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Life & Business

Life & Business: Percy and Tara of Jersey Ice Cream Co.

by Sabrina Smelko

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Sometimes the process of elimination is what puts you on a path towards happiness in your career and discovering what it is that you really want to —and should — be doing. This was the case for Tara Mangini and Percy Bright of Jersey Ice Cream Co., who, despite their name, make work just as enjoyable as ice cream! It wasn’t until they started selling vintage pieces on Etsy when they realized that what they really wanted was to impact and craft homeowners’ entire spaces as a full-service, turn-key interior design duo.

As self-proclaimed “homeless home designers,” Percy and Tara relocate to renovate homes across the country, dropping everything to put their whole heart into each project they undertake. From start to finish, their clients hand over their keys and trust Percy and Tara to dream, design, build, furnish and style their home, from ripping down walls and getting messy to sourcing furniture at local flea markets wherever their jobs take them. Though they couldn’t be happier doing what they love, life and business weren’t always so seamless, and starting their company came with its fair share of headaches and lessons. Today, Tara is opening up about how they started, how they’ve grown, what they’ve learned along the way and what the future holds. –Sabrina

PS: Percy and Tara have some seriously impressive before and after transformations. Check them out!

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I don’t remember any real reasoning behind starting our own business except that we wanted to be doing this sort of work. In retrospect, it makes total sense because we’d both go nuts working in an office with a set schedule, but at the start I think a love for what we were doing, or hoped to be doing, is what got us headed in this direction.

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When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

I wish I could say we had a sit-down, let’s-define-our-business moment, but the process was so much more organic than that. At first we thought we wanted to open a vintage store, so we started selling things on Etsy and at local flea markets. After a while of doing that, we were able to see what parts of that really got us excited and what parts we really hated, and decided to try to swing things towards design so that we had control over where these amazing vintage finds were going. Then we just went for it!

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What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

I’m not sure if anyone around us was exactly in a place to give business advice. What we heard most was probably “you guys are crazy, you guys are nuts, and when are you going to get a real job?!” The best advice I can give to anyone out there that’s thinking about taking the leap is to ignore the doubts floating around inside of you and listen to your own gut.

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What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

I think the toughest thing for me was taking that final step and quitting the side job I had just in case things didn’t work out. I was waiting tables at the time, and even though it was only bringing in a few hundred dollars a week, it was a major financial and mental safety net I was clinging to. I had many panicked moments before and after quitting, and definitely tried more than once to convince Percy that I should get that job back, but he always convinced me that going for things with all we could was the way to go, and I’m glad to say he was right.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

That’s a big question! We’ve come so far but we are still constantly learning the ins and outs of running a business. A few big things come to mind. 1. Always over-estimate how long things will take, because things always take longer than you think. 2. Don’t sell yourself short. Ask for the money you deserve and don’t do work for free. 3. Be sure you really love what you’re doing because the lines between work and life really blur when you’re running your own business. The best thing about running your own business is that it’s your business, so if you’re unhappy, you can make a change and shift the train a different direction.

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Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

We’ve definitely made mistakes along the way, but they don’t feel like failures, really, just things we could have done a little better or differently. One aspect we do sort of fail at is capitalizing on the power of social media. I am admittedly the least dedicated blogger of all time, and even just keeping up on Instagram is a challenge for us. Putting more time into all of those channels would definitely help boost awareness of who we are and what we do, but we have such a hard time finding the energy to do it!

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

Giving up the tiny pleasures of a “normal” life is definitely the biggest sacrifice we’ve made. At this point we’re always on the road and have no home base, and the lack of a space to keep your things and call your own is definitely tough. Harder still is not having the life aspect that naturally builds around a home — a yoga studio where people know your name, a grocery store that you love, friends nearby to call for dinner or a walk in the park. Not being able to meet up with your girlfriends on a random Tuesday to complain about work and laugh about boys — I miss that.

