Can you turn a passion for vintage into a modern online business? Yes, you can. Meet Kristin Perks.
Fashion school grad Kristin Perk wasn’t getting the creative satisfaction she needed from her day job as a restaurant manager. In need of inspiration, she decided to revisit her love of thrift shopping and started reselling her finds onEtsy.
Four years later, she figured out how to turn a fun hobby into a full-fledged company. We had to learn more about how she did it.
Take it away, Kristin!
Job:Owner ofOldSchoolSwank, an online vintage apparel and home goods shop
How did you create your awesome job?
I have a degree in Fashion Design from theFashion Institute of Technologyin New York. After college, my partner and I drove from New York to California with friends and settled in beautiful Lake Tahoe for a post-college adventure.
I took a job as a restaurant manager at a ski resort, which, although fun, left me missing the creative buzz that New York City had provided. I needed a big dose of inspiration and a little extra money, so I picked back up an old hobby.
I’ve always loved thrifting (and the thrill of the hunt), from shopping for high school dance dresses to collecting recycled garments for my college senior project. While in Tahoe, however, I found myself gravitating more towards cool vintage clothing. I was already a big fan ofEtsy, so I listed a few vintage items on the site to see what would happen.
And guess what? They sold!
For the next three years, I continued to hunt for vintage items and ranOld School Swankon Etsy part-time. After we moved back to the East Coast and got married, I decided I’d had enough of managing people and I wanted to work in a creative field. I had a really hard time finding a job that was both lucrative and interesting, so I took a waitressing job in the meantime while I continued to run the shop between shifts.
One day, when I was feeling discouraged by the job search, my dad asked why I didn’t just take on running the shop full-time instead, as the business was already there and growing. We immediately sat down and came up with a business plan, and I decided to go for it.
It’s been such a great year of figuring things out and growing the business. Luckily, my mom also has a good eye for design and she sources vintage clothing for me as well, which has helped me grow more quickly.
How did you get your very first customer?
Despite some truly bad photos, I sold a sweet floral cropped blouse that buttoned up in the front to a girl in Kansas on Etsy.
I still remember the rush of excitement when I got the sale notification, and I have to admit I still get that same rush every time I make a sale!
What has been the biggest surprise after starting your own business?
I’ve been surprised at how much of a difference good customer service can make.
I always understood the importance of communicating kindly and providing as much information as possible to my customers, but once I started to go above and beyond with my customer service, it affected my business dramatically.
TheEtsyapp really helps with this, as I can see as soon as a customer sends me a message and I can answer quickly, which often results in a sale. Before this, I’d miss out on those sales by not striking while the iron was hot.
With an online business, good communication with your customers is vital, as it can be harder for people to trust you or the quality of your products than it would be in a brick and mortar boutique.
Do you have a system for figuring out how to price the items in your shop?
I don’t have set margins. I figure it out as I go along based on what I know about different labels and what other shops are selling similar items for.
When I’m thrifting, I mostly try to find things I like, but I also try to keep on top of trends and find items that I know will sell more quickly. I know that margins aren’t as important as keeping the sales coming in, and I need to keep things ticking along if I plan to run the shop 100% full-time by December.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I spend a lot of time in thrift stores every day, obviously. I have certain stores that I go to on certain days because they may only be open a few hours a week. Most of my shopping is done here in Burlington, Vermont because it has a lot of great thrift stores, but I try to go to New York when I need to feel inspired by what's on trend.
When I’m not thrifting, I spend the rest of my time each day cleaning items, mending them, photographing them, listing them online and shipping orders. Thankfully, I can run my business from home because we're renting a large space with a basement that holds my entire inventory.
In the future, I hope to spend more time each week designing and selling my own clothes in small batches.
If you could go back in time, what is one thing you’d do differently when starting your business?
I’d be moreorganizedwith everything. The more organized I am, the better every aspect of my business runs, right down to my ability to be creative.
With a growing inventory of over 1,000 items, it can be a bit overwhelming. Each item needs to be cleaned, mended (if necessary), steamed, photographed and stored in its proper place. This leaves a lot of room for, well, piles of stuff all over!
Luckily, with the help of my mom (the master organizer), I've developed some good systems this year that have made my life easier.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I would most like to learn more about the behind-the-scenes, day-to-day life of someone who is also running a small business, with a special focus on time management.
For example, what is the daily to-do list for a website designer, or a consultant? For someone who is also running an online shop like me, what goes into your typical workday or week?
I’d also like to hear how other self-employed professionals who work from home separate their work and home lives effectively, especially those with children.
Do *you* have time management secrets to share with Kristin?
If you also run your business from home, how do you manage your day-to-day schedule? Do you have a system for scheduling your tasks and staying organized?