Seeking a Path at a Dead End Place

I dislike New Years resolutions (maybe because I historically fail at them.) I prefer to see each day as a chance to improve something (gawd, anything.) But after a particularly bleak Fall and winter in New York, as the New Year approached, I thought about what it is that inspires energy and hope. For me, and I hope for you, it is always the stories of triumph over adversity.

I resolved to ask one or two people to share their story of triumph over a crisis that was later viewed as a blessing. Sometimes we reach, not a dead end, but a fork in the road, a new path.  I hope you will feel as awed as I am by Stan's story and his tumultuous and inspiring journey to Village Vine Press.

What was your occupation before you began the business that you are in now? Did you work for a large company?

Prior to Village Vine Press, I worked for a fairly large and well established Engineering Firm.  I worked in the Landscape Architecture Department as the Lead Graphic Designer and was an aspiring Landscape Architect.  The company had at the peak of the housing bubble over 300 employees with three established offices and they were working on their fourth.  The company itself, had moved into a new corporate office and was there approximately 2.5 years before closing their doors after 60+ years in business.  

Were you passionate about your occupation?

I absolutely loved it.  I started as a Cad Tech in the Landscape Architecture department on December 26th, 2001, 11 days after getting married.  A Florida law allows those who work under a landscape architect for (if memory serves correctly) six years to apply to the state board to gain approval to sit for the national exams.  After six years of working and a rigorous application process, I traveled to Miami for a hearing and was approved.  To date I have passed half of the required exams to become a licensed Landscape Architect.  

What were some of the challenges (ie., late nights, weekends, etc.)? Did your work affect your personal life?

My work was my life. 

Looking back, I always say that I missed the early years of my son growing up.  The company basically allowed every employee to write their own paycheck.  We essentially made our own hours and were allowed unlimited overtime.  A 60 hour work week was the norm.  Many days during the housing boom I arrived to work at 6 am and worked until 6 pm without a break.  There was a period of time when I actually worked one month straight…..yes, that’s 7 days per week for a month. 

I remember on Saturday mornings for many years I woke up at 3:30am, got dressed and arrived to work by 4 am so I could work an 8 hour day and leave at noon.  At any given point I had 20+ different projects I was working on.  Many times I worked until 6 pm, then I went home, and after my son was asleep, I worked another 4 hours.  Fortunately I absolutely loved what I did.  I was able to design subdivisions, and I created marketing graphics for many major builders.  I was living the American dream with a new home, new car, son in private school, vacations and my wife was able to be a stay-at-home mom all while I was in my mid 20’s.

In regards to personal life, the days were long but we managed as it was what was required to have what we had.

Please tell us how you became a business owner.

In July 2009 when the housing bubble burst, I was laid off.  In my department that once had 9 employees, I was one of the last to go.  When I was let go, it was a sense of relief.   While I LOVED what I did, the company I worked for became rather difficult in its final days. Having become accustomed to living a lifestyle that needed 60+ hour work weeks in the end we were limited to 32 hour work weeks.  When I was let go, it felt like a new beginning. 

After I was laid off, I decided to go back to school and work towards my Bachelors degree which I never had.  I also tried a few other business ideas which were unsuccessful (and at the time I was now up to three kids).  My wife went back to work and we switched places.  I stayed at home and one of the business I created was Village Vine Press

My wife had recently purchased wall decal for our bedroom which reminded me of my first job.  Out of high school, I worked for a company that created vinyl decals for cars, banners and such.  I got to thinking that I could do this.  I bought a machine created a few designs and set up an eBay store, which, looking back, was unsuccessful due to the lack of designs.  I ran into a relative who mentioned Etsy.  I started my Etsy store in November 2010 and carried over the same designs.  Once again, it was unsuccessful and nearly abandoned.  

After plenty of searching I finally found a job in November 2011 (and at this point I had 4 kids).  Unfortunately, it was short lived and ended in December 2011.  Still in school working on my degree on April 21st 2012, a relative (I wonder which) approached me and asked if I could create a staircase decal.  I began to think, “Of course I can, why can’t I?”  At that point I began to design again.  I restarted my Etsy store full steam and in the month of May I went from selling about 7 orders a month to selling 33 orders.  From that point on the rest was history.  

Were there any obstacles along the road to it?

Looking back, while I never truly felt depressed about my situation in life (having been laid off in an industry where there truly were no jobs,) it was hard to dream of the future.  Finding something that I really enjoyed doing and had a talent at, which was in that niche market, was truly the biggest obstacle.  

What is the name of your company?

Village Vine Press

What do you do now and how do you feel about what you are doing?

Right now, I work long days being in my final semesters of school and running a business that is climbing.  I start my day getting three of my kids off to school, come home and take care of the baby while I manage to take care of the house and run my business.  Often I crawl into bed around 2am and get up at 7 am, but I love it.

How has life changed for you?

I get to see my kids grow up, something I never did before.  When I was working out of the house, I used to get home at 6:30, and we would put the kids to bed at 7:30. I saw them for a grand total of 5 hours during the week and not much more on the weekend.  Now I see them all the time!  I also get to look forward to the future.

How do your loved ones feel about your occupation?

My kids enjoy it. They say when they grow up they want to create decals.  I tell they can do whatever they want providing they go to college.  My wife loves it, and she is hinting that it is time for baby number five.

What do you love most about what you do?

I get full control and say of what I can make.  If I work hard and continue to design and keep my customers happy, then my future will be bright.  Its all up to me.  I do not have to wake up and run off to the office to make a corporation and its CEO richer.  I no longer have to beg for a raise or stress about my yearly bonuses.  It is all up to me and I love it.

Are there any words of wisdom or advice you have to offer to somebody who is thinking about starting a small business?

Find something that you love and find a way to get it to market.  Be prepared to work harder than you ever have before and be willing accept the fact that your first business may not be successful.  Not every business idea is successful.  Not my first, second, nor third.  But I kept trying ideas and eventually found a product that people wanted.

Hi, it's Margaret again. Just a quick side note. I loved the above staircase design because it speaks of the kind of home I always wanted. And anybody who does not share my ideal can just GET OUT!!! Just kidding. But really, the only reason I knew Stan made decals was because he told me that he had a machine that he would use to create a wall quote from my first book (when I finally finish it.) So his own kindness boomeranged back in time in a very weird kind of way. Way to bless yourself, Stan!