Women of the Wedding Industry Wednesday with Grace Elizabeth
In late winter of last year, I was rolling into the small town of Suttons Bay in Northern Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula one morning to open up the bike shop where I had been working as a tour guide and manager, and I noticed the woman who owned the boutique shop next door was moving out.
That little narrow shop painted bubblegum pink right on M22 sat empty for the next couple of months and the wheels in my head started turning.
What if we could expand the bike and kayak tour side of the business which was booming and create a more inviting and expansive space for it's operation and guests?
What if we could move the bike shop side of the business over there and keep this side of the shop tour based?
What if we could expand the clothing and lifestyle brand of the shop and add a coffee shop?
I was full of ideas per usual, but those weren't my decisions, and it wasn't my money. I didn't own the business, and for all intensive purposes, things were going just fine as they were in the little blue bike shop.
Which led me to start thinking;
What if I finally had a space to revisit the startup that I had founded in Grand Rapids back in 2013/4 called Borrows & Lends, a community gear exchange for outdoor enthusiasts on a budget? The concept seemed simple: create a membership organization for people to rent their unused or underused outdoor gear and equipment to people who needed it. Bam.
I started to dream.
Which I knew was a little impractical, because only 6 months earlier I had started a business called The Revel Rose, and it was going good. Really good for a rookie season with zero wedding planning or event planning experience under my belt.
But I couldn't sleep at night.
I couldn't help but think that maybe this was the opportunity I had been waiting for.
My beloved startup, Borrows & Lends had failed miserably. It was a popular idea, and got a lot of likes on Facebook, and my friends thought it was awesome, and I made it into the local paper, and for a year I poured my heart and soul into it while working a full-time job, but it flopped.
I couldn't let it go, and so when I started working as an outdoor recreation planner for the National Park Service based at Sleeping Bear Dunes a few years later, I started working on a model to retrofit the concept for a public land management agency. Luckily, the model had succeeded at other national parks and I figured it'd be just a program grant away from becoming a reality for my second contract term. I was in the middle of writing that grant when we found out my position wasn't going to be funded in 2017. Hence the career change. Hence The Revel Rose. Hence the bike shop.
It didn't matter though. I would walk by the empty shop every day and peek in the windows, and then go home and design the space of my new brick and mortar gear exchange shop. I'd sketch the set up, figure out the inventory, spend hours on developing the rental program, design our branding, and work on the business plan. I went to SCORE business mentoring sessions and became obsessed that this space was destined to be mine.
In March, we went on our honeymoon and when we got back in April I was so ready to hit the ground running with one business, and continue to work on building capacity for my storefront. I knew this was the right step for me, and I was able to talk to my current boss openly about my desire to make this work, and still work for him, and still be The Revel Rose.
I know, I'm dumb.
I pulled into downtown Suttons Bay again one day, and noticed that the storefront sign had changed again.
And there was a tiny girl with blonde hair and ripped jeans and a giant ass truck hauling flooring materials into the shop. MY SHOP. MY FUCKING SHOP. Which A) I didn't own, B) Wasn't renting, C) Didn't even have funding for, and D) See A-C.
I wanted to choke this Gwen Stefani bitch.
But curiosity got the better of me so instead I spied on her all day, and all the next day, and the day after that.
And while she was busy building and stripping and staining and painting and hauling and laying and nailing and deep cleaning, I was seething.
Finally, after I don't know how long, I said hi. I introduced myself. And I met Grace. Grace Elizabeth who was opening Grace Elizabeth Bridal right next door.
How could I not like her? She was funny and witty and seriously the cutest little dollop of a human I have ever seen. And I got hooked really quick. I told her I started a wedding planning business, and we just spent a few days being really excited about how everything was coming along and talking about the wedding market and what the potential was for Leelanau County.
In those days I learned how she also had an anthropology degree (holler!), had worked at a museum, and had some serious life changes which provided the momentum for her to follow her dream of opening a bridal shop. She told me how she had worked with a local team in town to secure financing, how scared she was, but how excited she was to get on with seeing her dream come to life.
Her shop came along, and you could see the visible excitement shining out of her as she got ready to launch. She admitted it wouldn't be prefect, and it would suck for awhile, but she was confident that she HAD to try this. She wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she didn't.
I decided a few weeks later to leave the bike shop, and to focus 100% on The Revel Rose for the upcoming year. I still felt a little sick to my stomach that my dream had been leased to another girl, but I was proud of Grace's grit and tenacity, and was glad to have made a new friend out of it. I was also forced to realize that the time wasn't right for the gear exchange, and if I didn't focus, I'd lose the opportunity to run my already existing business that I loved, The Revel Rose.
And I left because after that experience, I became sure of one thing: my passion is business. I never would have said that five years ago. I would have thought that sounded gross and weird and not Millennial enough. I thought my passion had to be the environment. Or social justice. Or children. Or dismantling the United States Military Industrial Complex. Or sustainable agriculture.
If I look back in the history of who I am, I have always had a shine for this stuff. From the early days of making our lemonade stand the most visited one on the street because I insisted on nicer quality cups and adding strawberry lemonade as an option, to gaining so many babysitting clients in our neighborhood I had to make Kendall's Kids Camp to serve all of the families in the summer, to even Borrows & Lends, a failed startup right out of college. Business has always been where my talents meet my passion, where I feel most like myself, and where if I look back on years and years of notebooks and sketches, I know my heart has always been.
It's dumb to ignore who and what you are. It's never dumb to take the risks to figure that out.
When I look at Grace now, I see a woman of incredible courage. A woman who knew what she was capable of, knew her worth along the way, and was willing to do something uncomfortable to get there. I see someone who praises the team that helped her achieve her dream, and someone who saw her place on the candy colored facades of downtown Suttons Bay, and took it.
Don't ever underestimate the hustle of a woman in pink my friends.
Owner of Grace Elizabeth Bridal
The first time I saw you I was working at Suttons Bay Bikes and I saw this blonde pixie cut chick hauling flooring into her studio. You are decidedly independent and a self taught master of many trades. What was it like to build out your shop from scratch and what other projects have you tackled with your handiness?