Cait lived on a hundred-acre farm with her two kids and husband back in 2011. Like many people with small kids, she began searching for something to do to other than changing diapers and listening to children’s songs.
She started a small “Craigslist” business selling custom tutus. As an artist who went to college for design, she found the work somewhat fulfilling. The tutu orders kept coming in and she kept making them. She expanded her sales to Facebook and was inundated with orders.
During this time she started a diy blog to document and demonstrate what she was doing. She also became involved in home building and some interior design work which she quickly realized was not a full-time passion.
One day she pulled an old piece of furniture out from one of her barns, then she painted and stained it. Rather than using the piece, she put it up for sale and ended up making her first furniture sale. Re-purposing furniture became her sole focus and profitable side hustle.
Know Your Purpose
Cait had no idea she had stumbled on a new career. She was happy when she went shopping for furniture and antiques — it all seemed very natural — because it was.
After hours of shopping to find the nicest pieces, Cait would breathe new life into them by staining, painting, and repairing. Not only was she creating new furniture people wanted in their homes, but she was also saving furniture from the landfill. Eventually, she became known for her furniture skills and shopping became less important — people began giving her furniture directly!
Make A Goal
Cait had a very good side hustle going, but it wasn’t yet a fully formed business. I became involved when she wanted to take her business to the next level. The goal was to sell DIY products, home decor, and furniture online and at retail.
Like any other project I get involved with, I picked up the phone and began the business development process. I quickly learned who the other players in the industry were and what the numbers looked like.
Cait was using custom formulations to finish her furniture. After speaking with other companies it became clear she needed her own line of furniture paint, waxes, brushes, and other DIY items in order to create a business that was bigger than simply flipping furniture.
Be Bigger Than Yourself
I was able to find a chemist who could replicate Cait’s process — that chemist set me up with a “toll manufacturer” and we ran our first batch of furniture paint. The wax is produced in the United States by a small business that focuses on non-toxic furniture wax. After a few months of back and forth, we were able to get the colors and formula exactly to Cait’s high standard. The brushes were made by a small brushwork’s company in the southern United States. We both felt it was important to use small business and North American businesses whenever possible.
Sourcing manufacturers was only part of the problem. We didn’t have a name. Cait’s blog was called “My House My Canvas” so after a few days of brainstorming (what her kids called “Cait Paint”) the company name developed — Cait’s business is now called House&Canvas.
Most businesses private label or wholesale products which require less work than manufacturing. We decided manufacturing was something she was capable of doing, recruiting new retailers became part of her business plan. Finding a name was just part of the process — everything had to be designed and trademarked. I tried to outsource some of this work, but the website, marketing materials, and especially package design were all well within Cait’s wheelhouse, and we found the more we tried to outsource it the further we moved away from the consistency we were trying to achieve.
Advertise Outside The Box
Cait attended Sheridan College which is known for its animation program’s relationship with Disney. Locally it is known as the go-to school for design and technology.
One of the first things we did was become friendly with Sheridan. We set up a scholarship for students in the visual arts program and sponsored their end of the year awards ceremony with an award for best use of color.
Giving away money seems like an off the wall idea when you are trying to make it. The Sheridan relationship gave Cait a platform to speak to students who had the potential to be her customers, it got her product in the school, and provided contacts with the instructors who are also industry professionals.
Having a retail space an participating in downtown BIA events, providing prizes, local TV spots, and simply being present, helped to bring people into the shop, and helped further the reach of the business.
Cait now has 4 locations carrying her products. The business was well planned, but she was nowhere near the execution phase when it came to attracting new retailers. The products that House&Canvas developed are top-notch with mid-tier pricing. This combination attracted other retailers who wanted to carry the products themselves. After a year, her reach has become much bigger than she imagined. Her products are sold by retailers every day in cities other than her own.
Education was always in the business plan, but it has turned out to be more successful than anticipated. By partnering with local instructors, Cait was able to expand her lineup of DIY workshops from being simply about furniture paint and topcoats to being about all things DIY and craft.
We spent the most time together talking about an online strategy. It’s difficult to distribute products offline until you build a retail supply chain. I took her old blog, moved it to the new domain, and we built a store around it. She is now seeing steady online orders from places she otherwise would be unable to do business with.
Cait was always an entrepreneur, she just didn’t know it. By creating a robust business plan we were able to manufacture products, serve the local community at retail, provide education, wholesale to retailers, and sell online directly and via the affiliate program. Much of the business plan hasn’t been executed yet, which is a positive sign. This small business is making a slow transition to something very successful.
Having a solid business plan and a healthy amount of input has transformed Cait’s side hustle into a full-fledged business.