Hello, it’s so nice to see you!

A couple of Sunday’s ago, CourageInStone.com took a big leap.  We got face to face with our customers!  I know that sounds ridiculous to be excited to ‘see’ our customer, but you have to remember that we are an online-only retailer, we work out of an office adjacent to our warehouse and Brenda has not had a storefront since 2006.   I answer the phones most of the time around here, so customer service is no big deal to me and when customers have questions about products I am always ready with the answer…but this face to face stuff is a whole new ballgame!

We went to the Celebrate Gaithersburg Festival and I am happy to report this is a lovely, well planned and well attended event.  We had organized ourselves very well and were completely setup and ready to sell by 10:40…the festival started at 12:00…okay we were anxious, what can I say!   When the floodgates opened at noon, Amy and I put our game faces on and were ready to sell, sell, sell!  Notice I don’t mention Brenda here…there is a reason she closed the storefront!  When Amy and I talked about showing at the festival, Brenda was super supportive but said in no uncertain terms that she would not be selling!  Our fearless leader likes to be the brains of the operation around here and face to face combat, I mean sales,  is not her thing.  She came for setup and cleanup and left the selling to the crew!

I must say everything really did go smoothly, we saw lots of smiling faces, heard some good music, and got some funnel cake!  (We can’t work every second you know!)  The customers were nice and were happy to scour through our items for that perfect stone or token.  We did have a few “What do I do with it?” type  questions.  This can be tricky but we managed to assure people our inspirational items are meant to be used in any way they see fit! 

A couple moments really stand out for me.  A gentleman walked up with his family and stuck out his hand and introduced himself.  My first thought…politician…it is election season you know.  He said he was with a local business club and would love to work with us to further our business.  This completely threw me for a loop because I was supposed to be the one doing the selling!  We exchanged cards, his kids bought something, and he parted with letting me know he would follow up with me the next day.  True to his word he did email and call me but he was selling his company way more than offering to promote mine, so I chalked that up to just plain odd!

The other strange moment was from a woman who wanted to barter with us for the stone prices.  We specifically didn’t do a flea market because these are not the types of sales we do.  She got annoyed we wouldn’t take her deal, was mad we didn’t accept credit cards (she was the only person who asked all day) and I had about thrown in the towel when she had me find her 4 different marble “Thankful” stones only to say that each one was “ugly”.    I walked to the opposite side of the table ready for her to go on her dissatisfied way, but much to my surprise she bought 2 stones and a token.  Victory!   Maybe it was the inspiration or maybe she found some motivation, but darned if our items didn’t speak for themselves after all!  

We are planning to attend another event in November and this time Brenda has promised to sell.  I’m sure we’ll have more curious stories and a few laughs along the way but I have to say physically seeing the reactions to our products is truly priceless!

My A-Z Collection of Custom Signs

As you can imagine, I’ve done quite a few unique custom signs over the years.  They have been funny, poignant, inspirational, informative, touching, silly and cute.  Here are some that come to mind in my A-Z collection…

As You Wish; Always Kiss Me Goodnight; …And They lived Happily Ever After

Beach Home Sweet Beach Home; Boys Can Sit Too

Carl’s & Caryl’s Cottage by the Sea

 Down the Shore Everything’s All Right

 Everyone Brings Happiness Here – Some By Coming – Some By Leaving

 Friends, Family & Laughter Welcome

Good Morning Beautiful

Hearts & Dragonflies Boutique

If You Needed Me, I Would Come To You

Jus’ Floppin’ Around

Klein’s Bed & Breakfast

Life is Good at the Beach; Life is Good at the Lake; Life is Good on the Canal; Life is Good at the Cottage; Life is Good on the Porch

Meme’s Cottage

Not Because I Have To, But Because I Want To

Open For Tasting

Please Use Porch Entrance on Other Side of House

Queen Debra’s Budoir

Rest Assured

Sempre Baciarlo Buona Notte E Dire Ti Amo

There is Love, and Then There are Trains!

Un Bon Rire Est Comme Le Soleil Dans Une Maison

No Visitors Today

Welcome to Pop-Pop’s Beach House

EXIT

You Can Never Go Down the Drain

No Butt Zone

I don’t always know exactly what’s behind the message – some are obvious, but others make me wonder.  Does ‘You Can Never Go Down the Drain’ mean ‘You’ll Always Be Around’?  At any rate, it makes for a good chuckle!  🙂 Others I do know the story behind, like the “No Visitors Today” sign which was for a small child’s room who was recovering from chemotherapy, to let guests know she was resting.  Either way, it is hugely satisfying to create each of these unique pieces for my customers. 

