On Second Thought: Catching up with Suzy Strachan
Last time we talked to Suzy Strachan, she and business partner and friend, Brittney Braemer, told us about themselves, their origin story, and their hopes for moving Handzy into a new space. Fast-forward to late 2018, Suzy shared with us the details of their move and the bliss of living in Covington.
When we interviewed you before, you guys had five tenets of your business. I feel like workshops were really big at that point – May 2017. How have things changed?
When we started our own business, we were going to do whatever we needed to do to be in business. So whatever idea we have, it's Handzy. Doesn't matter what it is, if we want to do it, we try it – which was kind of the reason we named our business something so ambiguous – it could be anything.
Right now we're trying to shift our focus towards the retail side of things. We love the shop – it's our favorite part of our business, but I think we were starting to spread ourselves too thin – I mean, it's only just the two of us. Brittney just had a baby, and she'll have the baby here so that'll be a fun, interesting change, but when we found out she was pregnant, we were like, “Okay, we need to figure this out.”
We were trying to do graphic design, wedding invitations, and we designed our own stationery line, plus we've got this shop and an online shop. So, we were like, “What do we need to do? What do we like about our business? What do we hate?” We both decided we hate doing graphic design. Not in a bad way; we've loved all of our clients; we've loved all the projects we’ve worked on. We had a lot of fun, and we knew that's what we had to do to get to this point, but we sat down and we were like, “I bet we could make more money if we focused on other things in other ways.” That's when we decided to start selling clothes.
Yeah, ’cause a wedding is one thing, one time.
Yeah, and the holidays have always been good for us, but no one really needs greeting cards in March, you know? Or stationery and small gifts. We decided we weren’t going to do graphic design under Handzy anymore. I think we'll still do weddings – we love doing that. I think just taking on projects that we want to do, as opposed to any project that comes our way.
Just with the clothes, we've almost quadrupled our daily sales, which is insane. We just started selling them a couple months ago. As soon as we made that decision, it was like, "Oh! It's working."
That’s amazing! Your destination is growing.
Yeah, it's been a wild ride. We're doing retail; we're still doing weddings; we're definitely still designing our own greeting cards and selling wholesale. So that's the three things we're focusing on right now.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Just a lot of Handzy-focused jobs: Instagram, making the shop look good, working on the website, working on new cards and new ideas. My typical day is crazy. I come in here and try to get as much done as possible. A lot of times I try to post an Instagram. We usually try to post one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We work really hard on it. We realize that that's a lot of the reason we get business. It's the one thing we decided to put our focus on and it's what we're good at; we're good at making things cute and visual.
I was so relieved to know that I would be able to focus on what I really want to do.
Then, often, I'll have to fill a few online orders. That's fun; I love doing that. Then I'm bringing new inventory – putting it into the system, editing photos so that there are product photos online, pricing things, finding a place to put stuff.
I think when Brittney gets back it'll be kind of a regrouping, because the focus has definitely shifted. It'll be nice to be able to be like, "What are our goals? What do we want to focus on?" Something we talked about a little bit before she left was that we both went to school for graphic design, so we don't really know anything about retail and marketing. We've just been learning as we go, so I think we are looking to connect with someone that knows a little more about e-commerce. We have an online store; I know how to get on the computer and design a website, but I don't know the marketing strategy of Facebook and Instagram. So we'd love to connect with someone about that or try to take a class.
The owner of Eli's B.B.Q. was a mentor for you all. Would you be looking for a new mentor then, in a different area of business?
Yeah, we do have a business mentor through the SCORE program, and he's been a lifesaver. We were so glad we had him. He has helped us with everything that you don't think you need to know about running a business, like payroll and taxes and accounting. He is a retired accountant, so he helps us with all the business side of things.
I think just trying to reach out and trying to find another mentor in e-commerce or retail space and marketing, because that's something we're still learning about is a goal moving forward for us.
In terms of passion and enjoying what you're doing, compared to what you said about graphic design earlier, how does it feel now?
