Unique boutique: Crafty vendors realize entrepreneurial dreams

Connie Ferguson operates the Shabby Chic Boutique in Grand Junction, a venue for more than 80 vendors who sell an eclectic mix of artwork, crafts and other products. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Connie Ferguson jokes that what started out as a craft show exploded into a department store.

In looking for a location for an extended holiday arts and crafts show, Ferguson founded instead an enterprise that’s evolved far beyond her initial expectations in offering a year-round venue in which artists and artisans sell an eclectic assortment of wares.

In the process, Ferguson helps vendors at the Shabby Chic Boutique in Grand Junction realize at least on a small scale their aspirations of running their own businesses. “Together, we’re able to reach that dream and have a store front.”

One of those vendors, Rosemary Litz, says her sales at the Shabby Chic Boutique during the holidays alone topped the rest of the year. While sales subsequently slowed, Litz maintains her operation there as another outlet in which to market the sachets, neck wraps and other products she makes with lavender. “I just saw it as a good opportunity to sell my wares in a different way, to get out in front of people.”

Ferguson says Shabby Chic Boutique enjoys a competitive edge in selling an assortment of locally made and often singularly unique items in one location. And if shoppers don’t find what they’re looking for, the vendors still can serve them, she says. “We want this to be a one-stop shop. If we don’t have it, we’ll get it or make it. With the talents that people have, we can probably get it for you.”

In addition, vendors offers classes at the boutique to teach participants how to do things themselves, whether it’s planting lavender, carving wood or decorating cookies.

Ferguson opened Shabby Chic Boutique in November, initially as a holiday arts and crafts show in the Grand Valley.

Ferguson worked as a promoter of arts and crafts shows for nearly 20 years before selling her business. But when the vendor who purchased the operation failed to organize any shows, Ferguson returned to work and in six weeks organized a show with more than 100 vendors.

In looking for a location for a holiday show in Grand Junction, Ferguson found out about a vacant building on Patterson Road that had housed a fabric store. Shabby Chic Boutique opened in the building just two weeks later on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The response in terms of both vendors and shoppers convinced Ferguson to continue leasing the building and running Shabby Chic after the holidays. “That let me know there was a need for this thing in the community.”

Shabby Chic is now home to about 80 vendors offering a wide assortment of arts and crafts, including everything from paintings and photographs to handcrafted jewelry and pottery to apparel and accessories. A photography studio set up inside the building makes old west style portraits complete with costumes while customers wait.

Litz says the space at Shabby Chic allows her to showcase not only her own products, but also products made by other local lavender growers. That includes fragrant soaps and essential oils. “It’s an ideal way for me to have a shop.”

Outside the building in the parking lot, Lee VanHouten serves up ribs, sandwiches and hot dogs from his mobile catering company called Have Cooker Will Travel. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship, Ferguson says, in that some people will come for the food and shop the vendors while others will come for the shopping and also pick up lunch or dinner.

“This is basically just a small business venue,” Ferguson says.

Shabby Chic offers shoppers a number of services, including custom gift baskets made with goods from the store as well as custom embroidery and screen printing, wedding invitations and photography and business cards.

Vendors also offer classes in arts, crafts and gardening.

Litz says her classes in planting lavender in pots have been popular, and she hopes to offer additional instruction in pruning and harvesting lavender and using the blossoms.

Vendors at Shabby Chic pay a weekly fee that varies depending on the size of their spots as well as a 15 percent commission on sales. Ferguson says the fees and commissions help to cover the cost of leasing the building, telephone and Internet service and advertising.

Vendors also volunteer their time working at the boutique, running the cash register, assisting customers and tending to displays. No paid employees work there.

It’s an arrangement that not only substantially reduces expenses, but also frees vendors from having to mind their own stores all of the time, Ferguson says.

In th process, the various vendors have gotten to know each other and developed camaraderie, she added. “We’re just a team here. If anyone needs help, we all jump in.”

With continued support from shoppers, Ferguson hopes to extend the lease for Shabby Chic at its current location as well as open an additional outlet for the upcoming holidays that could turn into another permanent location.

While Ferguson says she never expected a craft show to explode into a department store, she’s not surprised by the results of what’s been a collaborative effort with her vendors.

In that sense, the Shabby Chic Boutique lives up to a motto Ferguson adopted from a Helen Keller quotation: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”