Alright, thank you for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, how did you get started?
In 2016, when Gatlinburg had its tragic fire, I felt called by the Holy Spirit to move to the area from a small town in northern Los Angeles County called Agua Dulce. In 2017, my family and I visited during spring break, and when we returned to California, we decided we would move to Sevier County. Within a month, we made an offer on our first business in Gatlinburg, J.R. Lily Storage Co., located off the Spur. It was named after our son, John Robert, and our daughter, Lily. We spent all the rest of 2017 preparing for our move and bought our home in Sevierville in March of 2018. We made the final move in June 2018. And except for the 9 months it took to sell our ranch in LA County, we have never looked back at California. We found many opportunities in Sevier County. We loved the schools and the area and fell in love with the small-town feel of the Glades Arts and Crafts area. We would eat at a little restaurant at the Glades Arts and Crafts Center and felt this was one of the most wonderful, laid-back areas. It wasn’t touristy and didn’t feel commercial. It felt like a hometown. So when the opportunity came to purchase the Glades Arts and Crafts Center, in 2019, business number 2 was ours, and we felt part of the community.
Then 2020 came, and it was a challenge for everyone. I worked as a sales assistant at Belk to try my hand at retail. I knew I always dreamed of owning my own boutique in the long term, but if I worked at Belk for a while, it would help me make my decision. And it did! Sadly, one of the Arts and Crafts Center tenants was overwhelmed. 2020 was too stressful, and she had to take care of her spouse. So, even though the gift shop resembled a “thrift” store, I was allowed to take over, and my current store, Perfect Essentials, came into being. It’s a play on my initials; PE. I worked hard and spent long hours at the store with no paycheck so that I could build upon it.
While I waited for customers to come in and purchase, I would scour and read what people were buying and what was trending. I did my research and located wholesalers. Some items worked out, and some didn’t. I also had artist/artisan friends who wanted to sell their work, so I took their stuff and sold it on consignment. I was a photographer in Los Angeles and won awards in competitions and wondered if I could sell my own artwork. So I began putting my photos in the store as well. And after a hard first year, I made accomplishments. I added new flooring and lighting; my husband and a friend built a new countertop for me. It was exciting. I started researching ways to display my photography and figure out what people liked. It has been an actual labor of love and a great learning experience. Two and half years later, the store is still growing and changing. My photography sells in different formats, and I have added other artists. I try specifically to focus on items that are Made in America, Made in Tennessee, and Made Local. That’s a challenge but one that I welcome.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It has been challenging. Building a customer base was one of the hardest when I first started. People would walk past my store and not even come in. Half the battle was getting them to come in, and the other half would fall into place. They would either buy something or not. But at least they knew I existed. Also, people need to realize you are standing there and can hear all of their remarks. They make comments such as “Oh, another candle store” or “More jams and jellies.” The biggest thing people say is that we’re an essential oil store. That makes me laugh. We don’t sell essential oils. Not one! Yes, some are in the Honey hand lotions or the galvanized tin candles, but we don’t sell any essential oils individually, and they still make that comment. No matter what I tell the customer.
In September 2021, a guy from Niles, MI, jumped on top of me while white water rafting and broke my left leg. My husband had to take over and open the store. Bless his heart; he is not a man of many words. So sales could have been better. But my husband is very supportive, and once I had surgery, the doctor said I could go back to work, and I did. On Crutches! I often wondered if people bought from me because they felt sorry for me. But let’s face it! No one knows your product better than you when it’s in your store. My husband would drive me to the store, and I would hobble in every day and open up. I was slow, but I did it. Perseverance was my supplement for 2 whole months.
Let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I did graphic design and worked with professional photographers as a manager at a $100 million company. That’s where my husband and I met. Once we married, I retired from the corporate world and became a mom. Being a mom was the best job I have ever had and the one I am most proud of. During that time, my husband gifted me a camera, and that’s when I learned I had a talent. And that’s when my photography started. God blessed me with seeing things that others didn’t. I saw colors and images most people didn’t and that I could capture with my camera. I loved photographing rock stars. I would take my camera to concerts and patiently photograph the performers doing their thing. Out of hundreds of photos, I would be lucky if I captured 10 or so good ones. Thank goodness we are in the digital age. I would not have done so well with the film.
I’m also an animal lover; I have rescued many dogs, cats, horses, and rabbits and I love wildlife. I love to hike and be alone and capture God’s creation in all its glory and beauty. It gives me peace. I won first place for catching a squirrel. People love it, and it’s the most popular item in the store. I sell him on notecards, coasters, and metal images. I also have a love for hummingbirds. They are a challenge to capture but worth it. I sit still and wait patiently, and they gift me with their presence.
Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
In the coming year, we will see people watch their spending. However, I have a great deal of hope for retail. There is still something to be said when people can go out, have lunch and do a little shopping. It’s very important to view, touch, and see the item firsthand, not just on a screen. We do sell our products online, but we don’t focus on that 100 percent. I don’t have a staff to handle selling large volumes. I do hope to expand that area of Perfect Essentials. I am also contemplating a larger store. That would create more responsibilities and I would have to hire someone. That, too, would be a challenge since retail doesn’t pay a high salary. However, if I did have someone to run the store, I wouldn’t mind traveling to some areas and setting up craft shows. That would also be a wonderful opportunity. There are opportunities out there. You have to find them and try them out.