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Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

I think the fact that we exist at all is pretty amazing, but I think our greatest success has been sending wishes for our dream job out into the world and then getting it. Our job back at Shipley Corner a few years ago really started the ball rolling. It was a bit of a wild leap into the unknown at the time, but thank god we took it.

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

Eek. Honestly, I have no idea. Inspiration and advice can come from anywhere. So often the book that says DESIGN IDEAS on the cover is the last place you get them, so I’m guessing the same is true for a book that says THIS IS HOW YOU START A BUSINESS. Read what inspires you, go towards what challenges you.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

In my very humble opinion, the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business are:

1.

2.

3.

… I’m really struggling with this answer. I got all ready with my 1,2,3, and then had no idea what to write! So i’m just going to sort of ramble here…

I think for most people the process of starting a business starts long before they decide to actually be a business. Ideally, it’s an evolution of what you’ve already been doing, and the big final step into business-hood feels more like an obvious next move, instead of a huge, scary leap into the dark.

Be prepared to fail. Be prepared to be wildly successful.

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Comments

  • Thanks for such a great article. “I think for most people the process of starting a business starts long before they decide to actually be a business.” That’s true. Ideas are always evolving, but it’s actually hard to take the first step. I love how Percy and Tara told us to shed all our doubts and be prepared to fail. Though it may be a cliche, it’s still hard for us to act out what we said.

  • Thoroughly enjoyed this article. Tara’s answers are both confirming my own experience and inspiring me further. I also checked out their before & after pics and am really impressed. Love their work. And I am loving this blog more and more. :-)

  • Wow, my jaw seriously dropped at those before and afters. Not just because of the transformation, but because of the really beautiful, livable aesthetic of the spaces. This is a great interview, too–the advice feels very honest and genuine. Glad you guys took the risk to follow your dream. Your story is really inspiring and so is your work.

  • This was such a brilliant post! Thank you Percy and Tara for sharing your story, your whole story. I love that this business was featured because it seems like a completely unique model, one where your offerings might not always fit into a neat and tidy box – which is something I’ve been struggling with for years. I am so glad you made it work and look forward to continuing to follow you on social media – which I think you’re doing just fine with :) !

  • These guys do SUCH amazing work. The organic nature of their process just ooozes out of each place! I had the pleasure of meeting them not too long ago and I can say they are just as friendly and inviting and cool as the spaces they create! So looking forward to seeing their next projects.

  • Love the honest answers and am overwhelmed by the before/after photos. If I didn’t live in Europe they would be getting a call from me today….note to self: buy lottery tickets to bring them here!

  • Swoon. I love all things Jersey Ice Cream Co. and as soon as I have a house for them to work on they will be hearing from me. And what a wonderful interview.

  • It’s obvious these two put all of their heart and soul in each space they design!

    Every little detail is purposeful, thoughtful and I always get so excited seeing new work of theirs.

  • Thank you DesignSponge for featuring these two talented go-getters. I’ve been following them in Instagram and am riveted by their floor-to-ceiling transformations. And by their unusual business model. I sell instant vignettes of vintage objects and at a time when people are everything is fragmented, I am worried about this sort of offering. Why put out an album when fans buy a single track? Why concoct a five-course meal when the diner likes small plates? It’s hard to create something whole and complete and then put it out there. So the story of Percy and Tara’s brave insistence to be different and write their own rules gets me through another day of self-doubt. Great piece.

  • I have been following these two for a while now. I love their work. It’s amazing!!! Only complaint is that they aren’t on social media enough :( But I know why…. they are busy because they are so talented :) That’s a good thing. I often go to their blog to see if anything new is up yet…. can.not.wait. to see more wonderful projects from them. Their design is simply timeless!! So happy to see an article about them.

  • When people start a business, the doubt is the biggest obstacle. They doubt whether their business will thrive or otherwise. They were skeptical of business options to be developed. And, there are many doubts that fill their minds.

    You are correct that we should ignore, even throwing, the doubt. We must keep moving until finally the plan to open a new business thrive and grow well. Thank you.

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