We had the good fortune of connecting with Kris & Kelley Denby and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kris & Kelley, if you had to put a million dollars to work immediately, how would you go about investing it?
That’s an easy one: we would invest into the manufacturing of our one-of-a-kind designs. We would also invest in our marketing and advertising efforts, as well as a few other designs for soft goods that we’ve been working on.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Have the past 8 years been easy? No, but has it been worth it? Yes! When we started this thing, we were aiming for survival – to make ends meet. We were lucky enough to have timing on our side back then. People were wanting locally handcrafted artwork and a story behind that work. They cared that we designed and made everything by hand, they cared that we were salvaging discarded old wood from broken furniture, they cared that we were a small family-owned business … and luckily, they still seem to care. (Kelley) As competition grew, we made the conscious decision to not be influenced or bothered by what our contemporaries were doing, to continue to innovate in our own way and take inspiration from the things that matter to us. What inspires us and what’s in vogue aren’t always in line with each other, and there’s a tendency to want to follow the herd. It’s scary to go your own way and take the risk of creating something people may not like, but making art we don’t love was never going to work for us. Fortunately, we figured that out early on. (Kris) I’m so incredibly proud of Kris and the designs/colorways that keep pouring out of him. We definitely have had some misses along the way, but it always was when we were trying to be something we’re not. Something clicked in us this past fall, in particular because it was a terribly tough season professionally and personally. I decided to work toward getting Kris out of the daily shop grind and in a more creative space again. This also meant that I needed more time to work on the things that we’ve neglected for many years: the proper bookkeeping, the analytics, the new product development, the marketing, and the advertising. COVID-19 forced us to pause, take a breath, and begin to put the needed time and energy into these things. We needed to finally work smarter rather than harder. And we’re doing it. We’re actually doing it and seeing results – ever so slowly. (Kelley) I’m not a designer by trade. I’m an English major. I write fiction and film criticism in my spare time. I’ve always been creative, have dabbled in painting and illustration, and have always had a strong aesthetic sensibility (as does Kelley). Having said that, our designs have evolved through trial and error. We know when we like something and when we don’t, but we had to produce a lot of designs that we disliked (and sometimes hated) to end up with the clear aesthetic we have today. Like any other endeavor, artistic or otherwise, failure has been our guide. We’ve had to learn to listen to our guts. We’ve discontinued designs because we no longer found joy in making them or because we no longer felt they represented us. That’s a really scary thing to do when you have the nagging fear that you may be turning away potential sales. With the benefit of nearly a decade of experience, I think it’s been the right call. Continuing to do something that you no longer believe in may result in short term sales, but it crushes your creativity, and we believe our ability to create and innovate within this medium is what keeps our business going and secures our future beyond the promise of short term fads. (Kris)
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
That’s easy: Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail for running, walking, or stand up paddle boarding. South Congress for shopping, eating and drinking. A concert at Moody theatre, or a drive out to secret beach (which isn’t much of a secret any more). And, as always, Matt’s Famous El Rancho will forever hold a special place in our hearts, and not just for the fajitas, Bob Armstrong Dip, or margaritas, but because it’s where Hemlock & Heather was born and where we’ve shared countless highs and lows together professionally and personally. You have to sit on the patio out back though to get the full experience of this amazing family-owned business.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Chase Kerlin of Chase Ryan Furniture has been an integral part in helping us to navigate the uncharted waters of manufacturing our handmade pieces. He introduced us to Miller IDS, a 100-year-old local Austin company, who we’ve been working with since January on manufacturing our state ornaments/mini state wall hangings. This has been, and will continue to be, a game changer for us this year and beyond. We’re so excited! We’ve also been working with Emilie Martinez of EM Marketing on our website and site analytics, conversion rates, SEO, load time rates, etc. She’s been amazing to work with and such an integral part of our team now. Last but not least, our families deserve a lot of credit. For believing in us. For teaching us the importance of dreams, for encouraging us to believe in them and chase them, and for supporting us in just about every way you can think of along the way. (Kelley and Kris)
Photo credit for the panel pics in West Elm and Lululemon goes to Kirby Bentancourt. http://www.kirbybetancourt.com