Now, what’s your sign?

Words on wood…an artist’s journey

Greetings from Santa Fe, NM! This is Danielle, the in-house artist for CourageInStone.com.  I’ve been with the Before & After Team since 2004.  Much has changed over the years, but the transformation has been very rewarding.  I started working for Brenda during the brick and mortar days on Maryland Ave.  During those days Brenda sold refinished furniture and when she invited me to paint an old dresser I was thrilled to take on the project.  I was super thrilled when it sold in the store!  We found many great pieces of furniture at auctions and second-hand stores and gave them each a unique, renewed makeover.  During that time the website was just being launched, so it was extra special when a piece sold out-of-state.  We built many one-of-a-kind boxes and I’m sure the delivery guys rolled their eyes at us when we scheduled pick-ups.  Our fine boxes assured the furniture always arrived in one piece.  I no longer paint furniture, but I have many fond memories of those days.

In addition to selling the furniture, Brenda’s shop offered many signs.  We were surrounded by positive and fun phrases all day long.  I found many of the phrases to be uplifting, inspiring, and pleasing to read over and over again. One day a woman came into the shop to inquire about having a custom sign made for her. She loved the signs hanging on the walls, but needed something specific.  She was very enthusiastic about the idea and I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I said ‘Of course this can be done!’  I immediately drew up sketches, made a trip to the good ‘ol Home Depot to buy a plank of wood and went to the craft store to buy paints and brushes.  I then sent the wood home with Brenda to have her husband cut it for the required measurement, and within a few days I painted my first custom sign – “Just did it running like a girl!” (it was to be used for an upcoming race).  This sign was the foundation for my sign-painting career. More customers started requesting custom signs!  There were requests for custom phrases, colors, font styles, sizes of the wood, and artwork. I gladly accommodated to their needs and created many gifts for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, daily inspiration, to give direction, and just to fill in that empty space on the wall.

When Brenda decided to close the shop in 2006 to focus on the online store I came along too.  I helped pack orders, restocked merchandise, and painted more custom signs.  The website now included a custom signs info/ordering page and the orders were coming in.  It was so exciting to receive orders from all over the country. There were a few international orders too and the post office staff was usually baffled that I had the forms filed out before coming to the counter.  At this point, packing for Brenda had become second nature; the website was becoming a quick success and most office-time was spent preparing the orders for shipment. Let me tell you – packing and shipping signs is much easier then furniture, although there have been a few mishaps.  I guess sometimes the long 40″x7″ package looks like a good baseball bat. Also, not sure how something so large ends up lost, but I’d like to think the few that were declared missing found good walls somewhere! 🙂

Speaking of walls – I had a customer once who ordered about 10 signs over the course of 6 months.  She had a room in which was filled with dozens of inspirational quotes collected over 30+ years. She was so nice to work with – I think being in that room for many hours each day had a positive effect on her well-being.  When you need to work in a space for an extended period of time it should be comforting.

My studio space has been in many locations over the years.  With the aid of old wooden boxes, baskets, trinkets and some natural light I have been able to turn my work spaces into little havens. The first was located in the stockroom of Brenda’s shop.  The workbench was perfect and on nice days I could daydream with the back door open. When the shop closed I used a corner of my kitchen. The room was large and the lighting was nice; my space, however, was a table and a cabinet. No matter how hard I tried I could not keep paint off the kitchen table, the walls, or the floor!  During the same time, I also used a small space in a warehouse beside a bay door.  I found an old tea cart at an auction to use to store my supplies and tarps covered the floor.  Once the business relocated from the warehouse I set up a small work space in my backyard.  At the time, I lived in on old house in Annapolis, MD, that had been converted into apartments.  The yard was communal, but no one ever went back there. The yard was never maintained and was a jungle in the summer, but I made due with a picnic table, a few tarps, and some HUGE rubbermaid totes that barely fit through the alleyway that lead to the yard. 

I enjoyed the nature back there in my jungle – one day a crane flew by me and landed in a nearby tree and we watched each other for a while.  I also set up shop in a living room and two garages before landing my current studio. I now have lots of work space, a cabinet to store the wood, and a shed for distressing and applying the clear coat to the signs. Having the shed is a nice treat because over the years I’ve had to endure all the elements to meet deadlines – hurricane winds, lightning, rain, snow, sleet, being too hot, being too cold, and random flying debris.  I never miss a deadline!

