“If you want to know what it’s like to feel like dirt, walk into a bank with all the necessary paperwork and qualifications for a loan and get denied nine different times.”
Sloane Simmons remembers how many different emotions she felt sitting in the bank that day. Disbelief, frustration, anger, exhaustion, sadness. There were so many emotions but none of them changed the fact at hand; they had just been rejected again.
Sloane and her sister Casey were at their ninth bank asking for a loan to finance STUFF, the art gallery they wanted to open in Kansas City. They presented a comprehensive business plan with both an entrance and exit strategy, as well as a several details regarding their mission, strategy, and operations. But for the ninth time they had been rejected.
Ever since they were young Sloane and Casey had a passion for craft. They used to watch in awe as their grandfather constructed cabinets. They admired the complexity and precision involved in making each individual piece. When they were working as corporate and political consultants, they travelled the country for work, but always made time to explore the local art scene as well. It was a passion that developed early and remained a prominent part of their lives, even before they decided to turn it into a business.
The journey of starting their own business was filled with challenges and this situation wasn’t a particularly small problem: they simply didn’t have enough money. Moreover, at that point, they had crossed a point of no-return. They had both quit their jobs as consultants and had given up a steady income stream to focus their efforts on the gallery. Finally, they put their own personal savings into helping this venture get off the ground.
With no options for traditional financing they did what was only appropriate for two passionate artists: they got creative. They went to family members, drew up notarized letters, and used those borrowed funds to finance initial fixed costs. They relied heavily on credit cards. At one point, they were purchasing new credit cards to pay off old debt on other cards. Keeping track of their incredibly scattered finances required meticulous attention to detail. But they kept squeezing and squeezing every dollar they could find to get them to a consistent revenue stream.
They’re now servicing over 60 artists and have products from over 250 sources across the country. They’ve been nominated for eight consecutive years as one of the top galleries in America that feature fine American craft and have been recognized as one of the top 25 small businesses in Kansas City. With such growth and success, it’s interesting why they’ve never expanded beyond the one shop. The reason is simple: better, not bigger.
For Casey and Sloane, STUFF is not a success because of their financial growth. If they valued that then they would nominate themselves for awards (every award they’ve ever won was because a customer or outsider nominated them). But they don’t because, in their own words “self-aggrandizement is not our style.”
Success is a diverse concept for them. It’s being able to open their doors 358 days a year. It’s maintaining their Kansas City heritage because of the incredible sense of community shared by everyone there. It’s contributing to the local art scene by placing special emphasis on buying local pieces. It’s supporting over 120 schools, churches, charities, and foundations by donating art, time, or money. It’s making a long-term commitment to support two local research foundations for breast cancer and AIDS until a cure is found. It’s being able to help young entrepreneurs solve problems by offering creative consulting services. It’s having a minimal carbon footprint by ensuring that every aspect of their operations, including shopping bags, packing peanuts, lightbulbs, and even some of the art itself is environmentally friendly
Although their achievements are diverse, it all results from a mindset that can be summed up by one of their favorite quotes: “waiting for life to come to you will probably leave you waiting a long time. So get off your porch and get in the game.”
Hard work and perseverance are so engrained in the Simmons sisters’ values that it forms the basis of their lifestyle brand Pursue Good Stuff. The most important word in their brand is pursue. Whether you want good stuff, good art, good health, or good friends, you have to pursue it. Taking initiative and actively working towards what you want is the key.
It’s this mindset and these values that allowed the Simmons to realize their own American Dream. Whether it is the art in their stores, the consulting services they offer, the donations to the Kansas City community, or a friendly conversation to a person that walks in their store, they are providing stuff that makes peoples’ lives extraordinary. That mission is in the true spirit of the American Dream.