Name: Clare Marron

Age: 51

Title: Owner and doer of all things

Business: Monkitree, Gardiner

About: A gallery and store that represents local and Maine-based artists and craftspeople.

Website: www.facebook.com/monkitree

Clare Marron, owner of Monkitree in Gardiner Clare Marron

What’s your biggest challenge right now?  

Owning a small business is just a series of challenges. For me, it’s always figuring out the mix of product, making sure you have what people are shopping for at any given time. So, going into wedding season, do I have the right gifts, the things that people would be wanting to give now? Wedding season in Maine is late compared to other places, it goes through October. Then there’s Christmas. Summer is a lot of host/hostess gifts. There are varying needs for what people want to buy. What you buy for a host or hostess gift may not be what you would buy for a wedding. There’s always a season, always something to get ready for.

It’s hard to know when to spend the money. For nine years, every bit of money I make I am reinvesting in the business. That might take the shape of buying new jewelry cases or putting money into inventory. It’s a constant.

What was your biggest misconception about what owning a business would be like? 

I had not owned a business before this. I actually worked for a retail company, the owners retired and it has since closed. It was called Appalachian Spring, I worked for them for 20 years. It’s a small company, so I did a lot of different things — working in stores, managing stores, working in the buying department, developing training materials for managers. I feel I did a lot of different aspects of having a business even though it wasn’t mine.

The hardest thing for me and maybe the most challenging is the financial side. Fortunately, I have a computer system that keeps track of all the inventory and paying people who have things on consignment. If I had to do that (without the system) that would have been a disaster. So, yay for computer systems! For me, it’s just the constant, now I have to do the quarterly tax payments. That and the budgeting, and how much do you spend on advertising — all of that stuff is difficult.

I would also say this: It’s important to step away from your business for a vacation or a long weekend, even if you have to close your doors. You have to get out and see what else is going on. You can easily get so focused on doing this thing you do every day and keeping it going, that you fail to see trends and what people are doing and what they spending their money on. It’s an important thing when you own a business.

When Peter (Malyon) and I bought the building, the idea was I would have the first floor and that I could do what I want store-wise and we would do the renovations and live upstairs. The store bit was like, “Hmm, I could do that,” without a clear idea of what it has to be. In fact, I called it Monkitree in part because what if it needed to become something else? What if my vision wasn’t going to be supported, and I needed to turn it into, I don’t know, a cafe? I was open to whatever was possible. It wasn’t like I had to have it be like that.

I started so small. I posted a picture of the shop from 2010, and a picture from now. I had next to nothing in here. The amount of merchandise I have in the store now compared to then is kind of embarrassing when you think about it. I opened the store with, like, five things. I had wall art and a little bit of Mary Kay Spencer’s pottery from the Potter’s House, there was a little bit of jewelry. Now I have a lot inventory and options for people, which is what you need to happen.

I didn’t borrow money or any of that, and we own the building, so I can have a bad February and it didn’t matter.

How do you foster creativity in yourself? 

I am thrilled with  of the art portion of what I do. I do five shows a year. That portion — finding the artists, writing the description of the show, creating a postcard and hanging their work in a way that represents them well — that process for me is a lot of it. I didn’t realize that would be the case at all. That’s a large part of what keeps my creative juices going. And it’s every two months. Once a show is hung I am thinking about the next one. The next thing is always in the back of my mind, right around the corner. That’s exciting. I didn’t know I would like that part that much.

Who was your biggest influence in business? 

David and Polly Brooks opened Appalachian Spring in the 1960s, before American craft was even recognized. They helped organize the first Smithsonian festival down on the Mall (the National Mall in Washington, D.C.). They organized the craft tent for that that was right at the beginning. They are well known in the craft world. Gosh, I learned so much from them in lots of little ways.

From Polly I learned: Don’t buy trouble. Man, does that stay with me. From a product standpoint, if there’s any red flag, if there’s any sense that if buy of for my shop that it will fall over and break and cost me money or if it will break for a person at home and they are going to come back to me to get their money back, don’t buy it. If you think about it long enough, you know what those problems are going to be, so just don’t buy it. Save yourself the headache. I think that holds true of larger issues. If you pay attention, you will know what will cause trouble.

Where will you be in five years? 

Now that I am, like, in my 50s, for me, it’s what does moving toward retirement look like? Not that it’s anywhere close; I’ll probably not actually get to retire. But you start thinking about things like that.

How does Monkitree continue to exist without me being here all the time?  I would love to have Monkitree be profitable enough to have someone work here some times. It’s a small goal.

Part of the mental component is that I am open Tuesday through Saturday. Anything on a a Saturday I can’t do. And Peter travels for work a lot, so sometimes the only days I get see him are Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So if I am working Friday and Saturday, that’s one day, which doesn’t give you much time to accomplish anything.  I want to be able to figure that out and make it so I have chunks of time that I can go and do other things. And with social media, a customer can ask a question on Saturday night, I can’t wait until Tuesday to answer it.

 

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