If you’ve ever doubted that you could make a living with your hands, you’ll want to read this interview! Shelly Leer runs ModHomeEc, an amazing studio that teaches upholstery classes and so much more. She’s helping DIYers gain new skills and a ton of confidence. She was nice enough to share her story and advice with us today.
In case people don’t know about you and your amazing business, would you mind sharing what you do?
I own an upholstery teaching studio in Indianapolis. I started my own upholstery business when my youngest son was just three. In May, he graduated from college. About five years ago, things started changing and I saw that all the DIY-ers were starting to get interested in re-doing their own furniture. So, I thought, “Why not upholstery?”. At first, you could hear crickets in the design/diy blogosphere community, but slowly it started gaining popularity. My local business was also changing due to many reasons, but the result was that I started teaching class in my basement. I could only teach three people at a time. Once I started getting a waiting list, I decided to take the plunge and open my own studio. I’ve never looked back. Well, that was only a year and a half ago. Haha!
Why do you believe the knowledge of upholstery is so important? (Or, what do your clients gain from your teachings?)
I don’t know that knowing how to upholster is really important in and of itself, but it does have many unexpected benefits. People who are crafty or DIY types tend to want to do things for themselves. It may save money, or it may be so that they can get things just right, or it could be that they just want to know how to upholster. Whatever an individual’s reasons may be, it has become so apparent to me that there is an added, unexpected benefit after a student realizes that they completely reincarnated a chair. I’m not sure there’s a word for it just yet, but what I’m seeing is that people are hungering for hands on projects, start to finish, mistakes and all. We are in need of feeling that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with working with our hands. So, besides the benefit of knowing how to recreate, restyle, redesign and reupholster our own furniture, there’s a deep sense of fulfillment that comes with it.
What is the BIG goal you have for your business?
That’s the million dollar question. Right when I think I know where it’s headed, the market shifts or changes a little which consequently demands rethinking some goals. Some days I’m figuring out streams of revenue beyond teaching, and on another day, I may be thinking that keeping work simple may be the way to go. I waver between being intensely ambitious in my work, and then I pull back and get more reflective about life, time, family, friends.
I know you’re constantly booking classes at your studio. When you first opened, did you have any idea you would get the response you did?
I knew the interest was coming. Two years before opening my studio, I advertised at an art fair that is held in the area where I opened my studio a year later. I got one person who was seriously interested and she’s been one of my premium clients ever since. I feel very loyal to those first students who took a chance with me. Back to the question. When I first opened, it was January, cold and lonely. I was a little nervous about this new deal. I had a few classes lined up, but didn’t know what would happen after that. Once Spring rolled around, I was booked. At this moment, my problem is that I don’t want to teach every single day and I haven’t yet found someone who can share the job.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give your fellow, female entrepreneurs?
This sounds cliche’, but honestly, if I can do it, anybody can do it. Make a plan, start very slowly to see how things go. I saved enough money before opening my studio so that I haven’t had to borrow one dime, not even from my husband, I’m very proud to say. I read about small businesses, take online business classes, listen to unconventional business owners and really sift through the information to see what makes sense to me. There isn’t a business model for my business. I’m creating it. I’ve had several inquiries from across the country from women asking me to tell them how I did it. THAT may be the subject of a handy little guide very soon. One other thing some women told me years ago, don’t think you have to have it all figured out up front. Bit by bit. Sometimes you can’t figure it out until you get there. Be willing to learn, listen, stay humble and run an honest, high integrity business. You’ll never regret that, win or lose.
Shelly’s proof that you can share your passion with others as a successful business no matter what your skill. If you’d like to learn more about ModHomeEc or sign up for an upholstery class, check out the site!