Vendor Stories: Poetry Tea
We first met Christine Grabbs at First Monday Trade Days inside her booth outfitted with a peach and white vintage camper and her handmade bohemian meets shabby-chic teepees and decor. She had applied to our upcoming Dallas show at the time and we recognized her unique wares from floral cow skulls and lace dream catchers.
Over the years we’ve gotten to know the working mom (with another on the way!) and maker between our shows, as a Summit guest and even collaborating together on a teepee maze at our pop up last spring. Learn more about this inspiring small business owner and find her wares at future First Monday Trade Days and Flea Style markets.
Where are you from? I’m originally from West Point, Mississippi but now live 35 miles east of Dallas in Poetry, Texas (hence, my company’s name).
What brought you to Texas? I graduated from Mississippi State University in 2007 with a B.S. Degree in Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising. Upon graduation, I moved to Atlanta to pursue a career in bridal fashion. Life took me back home to Mississippi in 2008, and at 22 years old, I opened my first retail store, which was a bridal and formalwear boutique. After six tumultuous and fun years in business, I met a tall, dark and handsome Texan who asked me to move to Texas and marry him! So I closed up my shop, got married, and we got pregnant very shortly after the wedding.
When and why did you start Poetry Tea? I was itching to get back to work, but I also wanted to stay home with my baby. I decided on an Easy shop in June 2016 since I love to sew, and I had already made my son his own teepee after seeing one for several hundred dollars online (which I could not afford at the time). For a few months, I squirreled away twenty dollar bills from my “grocery money” until I had $500 hidden away, and went shopping for fabric and lumber! I even traded my nice practical sedan for a pick up truck so I could transport wood. My husband thought I was slightly insane as I spent several weeks registering my business and spending all of my free time sewing and sanding poles. It took me several tries to get a teepee pattern right, but my first six tents sold within two weeks! I was ecstatic, and started taking orders. From there the business took off, and I was making more things such as dream catchers, painted skulls and taxidermy. I collected and painted small pieces children’s furniture also. Soon, I started adding flea markets and shows to my business model and finally I added a booth at an antique mall.
Where are your things sold? My first show was at First Monday Trade Days in September 2016. Today I show there in the fall and spring (I’m usually located on Row 97 behind Dry Creek Landing). I also have my etsy shop, do shows such as Flea Style and have a booth at The Rustic Warehouse in Rockwall.
Why did you choose to vend at First Monday Trade Days first? I decided to show in Canton based upon a recommendation from another vendor. She actually let the spot next to her “open up” so that we could show next to each other! I love atmosphere and the friendships I’ve made. After only a couple of months, I had repeat customers every month. I also met so many amazing vendor friends who I am able to learn from (and trade with)! Plus it is one of the best places on earth for people watching and the food is awesome. I like that once I am set up, I have four days to sell and I love that I can park my small 1971 travel trailer right on my lot. Showing with a toddler (and soon to be newborn) is not possible if I don’t have a mini “home” to keep them comfortable.
How would you describe your company’s style? Eclectic, colorful, vintage, handmade, affordable, upcycled and fun! I don’t take anything I do too seriously or overthink my brand aesthetic. It’s constantly changing, and I prefer to mix it up and try new things. The only thing that won’t change is that everything I make uses vintage linens.
Where do you collect your finds? First Monday Trade Days, garage sales and estate sales. I even find things on the side of the road and by trading with my fellow vendor friends.
What motivates you to make products and operate your own business? I started this business so that I could make extra money while staying home with my toddler. I am about to be a mother of two and I want to be a big part of their lives while they are little. Plus, I truly enjoy sewing and making new things out of old stuff. I have always loved collecting and decorating with vintage lace and fabric.
Canton is clearly a big part of your life. Any tips for shoppers that want to visit First Monday Trade Days? Stay outdoors and shop the fields for the coolest finds and best prices. Never be afraid to negotiate! I am always there, either as a shopper or as a vendor, and I have learned to haggle from both sides. That said, it’s offensive to offer a vendor pennies on the dollar, and they won’t want to negotiate if they feel offended. But simply asking, “What’s the best you can do on this item?” or offering a little less is fine and vendors usually don’t want to lose a sale. We expect to haggle (some of us actually have fun with it) and it makes that awesome find even more amazing when you know you got a deal! And find and indulge in a fresh fried pie or two; they are worth the hunt and calories!
What’s the best part about owning your own business? The freedom. I am so blessed to be able to take a vacation or a day off whenever the mood strikes. I love being able to set my own schedule and create my own designs! I also have the freedom to veer off path or make a pivot when business feels “stale” without asking anyone’s permission. When I do something awesome, I can feel proud and give myself a pat on the back. And when I make mistakes, the only person I have to answer to is myself.
The hardest part? Staying motivated and confident. Things are constantly changing, new competition can be fierce, social media is evolving every day and my family is also maturing. So it’s a constant struggle to stay relevant and motivate myself to learn new techniques, create new designs and keep on keepin’ on at times.
How do you stay motivated? I make it a point to get out of my comfort zone once a week or so. I visit new cities and check out their antique malls and thrift stores. I find new flea markets/handmade mercantiles where I actually talk to the vendors so I can learn a thing or two and I am always trying to connect with my peers and other businesses on social media to see how they are getting ahead. It’s easy to sit back and be envious of a competitor or someone you admire, but if you really want to get to a new level, reach out to them. Be friendly and make as many friends as possible in your field.
Advice for people considering starting their own company? I think the most important thing is saving enough money to start your business without having to borrow. It will be difficult, but definitely worth it! Start small and grow. Don’t be tied to investors, banks or credit cards, because starting and running a new business is difficult enough without all of the added pressure.
Advice for people trying to balance the working parent struggle? Oy! There is no magic button or piece of advice that will make juggling mom life with business life easy. Make an effort to unplug and do activities with your kids that aren’t work related. For us, it’s daily bike rides and once a week we’ll have a special lunch date then hit up a park or kid friendly place. Other days, take your kid to work with you. My son shops every flea market and helps me set up booths and sell at markets.
That’s brave, mama! I know! He is on a first name basis with all of the sales ladies at my local craft store and he loves visiting his friends in Canton. He even stayed with me in my little vintage camper in Round Top while I was working Texas Antiques Week for 20 days and he was my prom date to the famous Junk Gypsy Prom! He helps me pack shipments, makes post office runs, visits my antique mall booth and runs errands with me all day. But it is NOT easy; toddlers are a handful and melt downs are brutal! It’s not safe to have him around scissors, sewing machines, spray paint, irons, or hot glue guns, so I do all of my sewing and crafting work after he goes to bed. Late nights are key. Sometimes I stay up until 1 a.m. When I’m feeling sleepless and burned out, I’ll take a day off (or a week). Luckily, I have an amazing husband who works full time and still finds time to help me by cutting countless teepee poles, hauling my trailer to shows all over and putting up with my crazy gypsy ways.
Any tips for shoppers on the hunt for unique finds in general? Go with a list in hand so you don’t get distracted by all of the shiny things. Ask around for specific items on your list because a lot of the vendors know each other and have been there setting up for several days so they might know where certain items are. Use your imagination! Sometimes something just needs a little fix or fresh paint.