National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day

Today, March 29 is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, a day set aside to recognize the importance of independent entrepreneurs, small businesses, and family owned companies to our national economy. In today’s business parlance, “mom and pop shops” are often called “microbusinesses” (if they have 5 or fewer employees). This inspires me to share our stories as micro business owners.

My world revolves around the life of our small businesses as my husband, Richard Florack and I both own and operate our sole proprietorships. We personify the term “microbusinesses”.  My husband owns and operates Lakeside Optical in Katy, Texas with one part-time employee (his sister), and I operate my full time art business on my own from a rural studio near Brookshire, Texas.

I started my own jewelry design business in 1980 when I took the leap of faith to quit my job (in a mom and pop jewelry store) and trust that I could make it on my own. I worked from a small apartment in 1980 with a work space, (complete with casting equipment and torches) set up in a tiny closet size 3rd room of a 1 bedroom apartment. When I decided to take this step, I called my parents and asked them if they would feed me if I had some poor times and I called my then boyfriend Rick (husband to be) and asked him the same thing. Both parents and boyfriend offered their pledge of support, even though my parents had some concerns about me quitting my job. My boyfriend, already in business for himself with his dad in their own “Mom and Pop” or “Son and Pop” business encouraged me to go for it! The good news is that I never needed to ask anyone for grocery money or loans but I certainly knew how to stretch my dollars in those early lean times. I’ve come a long way baby from my tiny apartment studio beginnings.

Four years later in 1984, my boyfriend became my husband. I think much of our common ground is our entrepreneurial spirits and is a strong base for our marriage.  Trust is a huge part of starting and running small businesses as it is of utmost importance in a marriage. Success in a mom and pop business requires trust between the proprietor and the customer. We build our businesses one relationship at a time, earning trust and forming loyal lifelong customers. That is a hard to find shopping experience in today’s shopping culture of big box stores. Building such trust requires forming a relationship with each customer and personalizing their shopping experience with us. Only happy customers come back and the micro business relies on repeat customers.

As my own website business is growing, I find myself forming good relationships with customers across the country. I purposely do not have a shopping cart on my website as I need to have contact with each customer. Since so many of my art products are one-of-a-kind I can’t risk selling the product at a show while someone is trying to buy it from the website at the same time.  I need to have some kind of conversation with the buyer by email, facebook message, or phone to discern if I can meet their expectations for delivery of the product. While I’m sure I lose some impulse website sales by not having a shopping cart, I think I am building a stronger clientele by having the interactions with the long distance customers. Many are amazed that the person on the other end of the phone is the artist. It always will be as I don’t have, or plan to have, any employees to answer the phone, (or scrub a floor or toilet for that matter). As I state many places… “I am the company, and the company is me!” I am humbled and grounded by wearing so many hats as an artist and business owner.

So today being “National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day” seems like a good day to share our personal micro business stories and say thank you to all those folks who have kept us in business all these years! Here’s to building many more relationships, one customer at a time! YOU are worth our time as we can’t make it without you. We thank YOU, for putting food on our table, a roof over our head, and for the blessings of experience that come with small business ownership.

In Gratitude,
Nancy & Rick

(click each photo to visit our websites for more information about our businesses)

Lakeside Optical Katy Texas

Lakeside Optical in Katy, Texas

Nancy Denmark Jewelry Artist Website

Nancy Denmark, Jewelry Artist Website

Nancy Denmark's Booth at a Show
Nancy Denmark’s Exhibit Booth

Flying by the seat of my pants, trusting the Spirit has hold of a belt loop…

I am finding myself a bit overwhelmed with chairperson duties for a fundraiser at my church this weekend. Of course it is an event that my friend Margaret and I created for the church so I have no one to blame but myself! My big ideas often lead to lots of work. I also have a speaking engagement on Thursday morning. When I committed to both in the same week, I knew it could be a bit much, but trusted in advance that I would find a way to pull it off. So I started this week, lying in bed early Monday morning, thinking I should just accept that I would most likely “fly by the seat of my pants” this week. Then I lay there wondering where that saying comes from anyway. First thing Monday morning, with my morning espresso routine, I googled it. The meaning I found: “Decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a pre-determined plan or mechanical aids.”

