Updated: Aug 2
Back when I first moved to San Antonio, TX I stumbled upon the most captivating brick and mortar at The Collection at Broadway & Sunset. The first thing to catch my attention was the stores lovely yellow door, which was quickly follow by the amazing display of plant life surrounding it. However, when I finally made my way through the door, the inside truly took my breath away... If you thought Amazon was the best place to buy heartfelt gifts for your friends and loved ones, think again! Allow me to introduce you to quite possibly the most charming stationary and gift lifestyle brand to have graced the Alamo Heights area. Selling both wholesale and retail designed and produced in house, this place is a true one-stop-shop for all of your gift giving needs! Without further ado, Belle & Union Co.
Why did you start your business?
My days behind a computer screen were long, and I yearned for something where I could get my hands dirty. I wanted to be able to bring my designs to life - something to hold and to ultimately be able to give to others. I knew I had a unique illustration style and perspective that was missing in the marketplace at the time.
What were you doing before owning your own store/What lead you down this path?
I studied graphic design in college, and went straight into the advertising industry. So much of advertising and marketing nowadays lives within a digital screen, and it was lacking for me. I wanted to be able to touch and feel, to be able to impact others with my work beyond a simple visual. I've always had a love for the arts - my mom even "craved" coloring when I was in the womb!
What were some hardships you faced when starting?
I was a designer, first and foremost; I wanted to make! I think it's how so many small business owners start out - they open a business because it's something they love. The problem is that business itself is part of it! The entire reason you started can become such a small part of what you do. You have to wear all the hats when you start out - in my case, designer, manufacturer, marketer, accountant... the list goes on. And not everything was a strength for me, especially anything involving numbers. We initially had wonderful success, with lots of orders coming in, and realizing very quickly that it takes capital to create all of those products I just sold! There were definitely some hard lessons learned early on about money management.
" I want people to know us as their go-to gift shop. Somewhere they can find a gift for anyone in their life, especially those hard to gift people. I want them to know they can always come to us, and feel confident that they will be able to walk out with a beautiful gift (inside and out!) and the card to go with it - a one-stop-shop!"
Being where you are now with Belle & Union, what lessons have you learned being a store owner, manager, entrepreneur, etc?
The biggest thing I can tell people is to know your numbers. It's not a fun part of the job (for most of us) but it is the most important. You are not running a non-profit, you are running a BUSINESS. Businesses need to make money; YOU need to make money. It's all too easy to try and ignore the numbers early on, but if you do that how will you know if you are charging enough? Making a profit? Sustainable long term? Know your numbers.
If you could attribute three things to the success of the store, what would those things be?
This is a tough one! I think a lot of it is simple stubbornness and persistence. The shop is only one part of the company, which I think is key. Diversifying your income streams can help you survive in the ups and downs of business. When retail is busy for me, wholesale is usually slow, and vice versa. We also offer custom services. It's important to do whatever you can to keep things moving and flowing, especially when it comes to revenue.
"I want people to experience a sense of peace, joy, and comfort when visiting our shop. Our physical brick and mortar is so much more than just a shop - it's an escape, a safe place, a refuge. Even if you aren't here to make a purchase, I hope you leave a little lighter. There's something special about being here, that we are passing on a little bit of our creativity to you for your own life, to share with your family and community."
For people looking to open their own store, what advice would you give them?
Don't do it! I'm just kidding, but it is something very serious for people to think long and hard about. Overhead (rent, bills, payroll, etc) is very expensive, and it's hard to be "successful" right out of the gate. (And by successful, I just mean with the ability to pay those bills!).
Break things down to know how many cards (in my case, for example) you need to sell PER DAY to just cover expenses. Is it 5 cards a day, 20, 200? Figure out what is reasonable, and plan for those hard days.
I'd have at least six months worth of TOTAL expenses saved before opening to help get you through - and that doesn't include money you'll need to live on. Don't expect to be able to take a salary right out of the gate. Have a financial plan (are you sensing a theme yet) that you feel confident in.
What can we look forward to in the future from Belle & Union? Any events, big seasons, sales?
We are already looking toward the holiday season with excitement and anticipation! We just had our final design meeting, and are ready to dive into the execution. We take great pride in our displays, and those take time to create. We have put together our biggest ideas yet! We've also got some really wonderful workshops planned for fall (my personal favorite season). There's always something special to look forward to within our four walls.
All in all, since discovering that lovely yellow door, I have been lucky enough to have experienced Belle & Union in a number of ways, from simply shopping for myself, to mingling with other entrepreneurs at the Fiesta Femme event, to sitting in on intimate Q&As with the owner. The owner, Meg, would describe the store as curation, comfort, creative.. Which is all entirely true, but if I had to describe Belle & Union, I would say it's a super store for all things sweet and sentimental, two things vital to any great gift!
Connect with Belle & Union!