The next months and years were years of growth. Slow growth. Good growth. I continued working full time at the local print shop and catching up on paperwork, voicemails and shipping orders evenings and weekends. This all happened in a small “storage room” with brown paneled walls, a hand-me-down desk from auntie and an iMac gifted by Dad. As the customer list grew, the orders grew and eventually I found ways to swindle my little sisters and mom into counting cards.
For the first 3 years there was no paycheck. Every penny was reinvested into card racks, given to Haiti or printing more cards. There were days- many days, when I felt like throwing the towel. A handful of designs didn’t sell. Other girls my age were traveling the world, getting married or buying nice cars. By age 21 I had downgraded from a $3,500 Dodge Neon to a even older $2,000 Honda Accord (again, owned by Dad, but a lifesaver).
The first years taught me it’s okay to be different, to do your own thing. Growing up my parents always told me that- but I longed to fit in. To be a part of something. At age 6 my parents decided to leave the Amish Church, by 18 my family began going to the fifth church in my lifetime, as you can tell- settling isn’t exactly our strong suite. Looking back I never appreciated my dad’s outside the box lifestyle, money management lessons, quick thinking and aggression until I was an adult. The successes of the past 8 years are a reflection of Linus Troyer in more ways than he will ever know.
The summer of the third year I attended my first wholesale shows in Indiana and Pennsylvania. So many firsts. A booth setup, selling to strangers and working with retailers of many ages and lifestyles. Also around this time my little sister purchased her first DSLR camera and began capturing the most amazing scenes from everyday life on the farm. Then I knew- she was my girl. We began attending auctions, rummaging through boxes looking for props. We practiced shooting in the house, outside, on the porch until we found the perfect lighting. Many a scene never made it on paper, but it was the beginning of taking unique to the next level. Thank you, Grace, for being patience with my attempts, traipsing through snow and learning with me.
At 22 I decided to begin EMT classes, an intense 4 month journey, but realized sleeping at the fire station entire weekends on duty isn’t something I enjoy. A few months before 23 I quit my job, made a down payment on a condo with the money I had scraped together since becoming of age and moved in with a roommate. So many changes. I missed my family dearly, but loved having my own space. Not having coworkers was a huge adjustment, but working from home gave me so much freedom and flexibility. The warehouse also moved with me- (and mom finally got her storage room back) into the 2 car garage. At this point, 4 years into it, I began pay myself enough to cover the mortgage (single girls- this is were having a roommate is SUCH a blessing), some basics for the refrigerator and an emergency fund. Between EMS runs I redesigned the card rack, jumping from holding 36 designs to 84. My days were spent obsessing over how Abiart can better serve retailers and consumers. I asked questions, began using only Grace’s or local photography and refining the brand. Calls from retailers all over the country began trickling in. Again, slow growth is good growth. As the sales grew, so did the responsibility– but also the amount of Haitian school children Abiart was able to sponsor. Those precious faces were what I saw working late at night or in the early morning hours. At this point I was shipping thousands of cards each month and still doing everything from taking orders to taking boxes to the post office. This is also the year I learned to say NO to good things and YES to greater. No to freelance jobs and being an EMT. YES to being Ryan’s wife, moving home for a few months before our wedding and working with a national Sales Rep Team.
At this point Ryan and I were both 24, said “I Do” April 2016 and the warehouse moved to the little town of Wilmot with us. Also forced to finally buy a car- we cashed off a car at an estate auction. (yes, this really happened!) Mr. Miller had no idea who he had married. A mild workaholic, not used to cooking for a man, with a side of stubborn. Both the eldest of 5 and alike in many ways the first year proved to be… interesting.
Around our first anniversary, looming deadlines kept me in the studio late one evening. As I tried to slide into bed beside my sleeping husband. He stirred and quietly said, “Is this what life is really all about?” My heart sank. How very much I didn’t want it to be, but I felt unable to stop the hamster wheel. That night it all changed. The lights went on in more than one way and together we began brainstorming. We reviewed numbers, everyday processes and goals. God taught us so much that first year: learning from each other, unconditional love and dreaming up the lifestyle we wanted “the rest of our lives.” Within weeks we hired Janella as the warehouse manager to oversee inventory and shipping all orders. Lydia (my little sister) was hired as a personal assistant, operating Quickbooks, helping me at shoots and even cleaning my house weekly. You guys. Our life in the little house was forever changed. Working after dinner wasn’t an option anymore and I had time to decorate my house, bake cookies and watch a Friday night movie. Ryan became an invaluable asset to Abiart, while running his own small business.
