When people ask us about how we built our little business, I always say it's about baby steps and delegation. Our story consists of small successes that build on each other to create our current whimsical world. As we grew we were able to add valuable team members to our firefly family who allowed us to continue to focus on the bigger picture of running a bright business. Thank you for supporting small businesses like us and playing an important role in the chapters of our always evolving adventure. - April & Steve McCrumb
Steve and I always make a point to attend the Ann Arbor Art Fair every year. During our college years, we couldn't afford most of the art pieces we really loved, but enjoyed viewing them while we were there. One of our favorite artists has always been Chris Roberts-Antieau. She makes these fabulous "fabric paintings" with subject matters that'll always make you smile. We always admired her amazing work and knew someday we would invest in one of her pieces.
We had been having a reasonably profitable art fair season selling our paper goods during the summer of 1999 and went to the Ann Arbor Art Fair ready to purchase one of Chris' pieces. It took us a while to even decide which one to choose because we loved them all, but we ended up buying one titled catching fireflies. On the way home Steve and I were talking about the piece and he mentioned what a cool name that would be for a gallery. I agreed, but never thought it would become a reality just a year later.
Transforming the space into a whimsical gift gallery
After we started to wholesale a.i. paper design products, we needed to move the business out of our house and find a commercial building to lease. We ended up finding an old 2200 sq. ft. building in downtown Berkley, Michigan that used to house a pharmacy. With lots of hard work we transformed the space with bright colored paint, plywood and flea market finds. A line of old hinged doors separated the design studio from the store front.
I planned on filling most of the store with a.i. paper design products and some purchased items that I found at gift trade shows. I also called up a few of my artist friends and asked them if they'd be interested in placing some of their items in our store on consignment. This helped me keep my investment costs low and the variety of products unique.
We opened our doors in October. I didn't really have the time, money or energy to heavily advertise because I was still very consumed with running a.i. paper design. In fact, our original goal for the store front was just to help pay the rent for our design studio. When customers stopped in we would simply pop our head out from behind the studio, greet them, then let them shop in peace while we continued with our work. I guess you could call Tuesday and Piper, our shop cats, the silent store managers as they kept the customers company.
As time went on, the "buzz" about catching fireflies began to spread through word of mouth and some free press. Steve and I also handed out newsletters about the store at the nearby art fairs we participated in. Pretty soon catching fireflies was not only paying the rent but turning a decent profit. This allowed me to purchase a larger variety of interesting items to fill the store. The popularity continued to grow.
Shining in Grand Rapids
Inspired by the success of our Berkley location, we decided to open a second store in Grand Rapids. Steve & I both grew up in West Michigan and visited our families there often. We opened our doors in the spring of 2002 and showcased our whimsical wares to all our new firefly fans.
Wholesale accounts continued to increase for a.i. paper design while catching fireflies customers kept multiplying. We decided to move the design studio to a non-retail location a mile away from the store, then renovate the current design studio into an expanded catching fireflies. After a couple of months of light construction, flea market hunting and a lot of paint, we surprised our customers with the renovation at our two year birthday sale in October. It was a huge success and the store continued to thrive.
After selling our fanciful goods in Grand Rapids for almost four years, we made the difficult decision to close our doors and move our quirky collection of gifts closer to home.
When we first spotted the 'for lease' sign on the old train depot in downtown Rochester, we knew it was meant to be. So with lots of paint and TLC we worked our magic and transformed it into the eccentric little gift gallery that catching fireflies is. We opened our doors in the spring of 2006 and received rave reviews from the local press and new customers.
We launched our first website and blog in 2004 but got a bit more serious about online sales a few years later. This allowed us to shine our light beyond our store doors by offering firefly fans to peruse and buy our goodies online. We take our web presence seriously and are very intentional about blogging about bits of our life, sharing interesting finds on facebook and creating weekly emails that include recipes, diy projects, music reviews and more.
In 2010 we added another style of shop to the mix. Yellow Door Art Market is located in the same block as our original Berkley catching fireflies and features the work of over 70 Michigan artists.
Back to where it all began
It's funny to think that the very-very beginning of this company started at the outdoor Artisan Market in Ann Arbor. It is there where Steve and I would spend our weekends during college peddling handmade paper goods. So when the retail space came up for lease right across the street, it made sense to inquire. We signed the lease December of 2012 and got busy transforming that corner into a bright and happy space.
Ann Arbor is the largest of all the locations complete with a charming courtyard which is home to our wheelbarrow fairy garden and magical bubble mailbox.
I always have to smile when a catching fireflies customer gets excited when they find that perfect gift to brighten someone's day. Nothing beats the feeling of making someone happy. I always keep that in mind when I select all the goodies that fill the store. We're also committed to carrying works from local artists. They are the first ones who supported this little place and continue to add unique flavor to it every day.
We're always asking ourselves what can we do to make catching fireflies more fantastic... more fun... more memorable? And as long we keep asking those questions, I believe our little whimsical gift gallery will continue to change and grow to better serve our fabulous firefly fans.