person before buying it is helpful and meaningful; that we regain an appreciation for quality over how cheaply we can get something; that we desire to support our local communities through supporting local businesses, because the owners of these smaller establishments are more in touch with what's going on than the big-box stores, and much more likely to give back to the people immediately around them. So when my shops have bad days and all these hopes are seeming hopeless, I usually ask myself, "Is there something else you'd rather be doing?" And the answer is pretty much always, "Nope."
6. Self-care is a central part of staying successful as small business owner. What self-care practices do you have for yourself that keep your grounded and energized?
I try very hard to protect my time on my days off and the time after work when my husband and I are at home together. Most things can wait a little bit for a response, and I think there is something to be somewhat unavailable these days when everyone expects you to be glued to your devices at all time. Just don't become SO unavailable that you're missing potential business. So some of the things I do are try to not schedule meetings during those times, or make sure it's relegated to things that can be done by computer. I also let myself take a 15-minute breaks if I feel my workday is starting to leave me feeling burned out. I'll surf social media, or watch half an episode of a show or do some stretching or go get a sweet treat. Then once that break is over, I'm refocused and can jump back into it. I'll be honest, though: There is a LOT of room for improvement in this area of my life.
That was really useful information, insight and advice from Beth Styles on her experiences from running two small businesses. As always please go check out the beautiful way she brings her love for vintage wear and quality+stylish kitchen goods to life at Parsimonia and Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods.