What It’s Like to Own Your Own Shop: A Day in the Life
The sun is shining through the bedroom window in thick streaks across my duvet, extending its luminous fingers up my wall and creating an interesting visual effect. Perhaps I could incorporate those shapes into my next collection…
The baby’s up. I can hear her shifting around in her room down the hall, and suddenly all thoughts of work, art, and inspiration are out the window. She’s the reason I do what I do, and I don’t want to miss a single second with her by focusing my attention elsewhere. The time for work will come. Right now, it’s time for breakfast.
Shop owners don’t have normal schedules, particularly those of us who are small business owners and are running the ship solo. I give up my Saturdays in exchange for time off during the week, when foot traffic to the shop would be slower anyway. Though it’s taken some time to get used to working when the rest of the world is relishing being free from behind their desks, it’s worth it.
You see, I started this business because I felt like something was missing. I grew up in the small city of Stoughton outside of Madison, Wisconsin, and loved the energy of downtown. There are so many shops, restaurants, and cafes that are unique to this city, but I knew that I could add something special to Main Street, a gift and home decor store that would bring in shoppers from Madison and the surrounding suburbs.
That’s how Dune was born.
I prepare a banana and a handful of raisins for Elsie and start brewing a cup of coffee for myself, while I consider the day’s activities. As a shop owner, it’s difficult to have a set to-do list because anything can happen once you flip that sign from “closed” to “open”. On a good day, you could be met with a flood of customers who require your full attention and keep you from taking care of administrative duties. On a bad day, you could be met with no one at all, and nothing to do. Those days come with a bit of fear and a bit of self-doubt.
I’ve learned that every day is a new chance to start again, that bad days don’t last forever, and that a fresh perspective can be all you need to put everything back on track.
I have some extra time before I need to head into the shop, so Elsie and I set out on a walk with her dad. The beauty of living in a small city like Stoughton is that we are not only close to downtown (short commutes for the win) but also close to nature. A morning stroll through the park is just what I need to start my day off right, to know that I’m spending intentional time with my daughter before heading in to work.
I watch her as she sifts through the gravel on the path, letting tiny stones run through her fingers. I envy that sense of awe and wonder, and try to embrace my own curiosities whenever I’m around her. I want her to grow up knowing that the world is a place with endless possibilities, and that nobody has the answers to every question. Sometimes, we make things up as we go along, and the solution is that much sweeter for it.
Our walk complete, we head back home for a quick outfit change, and my husband brings Elsie back home for the day. I know she’ll be in good hands. I turn my brain to business mode.
There’s something magical about turning the key in the door of your own shop. Every day I’m struck with the thought that I own my own store. This is my place. It’s exhilarating, and terrifying, knowing that you’re in charge of every aspect of your own brick-and-mortar store. Not only do I own Dune, I’m the shopkeeper, the curator, CFO, COO, and HR.
Running Dune is not my first exposure to entrepreneurship, though. Before I had this little shop here in Stoughton to call home, I started my jewelry business, Cire’ Alexandria. I’ve always seen myself as a creative rule breaker, a workaholic that gets bored easily if not challenged. I process what I observe in the world through the work I do with my hands, and sometimes there’s so much that my hands can’t keep up.
I carry my line in Dune, and it’s done very well here. Something about having a curated space surrounding my collections gives them context, and breathes life into the designs. They wink at me from their display case as I enter the store, giving everything a once-over to see if I need to make any changes before shoppers start arriving.
I set my bag down behind the cash wrap, noticing that a roll of my Dune-branded stickers has fallen off the shelf. It’s organized chaos back here - everything has a place even if no one else could find what they’re looking for.
The pyramid display seems a bit bare, and I shuffle my homewares selection around to create cohesive merchandising vignettes. Jade-toned glass stemware and brass cutlery glimmer in the morning light.
I look down at my leather watch and see the minute hand tick to mark the hour. It’s 10 o’clock.
Now the day begins.