This brings us to today. As we face the mountaintops and valleys of life we have a choice. We always choose between allowing obstacles to over take us or teach us. Despite our humanity, God remains. Looking back I stand amazed at this journey. Thankful for His provision and the fire within my heart for handwritten love that only grows.
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
Oh for grace to trust Him more.
How do I create in bulk when everything I sell is hand-lettered or hand-painted?Adobe Illustrator + Photoshop are programs created for such things. These programs, along with a good scanner are the tools you need to digitize your work.
- Any advice for someone who wants to start their own business?So you discovered a passion or something like that- that’s awesome! Keep in mind this is a journey and God will lead you. Don’t fear failure and know whatever happens will teach you so much. Here are some lessons I learned those from those first years:
- 1.“Just do it” we hear it all the time. There certainly is a point when we need to take that step, face the risk and put our product out there. But I also discovered there is gold in not feeling rushed and making sure what you are putting out there is your absolute best work. Prayed over, refined, and a true representation of your heart.
- 2. Be flexible. Ask your retailers or consumers questions and know who your ideal customer is. Like most things in life, we must constantly be open to making adjustments for continued growth. Presenting to the right crowd and finding that niche market can make or break your business.
- 3. Slow growth is good growth. Those first years of small batch production and profit may not be glamorous, but it allows us to adapt with less loss. It gives us the ability to improve processes and products. Don’t let the slow seasons stress you out, but use them to prepare for the busy.
- How do I know if the cards I’m making for myself + family will sell?Well, honey, we don’t really know unless we try. Entrepreneurship always includes a risk of some sort, is it financially or emotionally or both. Here are a few ways to “test the waters” before diving in: Give samples to friends and family, asking them if they would be willing to pay x amount for these cards. Present them to local store owners or managers for honest feedback. Most of all, pray. Ask God for direction and offer this talent to Him for His glory, He knows your heart, your story, and walks this journey with us. How amazing is that?
- Was being Beachy a hindrance or help in starting your business and venturing out? Great question and one I never thought of before and had to mull over a bit. Never have I felt it being a hindrance–if anything, a help. Especially those early years as I began traveling to other plain communities in different states, being able to speak dutch brought a unique trust and relationship with strangers. As I began selling to retailers with no Mennonite background it did bring up some interesting questions and comments, but to my knowledge never affected their decision. From day one my parents were very supportive and so was my church/community. For this I am forever grateful.
- When are you due? The early ultrasound said January 29th and the second, the 24th! Secretly going with the 24th because it happens to be my mother-in-law’s birthday. Now let’s see if baby is on board with this plan.
- Where did you first start selling your products? How did you advertise? Great question. I’ve paid for one small ad, ever. Where did it begin? The Saturday I spent on the road visiting the 14 local retailers I dreamt of selling to, scared stiff, but armed with press quality sample product and a business card. At each shop I asked to speak to the owner or manager, gifted them with samples regardless of their decision and kept the presentation under 10 minutes. That day 9 stores signed up and this is where it all began! Please know, this was my process to get into the wholesale market– retail or direct sales will look completely different and not a field I consider myself an expert in by any means, but would someday love to dive into.
- Is it better to start small and go with what you have? Or go big because 1st impressions?Another great question and one that will bring varied opinions depending on the business, product or so on. Looking back though, my thought is, keep it simple- begin small. This allows flexibility and finding your niche, less financial risk or money invested in product sitting in a box for months or years, establishing your brand, and refining your processes. Slow and steady growth allowed me to learn how to navigate all of the above… somewhat- I’m STILL learning! If you decide to make a splash or kickstart your business, I recently heard marketing/advertising costs should never exceed 10% of your projected gross sales. Having a bit of a guideline in this area is not only helpful and also brings freedom. Now read the second question.