That is pretty much how my week is unfolding and I’m really going to hope for the best that this style works as I give my talk at St. Dunstan’s on Thursday morning. There will be some kind of advance prep and I guess it may appear here as my next blog post. I realize that this blog was probably made manifest the first week of November because I woke up on November 1, realizing it was time I gather my thoughts for this presentation.

Spirit Wind Beneath My Wings

I would like to think that the trust, hope, and using my own initiative is guided by the Holy Spirit. Trusting that the Spirit is the wind beneath my wings, I take these things on, knowing I will be given what I need, as I need it. As this week continues to unfold I will greet the opportunities with gratitude. I trust my chaos will turn to order as I go along. I am grateful I have these opportunities to serve. These occasions always seem to present opportunities to encourage others which gives me joy. I am grateful that my church trusts me with these events I dream up, and gives me a big green light to run with them. I am grateful that the Daughters of the King at St. Dunstan’s believe I have a story worth sharing. As I fly by the seat of my pants this week I will trust that the Spirit has a hold of one of my belt loops and will see that I don’t fall as I fly.

Working on my attitude of gratitude this morning, I found this quote which so eloquently sums it up: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~Melodie Beattie

And of course I have a responsibility as a co-chair of this event, to not miss an opportunity to make my plea for folks to come on out and support it! We have a nice variety of show offerings and this will be my last local show before Christmas. More preview photos may be viewed online here.

click the image to link to map

VISUAL STORIES AND STATEMENTS OF FAITH

ABOUT MY SYMBOL JEWELRY
Visual Stories and Statements of Faith…

the calling…

H21 One In The Spirit sterling silver Nancy Denmark symbol jewelry design

One In The Spirit Sterling Silver Pendant

In the late 80’s, after hearing a stewardship sermon, I felt called to communicate the love of God through my jewelry work. I understood it to be my responsibility, as a good steward of my artistic gifts, to create a body of work for the Glory of God. It was the best way for me to give God a good return on his investment in me. As a Lenten discipline, I created the first pieces of my line of jewelry incorporating Christian symbology. I named it “From the Heart Line” as many of my first pieces were hearts incorporating different Christian symbols. Through the years, I have continued to add to that original body of work, which is now over 55 designs strong. With that first calling, I committed to give each piece a story or scripture explanation to help the wearer communicate their faith to others with words, as well as the visual design. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, is “Tell everyone around you of the great love of God. When all else fails, use words.” It is my goal as an artist that each jewelry piece stands on its own as good design without the attached symbolism. It is also my goal that the symbols will communicate without words. This often results in perfect strangers, being drawn to comment on the design, opening a door for the wearer to share their story of faith. My ministry is sharing the love and glory of God through my design work, offering the wearer a “love story” to visibly wear and verbally share.

every picture tells a story…
Being an artist, I am such a visual person, so I seem to learn best through visual means. I remember focusing on the symbols in church settings as a child. I still use the big beautiful window in my church today as a place to focus my eyes while listening during the service. God “speaks” to me through all my senses, but the visual often seems to provide the most direct line of communication for me. For me, symbols serve as portals to enter a world of thought, contemplation, meditation, or just pure pondering. I am constantly researching symbols for historic as well as contemporary meanings yet I’m not afraid to create my own, since “every picture tells a story”. How primal and basic. Mankind has been communicating with pictures from the beginning of time. My research always leads me to inspiration, better understanding of concepts, and spiritual growth, which in turn is reflected in my design work. One time I took a step back and looked at the body of work I had created over time and realized through my choice of symbols and stories it was a pictorial time line of my own life experience. I can often recall the life event speaking to me at the time that influenced my design or the naming of the design. This body of work is my own story of faith.

