Here at Design*Sponge, we’ve had the opportunity to meet and interview countless designers, artists and makers over the years. Deanna Jennings secured that opportunity for herself, too, when she opened up her online shop, Juniper & Scout. Stocking everything from the perfect gift for any occasion to small-batch soaps and potions with a distinctive “just for me” vibe, Deanna’s shop is a joy to peruse.
Her passion for discovering gorgeous, but useful, pieces made by independent designers and artists who embrace original design themselves, is fueled by her appreciation for small-batch production and environmental sensitivity. I spoke to Deanna recently and today she’s sharing some small business stories that give you a peek behind the scenes of a successful online shop. Whether you’re thinking of starting your online business or simply love the stories of those who have persevered to realize their own business, this glimpse into Deanna’s world will leave you cheering for her and her hard work! —Caitlin
Where do you live and work?
I live and work just outside of Los Angeles. Juniper & Scout has been an online boutique for about three years, but I’m hoping to add a brick-and-mortar space as well. Although my dog is an excellent companion and business associate, I’d prefer to interact with customers in a more personal way.
What about your community inspires you?
I moved here nine years ago, after spending the majority of my life in the Pacific Northwest. While I miss that PNW green, I have to say, the deserts and beaches of SoCal are beautiful. The physical environment, along with the diversity and creative culture of the LA area, inspire me.
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus working for someone else?
First of all, self-employment suits me. Years ago, I worked in career counseling and job training, where I was exposed to every personality test and aptitude assessment available. I learned a lot about what was important to me in my work life. Running a business involves so many of the elements I desire in a career and meshes well with my personality.
Also, I’ve always dreamed of working in a creative field. I have a deep appreciation for design (to the point where I get choked up over a pretty mug) but I never mastered an artistic skill set myself. I have such respect for artists and makers and am both envious and in awe of what they do. This business gives me an opportunity to be involved in that world and to share it with others.
Finally, I started this business at a time [when] I had been out of the work world for a while, raising kids and volunteering. When I was ready to dive into full-time work again, I realized that both my age and the gaps in my resume were a barrier to employment. I thought, “I’ve got great ideas, I’m a hard worker, and I have life experience to bring to a job.” So, I basically created my own position and hired myself. Side note: I just completed my first employee performance review, and I’m killin’ it!
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I was fortunate to both work with and observe friends who had started their own retail businesses. I was able to witness the highs and lows of shopkeeping firsthand. That both inspired me and allowed me to start my own business with realistic expectations of the work and risk involved.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Probably some version of “learn from your mistakes” and that there will be many. The truth is, no matter how much research and preparation you do, there will be hard lessons. In the beginning it really affected me when something didn’t go as planned, but I’ve learned so much more from my failures than from my successes.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The most difficult part of starting my own business was, because of a limited budget, I did everything myself. Which meant that my rusty brain had to learn so many new things at once (legal concepts, accounting, website systems, marketing, etc.) just to get started. The other difficult part of starting my business was to get over my distain of self-promotion. I hate to be the person saying “hey, look at me,” but at the same time I can’t grow this business without saying “hey, look at me.”
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a creative business?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in running a creative business, is that there’s not a secret shortcut to success, but hard work and reflection tend to move you forward. Also, you have to be your own cheerleader. There can be a lot of set-backs and naysayers, so trust in yourself is critical.
How did you approach marketing your shop?
I learned early on that it was more important to create a cohesive collection and find my people than it was to try to appeal to everyone. Our makers are amazing and I’m proud of the items we curate, so my primary focus has been to just create awareness among design enthusiasts and those with an appreciation for the handmade process. I’ve used a combination of social media, pop-up shops, and paid advertising to create awareness. I’ve also sent direct submissions to publications and blogs to introduce our brand.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
“A” moment of failure, ha! Here’s a bunch off the top of my head: a computer glitch that failed to capture payment data during peak holiday season, under-buying inventory, over-buying inventory, poor delivery choices, useless advertising campaigns, etc., etc. Daily mistakes are constantly informing the way I do business.
Your shop is filled with beautiful handmade objects. How do you decide what to stock, and how do you source your pieces?
One of my favorite aspects of this business is scouting the merchandise. I go to craft fairs and scour Instagram, Pinterest and Etsy on a regular basis. I don’t tend to frequent large-scale gift shows, because I prefer finding smaller, emerging makers. The first criteria in selecting an object is that it connects with me and fits our shop aesthetic. I tend to give priority to local and U.S. makers, but, I’m also interested in products that contribute to social causes. Bonus points to makers who go out of their way to create with minimal impact to the environment. Basically, I look for great design and responsible production.
Peace & Poise Soap $10 | Seahorse Pin $10 | Goat Milk + Honey Soap $12 | Kids Cross Stitch Cat $15 | Leaf Tray $38 | Journal $13 | Brass Honey Dipper $34 | Wool & Wood Coasters $40 | 14K Gold Gate Ring $215
Thinking of your business as a whole, what do you look forward to most when you head to your workspace?
Planning, creating, discovering and connecting.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I think the best resource is to talk with people currently in the field. I’ve found the creative community as a whole is extremely supportive, and people who have gone through this process are eager to share their advice. The Design*Sponge Biz Ladies series was incredibly helpful to me when I was first thinking of starting a business. I’ve appreciated all of the business profiles on this site because they’re both educational and inspirational. Also, early on, I worked with Aeolidia to customize our Shopify site. Not only did they do an amazing job with the website, but they also connected me to other resources, including a Facebook group where business owners share what has worked and what hasn’t. That type of camaraderie among creative businesses is really amazing and I’m grateful to those who have shared their knowledge so freely.
What are your two favorite things in your shop right now and why?
One of my favorites is the Joshua Tree candle by Ethics Supply Co. It’s such a clean-burning candle and the fresh, outdoorsy scent makes me feel better when I’m stuck inside all day. I also love the terra cotta planters from Michiko Shimada. Since my kids left for college, I’ve been slowly filling the void with a growing collection of house plants, which look great in small groupings of these planters.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
There’s a lot I should do such as organize my inventory, edit my website, etc., but to be honest, I’d probably waste away a good amount of the time in a Pinterest trance.
Anything else you’d like to share with us and our readers?
Just know that there are real people with real stories making the things we buy, and our makers are the loveliest people you can imagine.