A few years have passed and I no longer work with Brenda in the office.  I have since moved to Santa Fe, and we maintain contact via emails. I owe much of my success to Brenda and her flexibility.  Over the years she has been open-minded and filled with suggestions.  In addition to the custom signs, I now paint signs that have replaced a few of Brenda’s factory-made signs.

I am so excited to be painting these signs!!   And if you have a special saying in mind, or want to get a unique gift for a special friend…I’m your gal!

The New Girl

That’s me, Amy, the new girl in my daily race to beat the mailman.

It’s quite a challenge some days, he’s pretty sneaky.

I saw an ad on Craig’s List for this position with a link to this blog, and right away knew this was where I was meant to be. After all, I Rock.

Seriously though, I had just been informed that my company wasn’t renewing my contract, and I really needed to try something new. So I went for it. Sometimes when a door closes, another one really does open, and it’s to a much better place, even if it is a completely different one.

It’s been four weeks since I started and I like it more everyday.

When I’m packing your orders, I’m not just throwing rocks in a bag (well, ok maybe sometimes.)

But, most of the time, I’m wondering who the St Peregrine (Patron Saint of Cancer Patients) token is for, and how they are doing.

I get butterflies in my belly for the Policemen receiving the Policemen Pewter Pocket Tokens and hope it helps to give them courage.

I even get a small chuckle at the small collection of “roll in the hay”, “massage”, “kisses” and “one favor” tokens that I imagine a husband is buying for his wife.

No, we’re not changing the world here.

 But, sometimes I wonder that something we put in someone’s hands makes their world a little better, and that’s what makes me feel good.

So that’s me.

Nice to meet you!

Whitney Houston Rocks!

Suzi.  That’s it,  just Suzi.  That’s my name and that is what I prefer to be called.  My full name is Suzanna.  My mother loved it, I tolerate it and will answer to it when called, but I prefer Suzi. I really don’t care how you spell it…Suzie, Susie, Suzy, I’ve seen them all.   I will also respond to Sue, Suz, and Suzanne on a good day.  But please never, ever, EVER call me Susan.

I have nothing personal against the name Susan or anyone with that name – it’s just not me.  I’ve felt this way since childhood.  I would never correct people on the spelling of Suzi but would always chastise them for calling me Susan.

Whitney Houston made my year back in 1990 when she released her “I’m Your Baby Tonight” album and one of the tracks on it was “My Name is Not Susan.”  I thought, an anthem, just for me!   Check out her video on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKi5tyUnDIk)   Sadly the song was about a man who called his new girlfriend the old girlfriend’s name, so it didn’t exactly apply to me but nonetheless I felt validated!

I answer the phones here at CourageInStone and I tend to speak quickly, so many times my name gets heard as Cindy, Sandy or Judy.  I usually won’t correct people on this because in the long run it really doesn’t matter to anyone but me.  I will, however, correct them if they say “Susan?” Most recently I have had this conversation over and over:

Ring-Ring—

– “CourageInStone this is Suzi, may I help you?”

– “Oh hi Susan, I’m a Susan too!”

– “Actually, I’m a Suzi but that’s okay.”

– “Oh, Suzi, well I’m a Susan and I’d like to purchase some stones.”

I ask you good reader, why do they have to restate that they are a Susan instead of saying “Sorry, I must have heard you wrong?”

I knew this blog was meant to be written when yesterday, I received an email response from one of our long time vendors.  I had written to him and signed the email “Thanks, Suzi.”  English is not his first language, so I am always careful in my wording and always have to work at interpreting his response.  Imagine my horror when he started his response with “Hi Susan,”  How does that happen?  There is a language barrier and people still get my name wrong???

So for the last time – in Ms. Houston’s immortal words…MY NAME IS NOT SUSAN, SO WATCH WHAT YOU SAY!

My name in lights?

Business Cards…didn’t seem like a huge or unreasonable request.  About 18 months ago I asked the boss lady (I love calling her that!) if we could get some business cards printed up.  Didn’t even care if they had my name on them – I just thought they would be a good idea for business.  Her response: “Nope, not happening, we sell online why do we need those?” Okay, maybe she said it more delicately but that’s what I heard. 

Fast forward 6 months and then a year later and I put in my 2nd and 3rd requests for said cards. Adding both times that when people ask me what I do, and then seem genuinely interested when I tell them about our sites, I would love to hand them a card so they can check it out.  I firmly feel that when you work for a small business you need to be a walking, talking billboard for your products.  Short of hijacking laptops to take them to the site, or carrying catalogs and river rocks in my purse, I figured business cards were the answer.  But alas, still a no-go from the big chief (tee-hee). 