more about the storytelling…

Feed My Sheep Cross sterling silver quatrefoil Nancy Denmark jewelry design

Feed My Sheep Quatrefoil Cross Pendant

I feel I can best communicate my faith through the use of symbols and I especially like to combine symbols to tell a story. That began with my first pieces when I incorporated different symbols into hearts. One of my older, yet still favorite designs is “One In the Spirit” which tells a story through the combination of 2 hearts, a fish, and a cross all entwined inside the outer shape of a descending dove. The accompanying story fleshes out the design with, ” Two hearts joined together by and in Christ form a union, which is encompassed by the Holy Spirit.” Another design incorporates sheep, a shepherd’s crook and wheat in a quatrefoil shaped cross, titled “Feed My Sheep”. Those 4 symbols combine to tell a big story about our relationship with our Lord as the “sheep of his pasture” and our own call to “feed his sheep” by taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Most of my designs are much more than a static symbol, or a smattering of unrelated symbols. Even if the piece is a lone symbol, its shape will communicate more, like the “Spirit In Motion” or “Filled with the Spirit”. Each is a simple descending dove but a dove that is in motion with flame like wings. My fish are fluid, emoting a sense of the fish moving through water.

my Source and motivation…

sterling silver descending dove pendant Nancy Denmark symbol design

Filled With The Spirit

I hope my work reflects that it is inspired by a Source greater than me. People often ask how do you come up with your ideas? There also seems to be a pervading thought that one would run out of ideas. I cannot fathom ever running out of ideas. There are so many known and unknown designs begging me to give them life but I know I will not live long enough to ever make that happen. I also trust in the Source from whence they flow. It is an ever-flowing fountain for anyone who chooses to drink. I often have people sharing their “good ideas” with me being delivered in a phrase such as “you should make a ___ it would really sell well.” My motivation is humbler than a monetary motivation. I hope to be a faithful and obedient servant to the work, as a co-creator with God, my Inspirer. I feel blessed to be able to combine my ministry with my work life. It has made me a happy and whole being, which I believe leads me to create better work. My aim is to just feed the lake, even though my contribution may just be a trickle. What matters is the lake, and we are all called to feed the lake using our own unique gifts with no required quantitative measure.

discerning what to make next…
There are many influences of what ideas actually get brought to fruition. Is that idea “speaking to me” at the time in some way or another? Do I have a unique voice for that concept? There is plenty of well-designed Christian jewelry out there already, so for me to add another fish to the table, I want to know that it will be fleshed out with a new voice before I give it my energy. Will there be something different spoken in the way I present it? People often have requests for me to make specific symbols. If that symbol holds no special meaning for me, I don’t have a voice for it. I heard a long time ago of a teacher advising his art students to “paint what you know”. If you live in Texas, don’t try to paint snow scenes. I am a Christian and my designs are a reflection of my own faith experience. That is what I know. I avoid the term “religious jewelry” as a description of what I do since that term should encompass symbols of many faiths. I call mine what it is, “Christian Symbol Jewelry”. Many times in my research of symbols, I will get to know an unfamiliar symbol and fall in love with it as I learn more about it and embrace it’s meaning. Sometimes that research may have an opposite effect. It may shed new light that will turn me off, as I learn of some negative connotations attached. But in the end, I will only give it life when I know it well enough to give it a voice, with something new to say.

confliction to conviction…
You may notice that many of my recent designs began as a commission from a church. I have seen some jewelry companies making statements of conviction and assurance that you will not see “your design” being sold elsewhere. While that seems honorable, here is my statement on the subject. If I created a piece especially for you or your group, it is “my design for your use”. Better yet, it is really not wholly “my design”; it belongs to the ultimate Creator for His glory. I was faced with this confliction one day in my studio when a visiting customer noticed all the crosses I was working on and wanted to purchase one. I choked as I thought to myself, “How can I tell this woman she cannot have this cross that speaks to her also?” I really didn’t answer that day as there were numerous church members’ orders in front of her and I knew it may be months before I had one to spare for her to buy. That gave me time to come to terms with my confliction, which eventually lead to my own statement of conviction. I will not create exclusive designs. That is not the statement of faith I want to make. Our faith is meant to be shared and we do not belong to an exclusive club. Once again, it is not about money, it is about feeding the lake. That struggle with confliction led me to better discern the projects I will currently accept.

share the love…
It is my belief we best share our faith by actions of love and in conversations of love, using Jesus Christ as our perfect model of living life in love. I hope my symbol jewelry may serve the wearer as a daily personal reminder of where we are to center our lives and as a tool to open doors, offering opportunities to share their own love story of faith with others.

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15

(click each image to link to my website for design details and purchase information)