National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day

To celebrate “National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day”, the Art Dog Blog sat down with three local art store owners and managers to discuss their industry experiences, upcoming art trends, and unique observations of running and growing a small retail business. The following are key takeaways from the conversation.

Special thank you to:

  • Sophia Bowman-Albirt, Owner of Sam Flax in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Amanda Santerre, Manager of C.C. Lowell Art Supply in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • Jessica Dumitru, Owner of Art Creations in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Prominent and Transitioning Art Supplies

Successful small business retailers know that one of the key aspects of curating a best in class inventory is spotting industry trends. When asked what each interviewee saw as a medium of the moment and trends that they envision transitioning in the future, these were their answers: 

Sam Flax

“There are so many muralists in Atlanta. You would think our spray paint would be more seasonal but it really isn’t… I guess they have indoor spaces where they’re painting. The only thing that’s very very seasonal for us is mural paint… stuff that’s just for outdoor use. As far as day-to-day supplies you’ve got… things that are on your class list for Fall and Winter back-to-school but other than that it’s pretty consistent. Each sort of subcategory, each percentage of our total sales, stays pretty flat through the year other than a spike throughout Christmas.” – Sophia

CC Lowell

“In our old store… there was a ramp that went down into the store, and all along the walls of that ramp was just decorative paper. This store is built differently so… we still have a lot of it but it’s not as much as the old store. That’s something that people would comment on. I think honestly with the quarantine and everything… people started writing letters a little bit again and I think the value in stationary and notecards, greeting cards, has really been something people have been looking for in the past few years. People are always telling us there’s nowhere to get greeting cards in the city, so we’ve been carrying greeting cards more and more over the years, and we sell stacks of them.” – Amanda

Art Creations

“We have a lot of people… come to us specifically because they want to get involved in something… they want to look, they want to be creative, to figure out that outlet and they want us to help guide them. We tend to start people in acrylic because it’s kind of the most user-friendly paint line, but we sell a lot of oil paint… I would say watercolor is probably our third as far as popularity. We obviously brought in more of the paint-by-numbers for the people that were home alone and they wanted to color in at the beginner novice level. We brought in a few more kids lines for kids that were stuck at home and couldn’t get out.” – Jessica

Unique Strengths of Small Local Stores

As a consumer, we’ve all heard, “Shop Small” or “Support Local”, but have you ever asked a small business owner the specific advantages of purchasing local rather than big box retailers? We did and here are the key takeaways: 

Sam Flax

“Atlanta’s a really creative city… it’s got an amazing arts community and film community, and for a city of three million people we don’t have a lot of art stores. I feel like art supply stores, at least the art supply store of my dreams that I’m getting to live now, is funky…  it needs some local flavor… we’ve got murals all over the store that were all done by local artists, we’ve got a local makers section where we highlight new candles and things like that, that are made by people locally. One of our core principles [is] to keep it as local as we possibly can because this is the community we serve. We’re not tied to Florida, we’re not tied to New York, it’s just us here in Atlanta.” – Sophia

CC Lowell

“We have a really nice group of regular people who come in and they always share what they’re doing. You get a lot of people who ask too, like “where do I go for an art show”… so it’s more than just your workplace. I feel like most people are pretty receptive because we’re very honest with people. Some people talk to me about watercolors, [and I will say] “well, let me tell you about my favorite watercolor…”, and I think that goes a long way for a small business. That’s something you don’t get in a big store necessarily. I think people come in because they want an experience and they want to get a real actual human being’s input on something instead of just reading a review online. It’s nice to have conversations with people like that every day.” – Amanda

Art Creations

“I love that we have a legacy, that we’re getting second and third generation customers that come in, that their moms shopped here and their grandmother shopped here. They know our family, and we know theirs. We get to know them, they come in, they tell jokes, they tell stories about their family. We’ve watched their journey and so we have that… we have that personal relationship. We’ll have certain customers that come in that buy certain products and we’ll be like “Hey! We went to this show, or we did this or that, and we found this cool new thing” and we’ll sample them… I just feel like we have that intimate relationship with our customers that you don’t have at those big box stores.”  – Jessica

Big Store Changes

A tale as old as time, running a business can come with changes of all sizes. The Art Dog Blog asked our interviewees to share about monumental moments that stand out as “Big Store Changes”. The following were their memories: 

Sam Flax

“Once we lost our lease at the location we were at… we had six weeks to secure SBA funding, find a new location, get movers, get our business license, contractors, and all of the things that you don’t think of needing until you need them. I shopped at Sam Flax when I was little, growing up in Atlanta, for science fair projects and stuff like that, so to have it shrink down to one store in Orlando just seemed like such a waste and impossibly sad.” – Sophia

CC Lowell

“Our building that we moved into six years ago went up for sale and, to preserve our business, Kristen bought the building, so now we own the building we rent[ed] out of. In the nature of sustainability, that was a necessary change. There are a lot of new things being built here and more people moving here lately… being in charge of the building was a big and clearly important step.” – Amanda

Art Creations

“We started out with a very little amount of art supplies… we just kind of expanded from there and so now we have an entire bay dedicated to art supplies, the way our store’s laid out… and we have a bay dedicated to framing. We carry, I think it’s 120,000 skews now of art supplies, so it’s been great for us to have the dual offering for people.”  – Jessica

We sincerely appreciate Sophia, Amanda, and Jessica for sharing their insights and experiences with the Art Dog Blog team to celebrate “National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day”. Wishing all local art retailers endless success in 2022!

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