Metro Detroit's Homeprenuers
More and more people are staring at pink slips and rather than wallowing in fear, they're laughing in the face of the recession. Instead of waiting for employment to suddenly materialize, they're following their passion to their next job – a path that leads them right to their own homes.
According to the Small Business Administration
, fully half of all small businesses nationwide are home-based, and that number is only poised to grow. Art in the oven
In Plymouth, artist Kevin Ewing recently wrapped up "Undomesticated," the first show at Plan B Gallery
, which, conveniently, doubles as his home. While living "above the store" isn't uncommon, Ewing actually brought the business of art into his living space, blending his edgy, contemporary installations with his day-to-day life.
"There's art in the oven, the kitchen table has been replaced by art… which may be uncomfortable for some people, but I seem to find it fairly enjoyable," he says.
The gallery concept came out of discussions with artist friends John Newth and Will Sooter. Ewing had been teaching out of state and lost touch with many art friends and colleagues. He and Newth thought that launching a gallery would be a good way to reconnect with them in an interesting D.I.Y. kind of way, while providing an exciting alternative to the traditional gallery space.
"Artists throughout history have had to get their work in established galleries to get recognition and get their pieces sold," he says, explaining why he chose the name Plan B. "It's very competitive, and in an economy like this not a lot of people are buying art. We wanted to see if this would kind of help us be a little more legitimate."
Plan B's location in a residential neighborhood in Plymouth, far outside the gallery axis of Birmingham-Royal Oak-Ferndale, provides an interesting contrast as well. Plymouth is more frequently described as quaint and charming than contemporary or cutting edge. Ewing says he likes the contrast of conservative small town and challenging art.
"If you're going to do an art gallery, why put it where they all are already?" he says. "Why not put stuff out in an area when people aren't used to seeing this?" Fashioning a career
Bethany Nixon paid her rent in college by finding great vintage clothes and selling them to her friends --putting that Central Michigan entrepreneurship major to good use at a young age. Post-college, she worked for other people, married, and bought a house, all the while harboring dreams of someday opening up her own vintage clothing store.
Eventually, she and her web-designer husband pooled their talents and launched ReWare
in 2005. Nixon now runs the shop from two closets in her Pontiac home and has expanded to include crafts and some clothing items she's restyled herself.
She loves being involved in all aspects of the business herself and managing her own time, she says. But like any person who works at home, she sometimes finds setting boundaries challenging. "That is one of hardest parts of the job, not only time-wise but space-wise," she says. "It's tough when you work at home to not feel you should always be working."
Since Nixon was starting the business as an online store (versus a bricks and mortar location), advertising was key those first few years - until she established a following. She's of the generation that feels totally comfortable living life online, so her customers, who tend to be around the same age, responded. And it's paid off in spades. Nixon now fully supports herself with ReWare.
Her advice to other would-be entrepreneurs is to make sure you have people to turn to who understand aspects of the business, such as taxes or legal issues, that you may not.
Equally important is finding like-minded people to keep you focused and enthusiastic about what you're doing, which Nixon found in craft group Handmade Detroit
. "I think it's important to surround yourself with people that are going to inspire you and drive you."Will work for food
Finding a pink slip in your paycheck can throw anyone. But for chef Laura Romito of Royal Oak, being let go from a local gourmet market ended up opening the door to a whole new business venture. Last year she and business partner Laura Gononian launched Taste-Full Tours
, which capitalizes on their love and knowledge of great food. Every week, they help busloads of tourists uncover some of the region's hidden culinary treasures.
The company started because Romito and Gononian were foodies, and spent lots of their free time scouting around the metro area to find the coolest food markets, restaurants, and manufacturers. One day, after Romito took Gononian on a day trip to Ann Arbor and poked around some of her favorite food spots, Gononian mentioned she thought they could do this for a business.
After the axe fell, Romito took it much more seriously, and the fledgling business got a big boost when a lunch at Zumba
in Royal Oak led to an introduction to Chris Ramos, who runs the The Night Move
transportation service. Ramos agreed to lease them his bus for their tours, and they were off and running.
The tours have themes as diverse as "Beer and Barbecue" or "Taste of Italy" and focus on only locally-owned, independent businesses. They scout locations all over town and get to know the owners and managers. When the tour arrives, the owner or manager or chef will provide a behind-the-scenes peek at the business, frequently throwing in samples or a discount. "We can bring in a wide variety of people who might never go into these places," Romito says. "We feel like we're doing something good in supporting local business and the local economy, and building a community relationship."
Romito also teaches yoga and is a mother of two small children, so drawing the line between home and work can be a challenge, she says – and her kids lost their playroom when she set up her office. But the low overhead lets them limit the amount of tours they do while still keeping prices at around $65-$75 per person.
And how are things going? So far, so good. Tasteful Tours paid for itself last year (their first year) and made a
small profit. They expect 2010 to be even better.
Overall, Romito says, it's been easier and more exciting than she ever imagined. "We would be doing this anyway," she says. "We're kind of paying for our own food habit. There is no part of this job I don't enjoy doing."
Amy Kuras is a
freelance writer who loves working from home despite developing a
possibly unhealthy attachment to her laptop and cell phone. Her previous article for Metromode was Michigan Politics 2.0.Send comments here.All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here
Bethany Nixon and Kona of Reware Vintage
Bethany Nixon's office