It's amazing. It's funny, because we were still wrapping up a project when we had that talk. So our thought was that we’d just hustle, do anything that comes our way, make as much money as we can until this baby comes. Then we were going to both shift to working more part-time. Obviously Brittney wants to spend time with her baby, so we hustled hard. I was so relieved to know that I would be able to focus on what I really want to do. I'm excited. My next project is to redesign Handzy's website, so I'm excited to get into that. I feel great; I feel really happy that we made that decision to go that way.
In our last interview, you guys talked about "Self-Care Monday's." Is that still a thing?
Yes! We still are closed on Mondays. We still bought Coney Island passes this year. I went once. I think we try.
In terms of whether it's on the business side or even on the personal side, what kind of creative inspirations do you have?
I'm super outdoorsy, which is super funny. I feel like I have two sides of me: One is this fun, city girl. I love being in the city. I'm super outgoing, so I love being around people and the hustle and bustle. That gets me excited and gives me inspiration. Even just going to a new restaurant in the city. I love Cincinnati and I love being here, but then there's this whole other side of me where I just want to camp and live outside.
I used to instruct canoeing in the Boundary Waters. Before Brittney and I worked together, after college, I worked for two summers in Isle, Minnesota, which is in the middle of nowhere, and taught canoeing all summer long. I would go on four-week-long expeditions with youth with only one other instructor. I would come back to the base for two days, and then I would go back for another. That was my whole summer. I lived outside. For me, going on a big outdoors trip is more inspiring than going hiking for a day. I already scheduled a six-day trip to Red River Gorge when Brittney gets back so I can recharge and refresh myself. Brittney and I are pretty good about being like, "Hey, I need a vacation."
There's the 9-to-5 world, and then there's the freelance world; you guys are both living it. What are the challenges?
I think it's fun for me. Brittney is the same way; we both just like to be working. Even when we were just working out of our studio and we didn't have a shop, we would meet at 7 a.m. at the coffee shop and just make up stuff to do all day.
I think the hard parts can be health insurance, mostly since moving to Kentucky. It was super affordable in Ohio, and in Kentucky, it's weird. That and just making sure you have balance. I think what has been helpful, for us at least, is that we've always had a place to go to work. Every time I work from home, I hate it. I'll start working in the morning and next thing I know it's 11 at night. I don't have that physical “work’s over.” If I leave here, I'll maybe answer one email. I try just to let it go. If I'm here, I'm working at Handzy and if I'm at home, I'm just at home.
How have you changed as a business owner?
I think the longer I've been in it, the more seriously I've taken it. When we first started, it was just a thing we always joked about and thought would be fun. Like I said, we took it seriously from the beginning, but the longer it goes on, the more I'm like, “Okay, we're really in this. I want to make this work.”
I think part of the appeal of doing your own thing is that there's no limit to what you can do. It is kind of exhilarating.
There could be multiple Handzys. Handzy could be the biggest online shop. There are infinite possibilities, and I'm already at the top. So it's only up from here. Even though there are highs and lows, if you have a 9-to-5, there's only so far you can go. There's only so much you can do in that company structure, but when you are the one making your company structure then you can adapt it. We've changed Handzy so many times and we haven't even been open that long. If we just wanted to be a little, cute shop we could be just that. If we wanted to go for a higher goal, we could do that, too.
There wasn't anything like Handzy over here.
You and Brittney both bought houses here; you're moving into a new place. What brought you all to Covington?
So Brittney's husband lived in Covington and had been here for a long time. He works at Madison Design, which is right around the corner. Brittney did a co-op there in college, that's how they met. So they were renting over here, and we had our studio over in O.T.R. We didn't have lights and we didn't have heat, so it was a little rough, but it was perfect – a cheap place to go and do our work. The shop was always a dream, but not something we were actively working towards. We were just doing City Flea and graphic design.