So, I have to tell you I was completely shocked when last week Brenda says, “I’m designing business cards for us!” My mouth dropped open and then the big smile spread across my face. “Really, we are getting cards?” “Yep, and I’m putting your name on them and we are going to use them a lot, so you better figure out what your title is once and for all.”   Gulp…title?!   I have to define myself and my position here?  Yikes!

Okay, I have made reference before to the fact that I do a little of everything around here. You all have seen the sign over my desk, but I really don’t think NO OAT (Nosy Overseer Of All Things) belongs on a business card.  So what am I around here? Which title will really suit me best and let people I meet or send these to know what I do around here?  With Owner, President, Operator, Boss and Chief already spoken for, I started throwing ideas out:

Administrator (too formal)

Admin (too informal)

Logistics (too complicated)

Sales Manager (too guy in the back room of a used car lot)

I’ve got it, I’ve got it… “Sales and Marketing Manager”!  It really sums up what I do, overseeing the warehouse and stock, marketing our products and managing the sales force.  All wrapped up into one nice title.  Not to mention my mom would be so proud to see that I am finally putting that Marketing degree she paid for to work! (Thanks Mom!) So there you have it, that’s who I am:

Me and the Wiggly Worm Baxter!

 Suzi Marceron – Sales and Marketing Manager –  CourageInStone.com 

But wait, what about what else I am?  Mom, Wife, Sister, Daughter. Lover of all things scrapbook related, team mom for baseball and soccer, PTA officer, and so much more. How will I fit it all on the card?  And what about Baxter, my faithful furry sidekick, shouldn’t he have a business card?  Office greeter, welcome wagon, puppy kisses extraordinaire?  The possibilities are endless…

Get me to the church on time

It’s June and that means wedding season is in full swing.  Blushing brides, handsome grooms, flower girls, ring bearers, and those nutty relatives you can never get off the dance floor, all culminate in what will hopefully be one of the happiest days of their lives.  If only the favors could be perfect…

That is where we at CourageInStone.com come in.  We sell many small items that are perfect for wedding favors and decorations and I have happily assisted brides in selecting just the right token or stone for their most special day.  Please keep in mind that our most popular item is our Engraved River Rocks and that they are a natural product.  So when brides call saying, “Can I get those in a muted amber?” I shudder and say “They come in browns and tans but the colors vary because they are natural.”  To which she replies, “But, can I get them in muted amber?” 

I must say that while I am a 13 year veteran of marriage I don’t really recall being quite so picky about all things wedding.  If any of my friends or bridal party members are reading this and feel that I am incorrect, I ask you to hold your tongues for the sake of our friendship!  I know white is white and ivory is ivory but will your guests really care if their stone is not muted amber?

See, those bridesmaids dresses CAN be worn again...

I have been asked to be a part of 7 weddings not including my own.  Actually 2 of them are on the horizon so I am speaking from some serious experience. I have 6 bridesmaid gowns and one yet to be selected, and I can honestly say that while I thought for a brief, fleeting moment I could wear each of them again, I never, ever have.  I did, however,let my brother borrow one for a Whoa-man competition for charity.  See bridal friend, I did get more than one use out of it.   

That is only to say that I have been in and attended a lot of weddings, so when people call me about the favors for their special day, I can honestly tell them that our stones may be little, but they pack a big bunch.  They are a feel-good kind of thing.  They make people happy and since that is what weddings are all about, I feel they are a perfect fit. 

Brides and bridal consultants call all the time and ask about pricing and shipping times.  I always ask when the event is and usually about 3 months is the answer, more than plenty of time for us to get your stones to you, even if they are custom made with your names and wedding date engraved on them.  But alas, too many times I have gotten the phone call which goes something like this:

“Yeah, hi I called like 4 months ago about some stones for my wedding and you gave me a price quote, do you remember me?  Well, um the wedding is this Saturday, but um, can I still get custom stones with Bobbi Sue and Frank Forever on them?”  Sadly Bobbi Sue, we cannot get you those custom stones, but if you would like one of our wonderful stock words and are willing to pay expedited shipping we can still make your dreams come true…

My favorite recent call came from a groom (there is a first time for everything people) asking about some of our tokens and was very concerned about the look of them and asked if we might send a sample.  His reasoning…he needed to make sure his future mother-in-law approved them before he put the full order in.  Now that man is thinking ahead, since we all know that a Happy Mother-in-law equals a Happy Life!