I interviewed Sarah Long, owner/operator of Brown Dog Studio, for my first monthly special feature of a successful business mom. I discovered Sarah had a thriving jewelry art business last fall when I purchased my first charm of hers at an art show here in Lincoln, NE. I soon learned that every time she held a table at an art or craft show her table became swamped with customers. So I decided to find out what lead to Sarah’s success!
Sarah was a great “first” interview for me. I showed up to her home with a set of questions, asked my first one, and she started her story from her early years until now without me having to hardly ask another question. She made it so easy for me and I think this is indicative of the type of business person Sarah is. She is very giving and all about helping people.
Sarah earned her Bachelor Degree in French and lived abroad for a year and a half. She then moved back home to Lincoln, NE where she began a Masters program and taught French at the University of Nebraska. Sarah completed the Masters program two weeks before the birth of her first child William, who is currently a junior in high school. Right at about this time she received a very enticing job offer from Wesleyan University where she had to make a decision. This started a pattern, as her family grew, of choosing to stay home or accepting lovely job offers. Her French degree provided many opportunities but she always chose to stay home when she had each of her three babies. Sarah has never stopped using her French and has tutored and done translating on a part time basis when opportunities have arisen. It has been two years since she last worked with her French as a mentor for the Lincoln Public Schools, but she has kept her certification to teach current.
Sarah has always been crafty and her first taste of working with jewelry happened about 12 years ago when she purchased a Victorian style silver plated bracelet. She liked the feel of the bracelet but wasn’t satisfied that it was her personal style. She then learned how to craft her own bracelet and embellish it with beads and silver. Since that time she dabbled in many other arts and crafts including: knitting, making wood cut outs and painting them, painting rustic tins, and sewing cell phone totes. If she saw something that she liked she would figure out a way to recreate it to her personal taste. This caught the attention of others and they began asking her to make things for them.
Sarah made her own slip cover for a couch using upholstery material one time and began receiving requests from others. This was too time consuming to do for other people but out of this experience Sarah began creating purses made from upholstery material.
Seven years ago Sarah started selling some of her creations at a local coffee shop that she frequented. She sold hand knitted wool slippers and her purses. It was at about this time that she learned the stained glass technique which is the basis for her charms. She saw different ways stained glass was done on jewelry. Her first pieces using this technique were photo glass charms that she made for herself and family members. When Sarah wore her charms she started receiving comments at the coffee shop which prompted her to set up a little display to start selling them as well.
One day the owner of the coffee shop asked Sarah if she would like to join her in selling items at a craft show. Sarah said yes and took along her slippers, purses and set up a little stand with her glass and silver charms. She said she had her charms tucked away off to the back of the table but people still noticed them. She found people getting excited about these charms and she sold what she felt was a huge amount. By comparison to today the sales were very small, but she was giddy at the time with her wonderful experience.
The coffee shop eventually went out of business and Sarah lost her outlet to sell her creations but people were still interested in her purses and charms. So Sarah decided to hold an open house in her home where she set all of her items out on her six foot dining room table. The open house was a success and a new beginning. Her youngest child was about 4 ½ -5 years old at the time, which was about four and a half years ago, and along with holding open houses she began selling her items at craft and art shows. Year after year her business grew and with each passing year Sarah would add one more craft or art show to her schedule. Early on Sarah also started placing her items in a few stores but her favorite source for sales were through calls for orders, friends of friends and word of mouth. She prefers the personal touch and does not sell her products in stores anymore. But starting out slow fit her lifestyle as a stay at home mom and helped her target her niche audience and allowed her to narrow down her marketing methods.
Sarah’s departure from working part time to full time in her business was when she displayed her jewelry in the Lincoln, NE annual Cathedral Art Show two years ago. This is also the time when she began calling herself a jewelry artist. She no longer sold the slippers and purses.
