Launching a business can be a lot of things – scary, stressful and exciting, for a start. It can also be mighty lonely out there. Breaking free of the typical boss-employee scenario often means trading in the social support of a team environment and the invaluable guidance of a mentor at a time when you need them most.
For Chris Booth and Karni Nguyen of 2nd Chance Tables, a small business handcrafting furniture from recycled and reclaimed timber, moving into a shared workshop run by design darling Pop & Scott was the best thing they could have done for their fledgling business. Not only did it allow them to keep costs down, the social nature of the space came with a whole lot of unexpected perks. Here, Karni reveals how joining a creative community gave their startup the chance to flourish.
Why did you decide to join the Pop & Scott workshop co-op?
We kind of fell into the furniture business in 2012 during the economic downturn. My husband, Chris, is a carpenter by trade and a building construction manager, and had just been made redundant, and we were renovating our house. I shop on eBay a lot, so I was looking at all these tables and saying, “Oh, I love this”, and Chris would say, “I can just make that for you”. So that’s how it started. We were living at my mum’s at the time and he started in her backyard, making tables for people. But we outgrew that, and the demand was quite good, so we wanted to find a place for Chris to work where everything was already set up, because we didn’t have the funds to hire our own workshop and buy all our own tools. Pop & Scott were also just starting out with their pots and furniture, and their big idea was to have this big creative space where people could come in. We found that space and it’s suited us really well.
Apart from the practical aspect, how has the community of the space impacted your business?
I think the way we talk about it is very pragmatic, but it’s created something much more in terms of the social and emotional support that we’ve gotten from the space. Chris loves working independently, and previously that’s meant working alone, which is incredibly lonely and isolating. But he can work alone and be independent here and still have that social interaction. So he can go out and have coffee and lunch with someone and not feel like he’s been inside his own head all day long! It’s wonderful. The social support and friendship from the co-workspace has given him the energy to see through some of the tougher times.
The space is home to a range of creatives – does that encourage inspiration and collaboration?
I think so. Chris is not particularly a creative type, he’s more about making things sturdy and long-lasting, but he’s working with people who are painters and illustrators, so he’s surrounded by people that he wouldn’t have been surrounded by in the construction industry. It’s like this cross-promotion of skills that apply and benefit each other.
Tell us about some of those tough times you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from them.
For us, Christmas is really busy and when we get to January it’s dead quiet. This year, our quiet period stretched out to April, which was a really long time. And you know, it got to the point where we questioned whether it was sustainable for us to do this. I think the biggest lesson for us has been the importance of having like-minded people around who support what we do. We’re also part of a group of other small business owners that we catch up with once a month, and I’m on some support-page groups on Facebook. There’s so much to learn and, for us, it’s been an amazingly steep learning curve. But because other people are going through it or they have been through it, they can give advice, so having people to chat to, or even just vent to during the challenging times, can really make a difference.
Being in the co-op space must help with that side of things, too.
Absolutely! Pop & Scott’s success and popularity is a few years ahead of us, so we’ve been watching them grow and expand really quickly. For them, being really popular and expanding really quickly is also stressful! So it helps us prepare for how we’re going to grow and how we can manage that and plan for it. It also adds a new vernacular that we have never been exposed to. I mean, people talk about exit plans… All of this stuff is so new to us.
What’s in the future for 2nd Chance Tables? Do you have any plans to leave the workshop and branch out on your own?
For the time being, we don’t. I think it offers us security, not just in friendship and social elements, but also financially – we know we can manage it through the low periods because it’s a shared space. But, the ideal dream would be to eventually have our own space and make it our own, and I fantasise about having our own co-op and allowing other small startup businesses to utilise our space as well.
You’ll be the one teaching them!