The people in your neighborhood: Desiree Tuthill from DEZigns
When asked, Desiree will tell you that she "makes custom made crafts, for loved ones, special events and home", but that is really just part of the story. In a world where more and more businesses are trying to focus in on a specific market, Desiree is more of a generalist. Her niche is that she doesn't have a niche. She will design and make everything from wooden signs to banners and party decorations and even wedding decor, all customized for you.
I have always been crafty, and I enjoy making things with my hands. It started with friends or family seeing something they liked and asking me if I could make it for them. My usual response was "I don't know how yet, but I can figure it out!" And as I started trying to recreate these things, I realized that I could learn how to make them and that I truly enjoyed the process. Once word got out, it just kind of grew from there.
Custom cake topper for a 60th "bee" day
How have you built your customer base?
It's all been organic growth, I have never paid for targeted ads or bought Instagram posts. I need to get a bit better on social media though. Sometimes I get so focused on creating that I forget to post project pictures or teasers to build up interest!
Benefits of being an all custom business?
One fun thing about it is that when I see something that I like, if no one has asked me for it yet, I can "try" it out for myself. And once I'm done I can post it and see if anyone else is interested. If they are, I have something to sell, as well as all the design and fabrication notes to make more. If not, then I still have something unique that I made for myself!
Sometimes I'll even see if anyone is interested first and offer them a discount on the final item if I can use it as a prototype to see what production will entail. This really helps me understand what my customers want so I am not wasting money on supplies for something no one wants.
Since it is all custom, I don't really have any ready to sell stock on hand.
This is actually the first year I'm trying to create some “standard” stock that can be offered over the holidays instead of just relying on entirely custom orders. It's more time-efficient for me and it lets customers order things they can get immediately. Of course, I will also have a limited number of custom slots available as well.
Custom bow holder
What is your biggest struggle to keep your business going?
Not enough time! I am working full time at another job and running DEZigns on the side. I have so many ideas of things I want to do to grow my business, but there just aren't enough hours in the day.
I am guessing that makes it hard to keep a healthy work-life balance?
That is one of the hardest things. I am so passionate about what I am doing, but I need to make sure to have the security to pay my bills. I am working on knowing when to shut it down and take a break but sometimes I get so excited seeing a project come to life that it can be hard. It's really important to me to build better boundaries for myself and make sure that I have enough downtime to hang out and have date nights with my husband or to play with our dogs.
Ultimately, my husband and I have aspirations of quitting our 9 to 5 jobs and focus on the things we love doing. We want to give back to our community, and we want to spend time with the people that we love. We don't need yachts or crazy shopping trips, we just want to be happy.
So how have you handled the craziness that 2020 has been?
It's funny, this year has been my best year ever for the business. I mean, every year it has been getting better and better, but this is the best so far. It was also the first year I got to try going to any live craft/makers market type events. I am definitely looking forward to more of that when things start opening up again. But I'll need to balance any potential vendor fees with expected sales and having enough stock on hand to cover events like that.
Aside from most of my sales coming in online, I also joined a crafty Facebook group that has been a great experience this year as well. A co-worker makes custom bows and earrings and had been part of a similar group a few years ago and wanted to start one up again. She invited a friend, who invited a friend, etc. It's really great because it's made up of this amazing group of women vendors all supporting each other, some of them are local here in Tucson, but we have members from multiple states too. We have monthly themed sales, and it's a fun way to not only share experiences but to get the word out to more people each month.
What are some of your most unique or different projects?
One of the largest projects I had was a gigantic custom sign for a dining room, I'm talking like 4' x 8'. It was pretty challenging not only in the design but also in sourcing the lumber, finding room to work on it all together - I actually had to move it outside at one point it was too big for my craft room!
4' x 8' Custom dining room sign
Another time, I was working on a piece for a guy who was going to propose to his girlfriend. He asked me to videotape some of my process so he could show her afterward all the care and love that was put into it. I loved the idea so much! That is what it is all about for me, making something unique instead of mass-producing the same thing over and over. It's so satisfying to know that I am bringing joy to people through the things I make.
Ok, last question - what advice would you give others who are thinking about taking the plunge and starting their own business?
Don't get in your own head, just do it!
Seriously, I had all these thoughts and worries about how to track things, price things, what tools and supplies I would need, and it was so overwhelming! But once I started, I realized that I was making them into huge things that weren't an issue.
Start out with something that you love, and it will all grow from there.