When Karen Lorene began to build her business 40 years ago, she had no textbook to guide her. She had to find her own way to run a successful Seattle art jewelry gallery.
She made some mistakes—not checking a leasing agent’s assurances that her first location was in a commercial area, for instance—and she had some singular triumphs—like the time she got help from the head of the Chamber of Commerce.
- Facere Jewelry Art Gallery owner Karen Lorene stands ready to greet customers at the door of her downtown Seattle retail store. CREDIT: Douglas Yaple
“I learned what a whole bunch of people should know,” Lorene says, “that luck plays a part.”
Luck, hard work and “doing your homework” put Lorene where she is today, at the helm of Facere Jewelry Art Gallery, selling art jewelry and a few heirloom items in a perfect location, a 350-square-foot freestanding space in the lobby of the high-rise City Centre building in the heart of downtown Seattle.
“It’s very open and safe, a major consideration for a jewelry store,” she explains, in the middle of a walkway and with pedestrian traffic on both sides.
Because Lorene wanted others considering going into retailing themselves to benefit from her successes (as well as her mistakes), she has written a book, Building a Business Building a Life: A Memoir & Workbook (Lorene Publishing, $18.50).
The first section tells as much about her personal struggles as her commercial ones. It’s the story of the sad ending of her first marriage, the happy beginning of her second, her mistakes and her doubts. It’s also about the things she learned to do right: get a good lawyer, create an advisory board, participate in the business community, find a good business consultant, and learn how to handle money and where to borrow it.
The second section, what she calls the “Workbook,” is a checklist for aspiring retailers, listing things they need to know about making critical decisions, for instance, and where to go for general advice. It also includes generic samples of business forms.
Throughout the narrative, Lorene is adamant about two things: always paying artists on time; and being professional about paying back loans, including those from family and friends.
One of the earliest mistakes Lorene made was not having at least two salespeople in her gallery at any given time. It’s not just for security, she explains: another person is invaluable as someone to confer with, to bounce ideas off, and to share (or argue) opinions.
Facere is not alone in emphasizing customer service, of course, but Lorene is always adding new facets to that aspect of her business. She schedules lectures before every new exhibition to point out to customers what’s new and exciting about the work. She insists that her salespeople remember regular customers’ names.
She gives each customer a take-away with every purchase: information about the artist and/or the store, as well as a letter that says, “You have entered the world of collecting art jewelry,” thus planting the seed in their minds that they will indeed become collectors. And she encourages her salespeople to spend time with children and students, because they are likely to become future clients.
It is clear that in Lorene’s case, flexibility—taking chances, being persistent, waiting for the right moment—has been key to her success.
Lorene went through several business transitions over the years. Her first foray into retail was selling antiques, some of them quite large—like the 500-pound Monarch stove that persuaded her she really needed to sell smaller items. Learning about antique jewelry led to her holding classes to teach about it, to make personal appearances, to write a book about buying it, even to a stint as a guest appraiser on the popular PBS series Antiques Roadshow.
She also moved through several retail locations to land in her current one, a few blocks east of Pike Place Market. Her first space, when she was still selling furniture, was a house that turned out to be in a residential zone—besides having an intimidating 25 steps up to the front door.
Because she learned so much over the years about leases and spaces, and because she had developed good business relationships, she was able to negotiate a move to City Centre. “We’ve been here now for 20 years,” she said.
A Balanced Life
However focused she is on her business, Lorene makes it emphatically clear that business has never been her entire life.
“One thing that’s truly essential to survival, I think, is having a full life,” she said. “I believe it’s important that people have more than one passion.”
Lorene’s other passions have included painting, writing and Greek dancing, to name just a few. But she’s also learned how to drop one interest or another, when necessary, to free up time to concentrate on business matters.
And it’s not over for what she calls “the roller-coaster ride” of retailing. She said Facere is currently putting a more energy into its website, and has just added a “cart” for shoppers looking to purchase more than one item at a time.
“The world of retail is changing,” she said. “We have to be brave to live in it.”