One day, Brittney was walking around with her husband and they saw the "For Lease" sign in the window here, and she sent me a picture immediately. She was like, "Should we look at this? Should we get a shop?" So we called and looked at it. It's like when you go shopping and you're like, “We won't buy anything; we'll just look.” Then as soon as we saw it, we were like, “It's perfect. Let's do it.” I think we just kind of knew we were ready. We called our business adviser and were like, "Can we do this? Are we ready? Is this crazy; can we open a shop?"
And he was like, “No, I think you should go for it.” So we signed the lease and moved in.
I think we liked the artistic vibe over here. Honestly, we couldn't afford to open a shop anywhere else, even if we wanted to. Another thing that was appealing was that there wasn't anything like Handzy over here. In O.T.R., there's a lot of clothing boutiques and gift shops. It was cool that there wasn't anything like this over here. There's a little design community that we were excited to be a part of.
In Covington, there's definitely a community vibe. Everywhere I am, I see someone I know. If I'm at Left Bank, I'll see someone. We love it here. We love that we can walk everywhere. I love that I can ride my bike everywhere. It's like a hidden gem; it's really charming. As soon as we moved in, we felt so welcomed. It's funny because it's a city, but Covington definitely has a small town vibe.
I don't know if you know this, but we're actually moving next door. One day we heard them banging over there with a hammer. We're like, "What's going on?"
And he said, "Oh, I was thinking I'd work on this space, maybe rent it out.”
So we were like, “Well, we want it.”
Is the new space bigger than this?
The shop basically looks exactly the same as this, but we'll have the upstairs, which will be above that storefront and this storefront. So we'll have three times the space. We're really excited about it.
Do you know how you're going to lay it out?
I don't know how we'll lay out the shop over there. I think we'll build dressing rooms; right now our dressing rooms are bathrooms because we didn't even know we would carry clothes when we moved in here. We've just kind of been winging it. I think we'll build actual dressing rooms, and then above there, we'll put our office. And then I think we might make this space more of a workspace area. We don't have anywhere like that. We used to have workshops when we first opened, and we would have to rearrange the whole store, so it kind of became too dramatic.
It would be hard to fit a circle of 10 people in here.
Yeah, and it was just too much work to make it worth it, but we'd love to do it eventually. It would be nice to have a space to set up a creative workspace where we could work or have workshops or have other people host workshops. We have a full basement, but we don't have anywhere to put back stock. So everything Handzy has is out here. We're trying to grow our retail, so I think we're going to need to start ordering more. For instance, if we buy a piece of clothing, we only buy one size run because we don't have anywhere to put it. I think up there will be a tiny warehouse, like a place to fulfill orders.
[Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in late 2018. Handzy is still in the process of moving next door and they expect to have a grand reopening in October. They’re also converting their current space into a children’s retail store.]
What is next for you? Personally or professionally – or both?
Professionally, I'm really excited about our move. I think it's going to be refreshing and inspiring to be in a new space. It's really funny looking back at our first grand opening, and it looks empty. We thought we had stocked it and now I'm like, “Oh my gosh, we had nothing.” I'm excited to focus on Handzy stuff more.
In my life, I'm really excited about my house. I try my best to be helpful. I've done a lot of painting. I'm excited to move more into the finishing phase, where I can lay down tile. I know that's weird, but I'm hyped for tile, doing the finishing touches, and getting to decorate. I was really involved in the beginning phases. I must've done 300 different floor plans. It took a long time, and it feels good to see it come to life. I'm excited to keep doing house projects.
Who are the people in your life that support you?
Definitely my mom. My mom is my number one. She always has my back if I'm stressed or I just need to talk it out. I'm like, "Mom, I'm really stressed," and she's like, "Oh, you'll be fine." [Laughs.] Luckily for me, all my family is still here. I go home every Sunday for dinner.
And then definitely my boyfriend, as well. He's always super supportive. He's also self-employed, and he works at Allez Bakery. He loves working there. Then, he builds furniture. His business is called Tom Will Make, and he works out of Losantiville in O.T.R. So he does that during the day and then bakes during the night. So he gets the small business life.