A Glass Act

Jeffrey K. Actor

MY WIFE RECENTLY GOT the chance to showcase her artistic talents at a cultural festival in Kansas City, Kansas. Lori’s craft is stained glass, and this was the first time she’d displayed her creations in public.

She began working with glass five years ago, shortly after she retired. We’ve discussed the possibility of turning her hobby into a business. She’s dreamed of selling her artwork so she could at least cover the cost of her craft.

Dreams and reality are often at odds. I know many artists who have natural business acumen. My wife only partially falls into that category, with business logistics mostly taking a backseat to her much stronger artistic talents.

The offer to participate in the festival was the push she needed. Over a couple of margaritas, I suggested she take the leap and create her own business. I know I’m biased, but her art is truly stunning, as you can see from the accompanying photos. How hard could it be to establish a presence in a crowded artistic field?

Silly me. I offered to help. We’d be a team in this endeavor.

We started by opening a business checking account. Before that first step, she always referred to me as her sugar daddy, funding her mildly expensive hobby. But at the bank where we opened the account, she introduced me as her business manager. While the cost to support her efforts was the same as before, at least I now had a title.

The weeks before the trip were hectic. Lori was excited as she worked to complete her portfolio and prepare items for traveling. Meanwhile, I contemplated the business aspects of the trip.

My wife shared her vision for how the artwork might be displayed. She envisioned ornate cases with LED lights, shadow boxes and perhaps a cabinet to hang her art. As her new business manager, I was caught off guard by her vision’s complexity and cost. I felt a wave of frugal anxiety fast approaching. I took a few deep breaths and offered a compromise.

Since I’m quite handy with tools, perhaps she’d consider a couple of handcrafted wooden boxes painted white. She leapt at the idea, and suggested the addition of mirrors to reflect natural light. And being that this was her first show, she recommended we use black painted PVC hanging racks, which could easily be created with love by her husband’s thrifty hands.

She designed a banner and business cards, commenting on how easy it was to have these quickly printed. We even created a novel email address. We were beginning to look like a bona fide business.

The week prior to the show, it dawned on me that we knew practically nothing about accepting payments. Lori admitted she was so busy that she hadn’t given much thought to how sales would be processed. With a shrug, she said I was the business manager, and she had every confidence I’d come up with a plan.

I frantically established a Square account, and created a rudimentary sales system. My first challenge was to categorize inventory. My original concept was to place items under a common heading, such as “glass.” I soon realized everything related to stained glass fell into that category.

To make matters more complicated, my artistic companion had creative names for each piece that didn’t always match its form and function. Luckily, the app included an option to use picture tags to represent items. I was able to create receipts that could be sent via email or text to the purchaser. Overall, while not my best piece of software work, it was sufficient to accomplish our goal.

While setting up for the show, the festival’s coordinator dropped off paperwork to record sales taxes collected. It never crossed my mind that Uncle Sam would be a guest at the festival. Unfortunately, I’d programmed the Square app to use our home as our business address, which meant that taxes collected would be according to Houston rates. The Kansas City rate was slightly higher, and I never did figure out how to change the automatic tax calculation on the fly. Rather, I simply told customers they were receiving a 1% price reduction on taxes as a perk for first-time buyers.

The show itself was exhilarating as well as exhausting. We gained insights into the life of a professional artist, and appreciation for how hard it is for creative individuals to make money. I’m not sure the experience convinced us to become fulltime entrepreneurs, although we would consider showcasing my wife’s talents again if the right opportunity arose closer to home.

Lori’s stained glass was well received, which validated her later-in-life artistic endeavor. In addition, we sold enough pieces to more than cover the cost of the trip.

We also realized that we’d created a business on a whim, jumping into the fray without a business plan or an evaluation of our combined strengths and weaknesses. I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to run a business. Luckily, we aren’t financially dependent on the success of this particular venture. For us, it’s a bonus if the business generates extra spending money, and it allows me to share in my wife’s love for her craft.

Now, if we could only figure out how to design a website.

Jeffrey K. Actor, PhD, was a professor at a major medical school in Houston for more than 25 years, serving as an academic researcher with interests in how immune responses function to fight pathogenic diseases. Jeff’s retirement goals are to write short science fiction stories, volunteer in the community and spend time in his garden. Check out his earlier articles.

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