Suzanne Basham: Entrepreneur
This Oconee County woman has launched a thriving upscale furniture consignment shop just outside downtown Watkinsville.
We all know that Oconee County is ripe with Georgia peaches, but they're not just the kind that Thomas Orchard grows on tenderly tended trees. Our beloved community is also blessed with bushels of talented and beautiful peaches of the female persuasion.
Here’s the first story in an occasional series on women entrepreneurs of Oconee. We hope these stories inspire you to take that step you may have been considering, branch out, and be your own boss.
Often overwhelming, confusing, and downright scary, today’s economy and national unemployment numbers are not the only reasons to consider starting your own business.
Another good reason is because YOU CAN DO IT!
Today’s interview is with Suzanne Basham of The Classic Cottage, a new upscale furniture consignment store on Highway 15 just outside of downtown Watkinsville.
The Classic Cottage was a wonderful idea for a new Oconee business and is growing by leaps and bounds. In just the first four months, Suzanne has already outgrown her space and is considering adding on to her square footage by leasing the next space over from hers.
She has a waiting list of clients ready to deliver new goods once she has moved some current inventory.
I spoke to Suzanne on a Saturday afternoon, and in the half hour I was there, a constant flow of clients came through, perusing the showroom, ooohing and aaahing at the beautiful treasures within.
I wanted to find out from Suzanne what led her to start her own business, how she did it, and how she feels about the results so far.
Melissa: What made you decide to start your own business?
Suzanne: I had previously worked for the Georgia Department of Revenue as a tax field agent for 10 years, then spent another 10 years in the field of mammography as an X-ray technolgist. A back injury led me to stop working for a while, but I was restless and frustrated with the medical profession and didn’t want to go back to that. I helped my friend Donna Brannon at her furniture consignment shop in Winterville, “Possibilities,” and I just loved everything about it.
Melissa: So that’s what also led you to do consignment?
Suzanne: Yes! I loved the thrill of the hunt, the estate sales, the garage sales. I loved the idea of re-use, re-cycle, and re-purpose. I love grouping items together to expose their maximum potential. I love the notion of encouraging the use of items for something other than its intended purpose.
Melissa: For example?
Suzanne: For example, you can use a dresser with a mirror for something other than just that. The mirror can be adapted to be a featured piece on an otherwise empty hall wall, and the dresser can become a base for your flat screen TV, with the drawers storing games and DVD’s.
Melissa: Right! So your creativity was piqued, and your design skills were tapped into.
Suzanne: Exactly! My interior design classes didn’t go to waste!
Melissa: Did you major in interior design?
Suzanne: I studied it in the first two years of college at Anderson College in South Carolina, then later got married and eventually went back to Athens Technical College, where I finished my degree in radiologic technology.
Melissa: But you always loved design?
Suzanne: Yes, and I knew I wanted to do something design oriented such as antiques, gifts, stationery, something like that. My mother was a legal assistant but she always wanted to have a shop with those items. But the initial investment for inventory for a business like that is enormous. Unless you have a great deal of start-up money, which I did not, it’s very difficult to open a store that requires initial output for inventory. That held me back from starting a business earlier.
Melissa: Many people fund their new businesses with savings, or from proceeds of selling property or stocks, or prepare a business plan and approach a bank or investors with their proposal. Which avenue did you take?
Suzanne: None of those! My parents both passed away within a short period of time, and my two brothers and I each received an inheritance. It wasn’t a great deal of money, but I wanted to be smart with it. I didn’t just want to pay off bills or put it on our mortgage. I considered other types of investments, but finally after some time, decided to invest it in myself. The timing seemed right. My mother would have wanted me to do this.
Melissa: Timing is enormously important. Tell me more about how that applied to what you wanted to do.
Suzanne: Well, the economy, as you well know, is such that people are having to be more frugal, more creative with their disposable income. Even in the high-end market, people are more carefully considering how they spend their money. So, a consignment store seemed to fit the bill. I don’t know if this type of shop would work in other communities, but when I considered the market here, it seemed a safe bet.
Melissa: Donna’s shop in Winterville, a little off the “beaten path,” proved to you that the market was there.
Suzanne: Yes, and I was going to be far enough away so that we wouldn’t be competitors. We actually work together sending customers to each other whenever possible.
Melissa: Plus you have the location here that invites shoppers from Greensboro and the Lake Oconee Area.
Suzanne: Exactly. That’s why this is such a great spot!
Melissa: Yes, location is of monumental importance in starting your business.
Suzanne: Absolutely. We are located on the second busiest road in Oconee County. This building had room for expansion, easy access, good parking, and is easy to load stuff in and out of. I had hoped to have a cool historical building with exposed brick and beams, a historic feel, cozy, but the pros of this location outweighed the cons, so I feel I made the correct choice!
Melissa: I’d say so! I mean, needing more space after only four months speaks volumes!
Suzanne: We aren’t going to rush into that. We are weighing that decision carefully. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew!
Melissa: So, you have a husband, Mike, and a 15-year-old daughter Casey. Have they been supportive?
Suzanne: Very supportive, thank goodness! Mike has been with the same employer for 16 years and carries our insurance, which was another reason I was able to move forward with this venture. Also, he’s been so helpful as my business manager, maintenance man, and Honey Do!
Melissa: That is HUGE. Trying to be self-employed without that kind of support would be a real strain, but it's not absolutely necessary, I suppose. I do have women friends without that kind of support and they go for it anyway! If you are a single mom, it might be your best option. You would need some sort of support system, though.
Melissa: Do you have any other helpers?
Suzanne: Yes, I recently hired a couple of part-time college girls.
Melissa: So, four months into it, do you have any regrets?
Suzanne: No! I am loving it! I don’t care to make a change. It's like Christmas every day, and I love meeting new people.
Melissa: Any info you want to put out there for people interested in visiting your store?
Suzanne: Just, check out the website! It has everything you need to know! Or visit us in person at 1021 Industrial Blvd (corner of Hwy 15 & Industrial Blvd) in Watkinsville 706-769-5227.