I looked up the definition for serial entrepreneur and found this: “Serial entrepreneurs are people who can repeatedly turn creative ideas into successful business strategies.” By that definition, Barbara Trepagnier is a serial entrepreneur. If she had a LinkedIn profile, it would look something like this:
- 2011-Present: Founder and CEO, Barb’s Cottage
- Currently running a successful Etsy shop for high quality ceramic molded tiles
- 1996-2011: Professor and Author
- Professor of Sociology at Texas State University
- Author of “Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide”
- 1985-1996: Full-time Student
- University of Houston (BA, MA)
- University of California in Santa Barbara (PhD)
- 1960-1985: Head of Child Rearing
- Mother, wife, social coordinator and operations manager for a family of 6. Successfully raised four daughters from birth to adulthood.
Barbara Trepagnier, founder of Barb's Cottage
She goes by Barb, but I call her “Mom.” Her ability to turn creative ideas into successful business strategies was a major inspiration for me to start Here I Am Box at the age of 58. I had a chance to talk to Mom about her Esty shop, Barb’s Cottage, and what Mother's Day means to her.
How did you get started with your shop?
I was getting ready to retire from my teaching position at the University. I was already making mosaics, and I started focusing on the little tiles that go into them. Teresa, one of my daughters, said, “Mom, you should have an Etsy shop to sell those tiles.” And so, she set one up for me. That was 11 years ago and I've been selling tiles ever since. I've now sold over 16,000 tiles.
I have hundreds of molds I use. I mean, I'm kind of a compulsive mold buyer. Nobody would do that except, you know, a person who's just kind of crazy. If a customer asks “do you have a smaller sand dollar?” I'll go, “No, but I'll bet I can find one!” And then I look until I find it.
How are things going for the business?
The shop is just going crazy. I now have two people who help me mold. We use small molds to form the pieces. We fire and glaze them in the kiln. I just hired my cousin as another glazer because I couldn't keep up. So we're doing great, but our customer base is very small. It's mosaic makers and you know, there's just not a ton of them. Etsy is now doing social media for the shop, so I have new customers coming all the time and some of them have become regulars. I've never had a year that didn't do better than the year before.
What is the most challenging part of running a small business?
The most challenging thing is for me to keep up. I've just got the type of personality where I want more and more sales. I want to beat my record from last month or last year. It’s a funny thing, because there aren't many people making tiles for mosaic makers, so I'm kind of a big fish in a small pond. And it’s been challenging to keep up with the demand. I even raised my prices and my sales did not go down one bit. They went up!
At one time I had 20 customers asking for special orders. And that was hard on me. It's stressful because I want to do everything perfectly, and that creates a lot of pressure. So now, when people want me to do things I don't want to do, I just say “I’m 82!” It’s a wonderful excuse. I use it all the time.
Do you see yourself as an artist?
The short answer is no. I was never artistic as a child. Even my handwriting was horrible. I had no artistic ability at all. I still do not call myself an artist. I think of myself as a craftswoman because what I do is more like paint by numbers. I use molds, so the shape is created by someone else. I just paint them and then glaze and fire them, and they come out gorgeous.
Mosaic Tiles available from Barb's Cottage on Etsy
What is your favorite part about the business?
Glazing the tiles. That's my main job. I get up early and I can glaze tiles all day. I also love that there's always something new to do. I love that sort of challenge: “this is something new and I have to figure out how to make it work.”
How do you feel about “Mother’s Day”?
To me, I like relationships. From day to day. I mean, it's sort of like “okay, Renee and I are connecting right now,” why does it have to be on May the 13th or whatever the damn day is? To me, it's forced and it makes it a little bit artificial. I have relationships one-on-one with each of my daughters and with my grandchildren, and it's not on a special day of the year. It's not every day, but it's any day and once in a while. I'll get a message, a text from one of my granddaughters, or somebody, just saying “hi” and I'll do the same, you know? It's not on a special day. So that's a weird question to ask.
I don't care what she says, my mom is an artist. She has a style and sense of humor that shines through in everything she touches. She reinvented herself time and time again and shows no signs of slowing down. If you want to see her selection of mosaic tiles, visit her Etsy shop at Barb's Cottage.
I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day any day!