This fall Sarah has 12 art and craft shows on her calendar as well as private trunk shows that she holds for groups of 5 or more in the evenings and on weekends when she is not working a craft or art show. This past spring and summer she was busy with the Piedmont farmers market every Saturday, the Jazz in June series in downtown Lincoln, a Rockbrook Village show in Omaha and the Hastings Art Show. Sarah also tries to open up her studio on Thursdays for her customers to shop. Calling ahead for the studio hours is Sarah’s preference.
The business has become a family affair for Sarah, her husband Todd and their three children, William, Lucy and Anders. While Sarah now works 40-60 hours a week she gets help from the whole family. Sarah does all the creative work, marketing and sales. Her husband Todd just took over the books one month ago. Lucy, who is now 14, attends all of Sarah’s shows and is hands on with the customers. Sarah prides herself in working personally with each customer to help them purchase the perfect piece or ensemble, or to help them in choosing or custom ordering gifts. Lucy has learned how to help women accessorize and choose gifts just like her mother. Sarah proudly says that Lucy can hold her own with a room full of women. Lucy also helps do the artwork for the jewelry and helps Sarah select designs for new lines from season to season. Todd, William and Anders load up the van at home before all the shows and assist in setting up tables and displays at all Lincoln events.
Sarah admitted to one struggle with her thriving full time home based business and that is balancing time for work and family. Often, in the evenings while the children are doing homework she will work on her pieces to craft them just right or to polish and clean them. But overall this business affords her the flexibility to drive for school field trips or to be home with a sick child when necessary.
The Brown Dog Studio, where all the creations happen, is in the basement of Sarah’s home. I asked Sarah where the name for her business came from and she said “It came from the brown dog we have.” She takes a picture of the dog to all her shows. She chose the name back when she was knitting and making purses. The name has just stuck and she has no intentions of ever changing it because it works. The unusual name does bring about many questions and conversations from her customers. She has been asked, “Is this jewelry for dogs?” The answer, “no, it’s for people?” and “Is the dog still alive?” The answer, “Yes.” and even “So what does the dog do in the studio?” The answer, “nothing, it usually just lays there.” Sarah has found the name of her business is unique and helps people to remember it.
The core products of Sarah’s business are the glass charms. These charms can be custom made with any picture or saying or artwork that one can think of. Along with customizing the charms there are hundreds of pre made charms to select from in many different sizes and shapes. There are charms with every initial of the alphabet, seasonal charms, sports team charms, religious charms, word charms and on and on… They can be used as necklace pendants, Christmas ornaments, lamp ornaments, key chains or they can be displayed on a window.
My personal favorites are the charms Sarah creates using the religious artwork of Sue Kuoma Johnson. Sue does mostly iconic paintings of Catholic saints and symbols. The first charm necklace I purchased was with Sue’s Rose painting, and I gave it to my mother in law last Christmas. She truly loved it, and wore it right away. I also purchased a charm necklace with Sue’s Holy Spirit Dove painting and gave it to a dear friend of mine. I also own and wear three charms myself, one says Peace, one says Faith, and the other is a picture of Saint Francis of Assisi. I wear them all the time!
If you would like to browse Sarah’s blog to see pictures of many of her charms and other jewelry offerings go to Browndogstudiojewelry.blogspot.com. This is a place where you can sign up for give-aways, and find out when and where Sarah is showing and selling her jewelry this fall. You can click onto my profile over on the right bottom of this page and look at blogs that I follow. It is listed there and if you click onto it you will be taken right to Sarah’s blog. Sarah can also be found at www.facebook.com/browndogstudio, her jewelry can be viewed at http://picasaweb.google.com/shemakescharms or you can e-mail her at Lo4sr@juno.com.
Check Sarah’s pretties out for yourself or for unique holiday shopping ideas, you won’t be disappointed!
"Joy Battista" stands for the Joy of John the Baptist at the presence of Christ.
"And how have I deserved that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, the moment that the sound of thy greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy." Luke 1:43-44
This blog is dedicated to all who seek the Joy of Christ's presence in their own lives.
This blog is also dedicated to the unborn, for John the Baptist was an unborn when he leapt for joy at the presence of Jesus who was also unborn at the time.