It Takes a Village and a Tribe
I have always been one that goes where life leads me. I have never had a conventional job for very long and I have lived in ten different houses in my adult life. Many of the changes in my life were due to circumstances I did not create, others were opportunities I seized. Most of my jobs centered around horses and/or retail; I raised my kids on a working horse farm, and I had a nature centered gift shop in a groovy little town at another point. Neither of those jobs/careers ended because I wanted them to (there's that life stuff getting in my way again) but I kept on listening to my heart and chasing those dreams. My ultimate dream has always been to combine my career loves, so when I landed a big job in Dover Saddlery management, I was certain that the Universe had fulfilled that dream. Horses, horse people and retail! Although I loved my job and (most) of the customers, I realized I wasn't cut out for corporate America. It's probably because I don't follow rules that well, nor do I quietly nod my head when someone in authority doesn't know what they are talking about. Both of those character traits don't bode well in a corporate environment. "I know!" (I said to myself) "I will go back to working with horses, they understand me." Unfortunately most equestrian jobs are feast or famine; you either have tons of clients or none. You sell 3 horses in one week, then you don't sell another for 3 months. It's hard to count on the income and, with kids still counting on me, I knew that wouldn't work. So when life led me to work as an equine nutritionist for a major feed company, I followed the lead. I was in the field, on the farms, helping horse owners take the best care of their horses. Bingo! This is perfect! Um.....not so fast. Corporate America again. This time in a male dominated company that wasn't exactly pro-female empowerment. Have I mentioned my rule-following issue yet? At this point in my life I did not have anyone needing my support (kids were all grown up) so I went back to school and got my degree in Environmental Science. My love of the Earth is right up there with my family, horses and retail. I could still work with horse owners, but with my own consulting company I wouldn't have the issues with bosses and rules. Voila! I found it....my perfect career. But life had bigger ideas. I had become quite the expert in eco-friendly horse care through my blog, lectures and columns in equestrian magazines, so when I was invited to speak at Equine Affaire (the largest horse expo in the US), I accepted. When the contract came and I saw a booth as part of my compensation, I took it as a sign that I could add retail to my company, thus Horse Hippie was born.
Throughout my "careers" I have met some amazing people including my best friend. We all know how horses have a way of creating a common bond between complete strangers. At all my different jobs I have been lucky enough to create some close relationships with co-workers and customers. I am also super lucky to have an amazing family full of supportive people. When I took the leap into the dating field at 49, life led me to my husband, who tolerates and encourages my need to chase life down the various rabbit holes. Horse Hippie started in half a booth at that first expo and has grown over the last three years into a major lifestyle brand and I credit all the people in my life for this. Oh, and a tremendous amount of really, hard work. Work that I love, work that feeds my soul and offers me an opportunity to give back and to meet truly wonderful people. The first year of Horse Hippie the shop was second fiddle to my consulting business, Happy Horse Healthy Planet, so the retail part consisted of setting up booths at the expos I was speaking at and a few horse shows. But Horse Hippie had a mind of it's own and quickly offered more in return than my consulting did. At my age schlepping tons of bins and fixtures into a a booth space and working 7-9 hours to set up was taking its toll. My sister was tremendously helpful but she's my older sister so it was hard on her too. The physical work and long show hours were starting to dim the glow.
About that time fashion trucks were getting a lot of press and I loved the idea of not having to set up my shop every time. Having a history at horse shows, I have visited plenty of tack shops that operated out of trailers, so that is the direction I took with my shop. Plus, I kept having a re-occurring nightmare that my Horse Hippie bus would break down on the way to an event where I had paid big vendors fees. So a trailer it would be. Thus, the Horse Hippie Mobile Boutique was born.
