We had the good fortune of connecting with Nicole Kreuz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nicole, other than deciding to work for yourself, what else do you think played a pivotal role in your story?
For me, it was being true to myself and committing to a somewhat risky, unique brand voice. There is a lot of competition in the vintage rug market and I knew we could compete on quality, price and style but giving our rugs personalities was the white space. I embraced my own voice and consciously decided not to duplicate existing, successful companies. I wanted to make my customers laugh, I wanted them to enjoy the search as much as anything. So, I created a cheeky brand that is fun and funny and most importantly, different from everyone else. Not only did that help us find success, it made it fun for me. From headlines on the site, product descriptions, music choices in Instagram stories, to funny posts, everything became an opportunity to have fun and to differentiate ourselves.
I am also very selective about the rugs we list, I don’t want to “have something for everyone” which I think is the way a lot of companies go. Instead, we have a highly curated selection. Vintage rugs I’m excited about, rugs I want to put in my own home, rugs I don’t want to part with, rugs I check in with…I know what I like in a shopping experience, so I just tried to make my best experience better.
What should our readers know about your business?
We are a vintage rug shop, selling Persian, Turkish, Caucasian, Moroccan, rugs. Not only are our rugs gorgeous pieces of art, made by hand on a loom, but each of our rugs has a personality, an identity. These rugs take weeks or months to create. They are often made by memory on the fly by amazing craftsmen, mostly women. That is why we chose the akimbo symbol for our logo, it symbolizes women, motherhood.
These rugs have personality, they deserve to have their moment. Our brand is not at all serious or stuffy, which is against the grain and not all of the write ups are PC. I hope my mom hasn’t read through them all. She hasn’t yelled at me so I’m confident she hasn’t…Now I can’t show her this article. Our voice definitely sets us apart in the vintage rug market.
I think much of my success has come down to relationships. A ten-year friendship with my mentor gave me the confidence (and the inventory) to start this business. He saw my passion for vintage rugs and gave me the push I needed, last February he told me I should start selling his rugs online. I went home and created my Instagram account that night and began piecing together a business plan. I quickly landed on Bente (Ben-ta) a nod at my Norwegian heritage, meaning blessed, and we put together the website, chose rugs, and launched two weeks later. Two weeks after that, we had our first sale. He has taught me so much about rugs and I wouldn’t, couldn’t, have started Bente without him. Thank you Alex!
My Instagram network of friends has been another must have. I started this little group, Finer Things (I’m a fan of The Office), inviting 20 other small accounts. We chat about life and business, talk about our goals, celebrate our successes, problem solve, and collaborate. In November, five of us from Finer Things worked on a rug launch. Erika, a California designer, curated the collection of vintage rugs, Charlotte, our group’s photographer shot the images, Jessinia provided florals, Tatiana literally lent a hand. We shot at two locations Erika designed, and it was epic and wonderful and has led to a lot of very exciting things for 2021 for Bente (including a British Vogue feature in the February 2021 issue, a total dream). The support of this group has given me a safe audience to write my posts to and has been such a positive, collaborative environment that has fostered my creativity. I can’t recommend surrounding yourself with people that believe in you, and other people that think big. I need to also mention, it was my Finer Things friends that pushed me to lean into my shoe obsession, allowing me to justify with “it’s for the business” when my husband gives me the side eye over a new pair, which is kinda perfect, right? They are a safe space, a sounding board, and have kept me sane through what could have been a very lonely pandemic for an extrovert. There are some very fun collaborations with other friends coming in the next few months, I am so excited for Bente.
Speaking of, growing Bente has been fairly organic. I have found myself pushing for more and more, to grow bigger, to do more, but this year I’m really focused on providing good content to the customers we have and just letting things shake out. I keep reminding myself (I’m an Enneagram 3) to pause and celebrate successes instead of immediately moving to the next milestone. I have also tried to stay mindful of setting low goals and expectations, which is not easy, which has led me to feel happy instead of disappointed, key in keeping momentum.
Bente has definitely faced challenges, we launched our website a week before the Chicago COVID lockdown. The timing of starting the business in a pandemic was terrible, but maybe not. I think people are realizing how important having a comfortable home is, and are beginning to value handmade, quality items that are more expensive up front, but less expensive in the long run as they last and hold their value. It’s also allowed me to optimize my time management, I’m taking the time I would have been commuting (and let’s be honest, getting ready) and using it to run Bente. Bente is still my side hustle, but that doesn’t make me love it any less.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would hit up my Finer Things friend Krystle @perkinsonparkway who’s in Dallas, she would show me a good time. If you’re in Chicago, look me up.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I need to absolutely dedicate this to my husband, Jared. Not only has he supported me in starting this business, which I dreamed about for eight years, his skill set allows us to keep everything in house. Jared takes and edits product photos, he devised a ceiling mount for our camera so we could get full rug shots, turning our dining room into a professional rug studio. He built our rug website (we use Shopify) and inventory spreadsheet and formulas upon formulas. He helps write the rug descriptions, tells me when my ideas aren’t very funny, not often, and some nights cooks dinner for our little family (we have two little kids) so I can keep working. He reigns me in when I’m too many steps ahead, talks me down when I get in my head, he is the best partner I could ask for in this business and just in life in general.
Other: @bente_vintage on TikTok
the rug lifted in the room with the beams credit goes to Charlotte Lea Photography