The first few hours of the day are a little slower than normal, but that doesn’t mean I’m not busy. I take advantage of the lull to shoot off a few quick email responses, and do some research on potential brands that I could carry in the shop. Lately, I’ve been interested in bringing in more clean beauty brands. We have a selection of skincare and body care, but cosmetics and clean fragrance are particularly intriguing to me right now.
Instagram is my go-to place to discover new brands. I spend the next few minutes scrolling through my explore feed, searching through hashtags, and sending off a few DMs to brands I’m interested in when I realize that I should probably take a few photos for Dune’s feed.
I grab a few of our latest products and start to arrange the photo. Just as I’m about to take the shot, a few customers walk in. The photo can wait.
I help two women pick out the perfect shade of scrunchie for their daughters, then encourage them to smell our latest shipment of candles from Wax Buffalo. The one that I can’t stop talking about smells just like fresh lilacs blooming in the crisp spring air. It stirs something in me that I can’t quite describe, and by the looks on their faces, they feel the connection as well.
Speaking with customers is one of my favorite parts of being a shop owner. I have a specific story for each of the products that we stock, and it’s my favorite thing to share them with customers. I love building a rapport with people, and giving them an experience that will make them remember Dune, and want to return to catch up. I have customers that keep track of when we get new items, and will make special trips from out of town just to see what I bring in.
To me, Dune isn’t just a way to build another stream of income, it’s a way to build community.
As I’m packing up their purchases, more customers walk in, and I am in perpetual motion: unlocking display cases so they can try on rings from the new collection, recommending a bath salt for someone to give as a gift, showcasing the stationary, prints, and notebooks that would be perfect for someone who just landed a new job.
Each conversation with a customer is an opportunity to learn more about their lives, to connect with them on a deeper level than the one between a salesperson and a shopper. I want to make sure they leave Dune with the exact item that their loved one would have picked out for themselves - and with a little something for themselves too.
The day is flying by. Each hour brings more and more customers, and I realize that I’ve forgotten to not only pack a lunch, but to order one, and now that time has long since passed. I had been planning on working on a pair of earrings for my next collection, but the steady flow of shoppers has made it impossible to step back, even for a moment. On days like these, I’m thrilled that I have a job that allows me to wear comfortable shoes.
It’s late afternoon now, with just a few hours left in the shop, but my mind is running a million miles an hour. Customer after customer enters the store, and in the back of my mind my to-do list is only growing longer, not shorter. I need to place new orders. I need to head to a flea market this weekend to restock my furniture selection. I need to redecorate the windows to reflect the latest home decor trends. I need to water the plants that color the shop.
I need to.
I need to.
I need to.
But I keep working, keep putting my best foot forward for my customers. I answer their questions, and take their feedback, noting it for when I make my next purchases for the shop.
At the end of the day, I’m exhausted. The last customers leave the store a bit past closing time, but that’s to be expected. I get out my broom and take my time sweeping up the shop floors, catching some wayward dust bunnies and a bit of dirt that had been tracked in off the street. I wipe down the cash wrap, and polish a few of the glasses that have been smudged with fingerprints throughout the day.
With tired eyes, I take a once-over of the shop to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. I see my workspace in the backroom, and I know that there are pieces waiting on my bench that didn’t get touched today. I see the photo setup that I’d abandoned earlier in the day when it got busy, still perfectly arranged, but picture-perfect daylight no longer lights the space as it had this morning. I see my phone light up with yet another email, maybe inquiring about renting the space for an event, maybe invoicing me for a new shipment, maybe asking me to review another blog post for Dune’s website.
But I also see a space that brings me superfluous amounts of joy. I can envision the many customers who walk through Dune’s doors every day and light up when they find the perfect gift, the perfect treat, the perfect piece for their home. I see a shop that I’ve poured every ounce of myself into, a physical embodiment of my soul. I see the work that allows me to be with my family in my free time, and take control of my future.
It’s time to head home.
Tomorrow will be another day in the shop. Another day to start again, to gain a fresh perspective, and to make an impact on this community. I turn out the lights and lock the door.
I can’t wait to come back tomorrow.