The second year of Horse Hippie I was able to really grow. I met more amazing people, including someone that seemed to be part of the Universe's plan for me. Rachel is the kind of person that wants everyone to succeed. She's like a cheerleader for other women. Little did I know where supporting her various charitable silent auctions throughout the year, would lead me. This year I started my third year of my business. I had no idea it would be such a tough year in my life. One curve ball after another. When my Mom passed early in the year, it impacted my enthusiasm profoundly. She was the reason I loved nature so much. She had worked with me in my nature store years before. My husband and I had also begun the process of selling our house (which is a whole other saga) and one of my children was handed a tough row to hoe. It's hard to focus on your business and devote the energy that it requires when you are spent emotionally, but that little nagging dream of opening a shop kept whispering in my ear. I scaled back on my events this year to be able to heal and help. I did check retail opportunities in the various areas we were considering to move, but no doors opened. I am a firm believer in if a door doesn't open, it's not your door, so I just kept on looking. One day Rachel ordered 4 of the cool horse candles I had on the webshop. Her order received free shipping but she insisted I meet her to deliver them instead of me paying the shipping charges. We agreed on lunch, and I met her in the sweet little village of Clifton, VA. And when I say little, I mean it. I had visited Clifton before as it is home to some great restaurants and is in a very "horsey" area. But a shop here? Clifton was never even on my radar. As I look back on that lunch date I want to believe it was a set up. Turns out Rachel knew the owner of the building we were eating in and there was an empty retail space in the front. Would I like to see it? Sure.....and boom! The owner appeared. It was like walking into a dream. I immediately could see my Horse Hippie shop here. The old building, the hard wood floors, the front porch, all fit. The owner, Erin (another super cool woman) agreed to let me do a two month pop-up shop to see if I liked the town and the space. No one does that in business so I filed that away in the "signs from the Universe" folder. I was really hesitant though. How could I get the space ready for business in 3 weeks if I was going to take advantage of holiday shopping? Who could help me? What if I failed? What if no one came? I felt the urge to follow where life was leading me so strongly, but I doubted my ability to pull it off. I am also a firm believer in "if you never ask you'll never know" so I called a former-mobile-boutique-owner-turned-full-time-shop-keeper for advice. I had only met Lyn once, but she is another open and honest woman who wants other women to succeed, so she spent an hour and a half helping me conquer my fears. She had an answer for every question, and offered me insights to her business that most would never share. (If you are ever near Bel Air, Maryland you should treat yourself to a visit to her shop Urban Pearl). With my faith bigger than my fear I contacted Erin and told her I was ready to sign the lease. What happened in the next few weeks was nothing short of miraculous. My tribe rolled up their sleeves and got to work. And when I say work, I mean it. From painting to attending Planning and Zoning meetings on my behave (Thanks Maureen!), they were there each step of the way. My sister and I cleaned and painted,
Before and after of the front room:
My husband built a counter out of an old kitchen cabinet and put together fixtures,
and my best friend distressed and painted the counter.
I was busy figuring out where everything would go, my daughters and sisters were helping me find products and Rachel was busy drumming up business on social media. We did it! We managed to get the shop ready in 3 weeks including my awesome sign! (Thanks Sue)
To say I'm exhausted is an understatement. To say I'm over-the-moon thrilled is one too. To know how my tribe supported my dream is humbling and so affirming. I opened the doors to my Horse Hippie Boutique on November 11th and the response has been overwhelming. My regular Horse Hippie customers have found me, and the Clifton villagers have been so welcoming. If all works out with the pop-up shop I will sign a long term lease for 2018. I plan on continuing my full webshop and taking my mobile boutique to area events too, so don't worry far-away Horse Hippies! As I finish up my first week of business in my little shop, I am ever so grateful that I listened to life. Even though I might have questioned the timing sometimes, I never gave up on my dream. I hope you find some inspiration from this story. Whether it's to follow your dreams or to support someone you know is chasing theirs. I also hope you will come to the sweet little village of Clifton and visit my shop. I'd would love to meet all the Horse Hippies out there.Oh, and find your tribe and love them hard. Here's a little video the day I opened.
Peace and good rides, Laura
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