Even if I weren't in the vintage clothing game, the concept of Birch & Brass would be right up my alley. The Austin-based company specializes in event styling and vintage rentals, with a dreamy selection of antique and mid-century modern pieces as well as eclectic finds from around the world. What I love most about owner Brittany Pigorini's story is that Birch & Brass was an unexpected love child born of her passion for collecting antiques and her background in event planning and marketing. Sounds like a pretty great way to start a business, right?
Needless to say, the love and hard work Birch & Brass has been nurtured with since day one has the company growing at a wildfire pace, and I'm amazed to hear how Brittany has kept up with the rapid rise - she basically hit the ground running, after all. What follows is a glimpse into her day-to-day life, a few of the things that keep her going and some great advice for ladies thinking of starting their own business. Thanks so much for sharing with us, Brittany!
How did Birch & Brass come to life?
As I was planning my own wedding, I wasn't locating the pieces that I was envisioning from traditional rental companies. I decided to collect everything on my own, even the napkins and flatware. I spent days upon days at thrift stores and flea markets trying to find the perfect cake stand or barware. Many items I used were family heirlooms or pieces I'd collected since childhood, too. As everything piled up in my house and I eventually needed a few storage units to house it all, it was one of those "aha!" moments. I knew this is what I was meant to be doing!
Is this your first entrepreneurial venture?
How has the transition to self-employment been?
My transition wasn't gradual; I'm an all-in type of person. I jumped in headfirst once we'd put together our business plan. Our doors opened much faster than I'd anticipated because I grew my inventory so quickly.
My father has owned his own business for 40+ years, so it's only natural that I would follow in his footsteps of opening my own business, too. While I didn't appreciate it at the time, my father made me start working for him at age 13. I have a very strong work ethic because of him. My prior positions with planning and managing large-scale corporate events were an excellent stepping stone, but nothing could've prepared me for the workload of self-employment.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up early and take a pilates class each morning to get the day started off on the right foot. Lately, my days have consisted of meeting with spring brides, styled shoots, sourcing pieces for clients, and writing proposals. In slower months, I focus on building my inventory and practically live at my upholsterer's shop. I'm constantly lifting furniture; you'd be shocked how much upper body strength I have!
What are the biggest challenges you've faced being self-employed?
I'm often working abnormally long weeks; I average 80+ hours per week. It's difficult to stop thinking about work when I get home, and I'm guilty of writing emails as late as 11pm or even in the middle of the night when I wake up and can't fall back asleep. Learning to have a life outside of work has proven itself difficult, no matter how hard I try.
Any advice for women struggling with similar challenges?
I've been learning from fellow women in the wedding industry about how they manage their time, shortcuts they've found helpful, and processes that keep them organized. A coffee date with my friends also lets me decompress for a bit and I'm much more focused and inspired when I return to the office.
What keeps you inspired and moving forward?
I'm surrounded by creative, like-minded people each and every day, so it's almost impossible to not gain inspiration from them. Because my business is a reflection of myself, I hold myself accountable and take great pride in what I produce. This self-induced pressure is a huge driving force to me.
Do you consider yourself more of a dreamer or a realist? How do you feel like that influences your professional life?
I'm a balance of the two. I have grand ideas of what the future will hold for Birch & Brass, and then I have more practical goals; I would love to offer clients more services in the future, Event planning, production, and design is the backbone of my prior careers, so I'd love to incorporate more of it into Birch & Brass. Yet, I'm realistic in terms of what I can do right now versus what the future holds. I think having goals, even far-fetched ones, helps motivate me to be a better person, a better business owner. But, beating myself up over not being able to obtain those goals yet wouldn't be beneficial. I try to take each day as it comes.
What makes you feel like you've had a productive day?
I'm a list person. I have lists for absolutely everything. So, checking items off, no matter how small or mundane they may be, indicates productivity to me.
Personally, balancing work and play is one of the hardest parts of self-employment for me. How do you strike a balance between the two?
This is definitely an area where I struggle the most, too. To be perfectly honest, I don't have a balance right now because my business has taken off so quickly. I'm extremely grateful to be this busy so early on, but I'm trying to figure out a way to spend more quality time with my husband and friends.
What are your passions outside of Birch & Brass?
I love to travel; I will go absolutely anywhere once, and I'm very intrigued by other cultures. I teach pilates part-time and have taken classes for 6+ years now. I also love hiking, reading, kayaking, and cuddling with my bulldog. I'm also a sucker for a really good dinner party!
Do you have any advice for women considering self-employment?
There's never going to be an ideal time to take the leap. You can always find an excuse, but your job is truly what you make of it. Regardless of doing what you love, every job has its ups and its downs. As a business owner though, you take such pride in everything that you do because it's a personal refection of yourself.
I've also learned to not compare my beginning to someone else's middle. While I'm grateful for how much growth we've experienced early on, I was putting too much pressure on myself to have the best marketing, photos, inventory, website, etc. I'm learning to be content with where I'm at now, while still setting goals for the future.
Working hard and delivering a solid product is very important, but a smile and solid customer service can get you pretty dang far in business, too.
Defining Her Own is an interview series featuring designers, bloggers, shop owners and other creatively-minded women who are forging their own paths based on individual passions and dreams. Is there an inspirational gal you'd like to see featured? Send us an email - we're always looking for women who are following their hearts!