Dawn LaGrave, LaGrave Designs

LaGrave Designs

Dawn LaGrave came to Ventures in the winter of 2010 with a beautiful product but was struggling to make a profit in her business. With the encouragement of our staff, she enrolled in the Business Development Training course in early 2011, and her business has been growing ever since.

Dawn creates 3D kaleidoscopic wall art from photos of buildings and monuments, and floral and fauna. She sells her products at arts & craft shows and also wholesale to stores. Many of her customers have a personal connection to the subject matter of her works – one customer purchased a Space Needle piece as an anniversary present for her husband because they shared their first kiss at the top of the Needle. For her wholesale customers, she targets the tourism and destination industry as well as museum shops. She develops custom pieces that represent a particular destination or town, and stores can offer them as alternatives to the standard souvenirs on the market today.

How is your business going lately?

My business has really taken off this year. I started pursuing the wholesale industry in January of 2011, and I already have 29 wholesale accounts. This has been a really tough year for art shows for most people in the business. For the most part, people are reporting that show sales are down 40-60% over last year, so the wholesale aspect has really helped to keep my business viable.

What keeps you motivated in moving your business forward?

Every new wholesale account keeps me excited and motivated to move forward. I have decided that I am addicted to wholesale shows – they are a great way to make and cultivate industry contacts as well as making sales getting new accounts.

How did you decide on your particular line of business?

I knew I wanted to do something more creative with my life. To me, that is what owning your own business is all about creativity. I had originally planned on making blank journals, but after making 9 of them, I decided I was really bored with them. They weren’t any different or more remarkable than other journals on the market, and so I didn’t feel like they had strong potential. My second idea was to make pre-made scrapbooks, so that all people had to do was to add their own photos. I decided that they were really too much work and that they were too expensive to produce. While I was playing around with these other ideas, I found a computer application advertised in a magazine for turning photos into kaleidoscope images. I thought it looked like a lot of fun, and I wanted to play around with it for my own personal use. I created some kaleidoscope images, and even as a flat image, I could see the depth in the design. Being a “paper person”, I guess it just made sense to pick up my scissors and start cutting and layering to create that depth for real. I brought my new creations into work (as my company closed, they laid people off in waves, so I had 6 months from the time I knew I was losing my job until I was actually done with work) and the response was so great, I decided to pursue this as my business.

What have been some unexpected challenges in getting your business off the ground?

I have always been the type of person that just jumps off the cliff with both feet, but looking back, I think it would have been a lot less stressful to develop my business plan and launch my business while I still had a source of income. It was hard to develop new ideas and move my business forward while working full time+ just to make enough money to live on.

Has anything else been a surprise?

I am still shocked at how far I have come in just a little less than 3 years!

What have you found most valuable about your involvement with our program?

Honestly, I have found my involvement with Ventures to be the most valuable aspect. The store has provided me a platform to test different products and designs as well as different price points. By selling at the Ventures Retail Incobator, I can provide potential wholesale customers sales data information. It has also helped to reaffirm my choice to target tourism and destination stores.

What were you surprised to learn during classes?

I was surprised to learn that my original business model (art shows only) was not going to provide me enough money to make a living. The BDT class helped me take a non-emotional look at my business model, and instead of throwing the whole thing out when it was apparent it wasn’t going to work, James helped me realize that it was possible to amend the plan to create one that would work. The class really helped me go from a booth to a real business!

Would you recommend this program to other entrepreneurs starting out?

Absolutely, and I do recommend it often! It not only gives people the tools they need to put together a realistic business plan, but it offers ongoing support and encouragement as well as acting as a source of information for growing your new business.

Why is it important for community to have this kind of support and resources for small business entrepreneurs?

Small businesses stimulate the economy and provide a way for people to earn a living for themselves and their families in a rewarding way. Entrepreneurial opportunities should not be available only to the rich. By providing this kind of support and resources to low income entrepreneurs, Ventures is ensuring that a lot of great business ideas are developed and launched that might not be ordinarily, as well as improving the lives and prospects of many.

What’s been the key to your success so far?

I think the key for me has been my willingness to “just do it”. Lots of people have great ideas, and a lot of those people are great at researching and planning their businesses, but unless you actually get out there and do it, you will never realize your dreams.

What words of advice would you give other entrepreneurs?

Do not be afraid to get out there and put your plans into action. However, you always need to keep an open mind, and if your first plan doesn’t succeed, don’t throw in the towel; figure out a way to change your plan so that it will fit your market!