It's hard not to be inspired by the artists and makers of the Cleveland Flea. Brilliant, talented, creative. They're tough as bleepin' nails on their ways to making their dreams come true. We began The Maker Series to take a look — behind the scenes, beyond the booth — to see what drives our makers to do what they love and love what they do.
Q + A with Kelly Pierce of Great Lake Outfitters
Great Lake Outfitters is a vintage clothing and home goods shop, specializing in rust belt chic and farm house treasures. Kelly has an eye for party dresses of all eras, 70's fashion (think bell-bottom jeans and suede fringe), as well as practical-yet-beautiful home goods. She's also a talented photojournalist, and we've asked her to begin to document what it's like to go to auction. More on that soon.
SS: How would you describe Great Lake Outfitters?
KP: I've always kept a wide variety of vintage clothing in stock for men and women. All styles from the late 1800s to the 1980s and that same philosophy carries over to home decor: a little bit of every style.
SS: What was your path to beginning your business?
KP: Originally I never set out to start a small business: it just kinda happened. I sold part time for years when I was in and out of work and when I was in college. In 2008, shortly after the stock market crashed, I started putting more time to selling and eventually put the part time business into a full time business footing.
SS: What are your roles in the business?
KP: I do everything: buying, selling, marketing, shipping, customer service, bookkeeping, etc. I do have friends and family pinch hitting for me from time to time.
SS: Why do you love what you do?
KP: There's a real sense of freedom in running my own business and I love it. No day is ever the same and you'll never know where your next big find will be.
SS: Why does Cleveland need a business like Great Lake Outfitters?
KP: Ohio is a treasure trove for antiques! It really is a forty plus hours-a-week job to unearth all the amazing antiques this state has hidden. And the greater Cleveland area is in high demand for these unique items.
SS: What's the best / most difficult part of running your own business?
KP: I love to shop; it was one of my "hobbies" listed on my resume and is the best part of this business. Striking a balance between the online stores and the flea markets is one of the hardest things to manage.
SS: What are your goals for the business this year?
KP: Educating myself in all that is vintage and antique. You never stop learning in this business. I've nailed down vintage clothing, but with other antique goods (home decor, furniture, art work, etc) I have a long way to go. Each year I learn more and hope to continue expanding my library of knowledge.
SS: How did you manage to stay sane during May Flea? (Sidenote: This was our worst weather day ever, and though building a creative business looks fun from the outside, there are many storms to weather. One was a real storm, during our May 2016 Flea.)
KP: Haha! There's nothing you can do: it's Cleveland weather. I knew going into the May flea the weather was not going to corporate so I planned to bring items that would not be damaged by rain (or snow). It was a rough outing, but I work with a great ground of fellow vendors and we had a good laugh at the awful weather .
SS: Did you see yourself growing up to be a vintage dealer / treasure hunter?
KP: Never in a million years. Truly I never knew what my "dream job" would be but it seems like it found me.
SS: What's the first big moment where you knew you were headed in the right direction with your business?
KP: Years ago I responded to a classified ad for a vintage clothing buyout at a small shop in Little Italy. I was still small beans and nervous about the whole thing. Upon arrival, the ad posted showed me all the inventory she wanted to sell: a truly amazing collection of dresses from the 1900s-1970s. There had to be 100+ items. At the time I only had $500 to my name and thought to myself, "this is never going to fly" but to my sunrise, she was more than happy with my offer. This buyout really put my name on the map so-to-speak for vintage clothing and without it, I don't think I be where I am at today.
SS: Who inspires you?
KP: All those around me: my fellow vendors, both handmade and vintage, the people who have been in this business for years and those who thinking completely different from myself.
SS: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in Cleveland Flea?
KP: A ton! Before the flea, I was primarily vintage clothing dealer. With he help of the flea, I was able to diversify the business into antiques and home decor which has helped immensely.
SS: What's your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
KP: Keeping the bills paid. Keeping my sanity. Finding great items people want and to sell at an affordable price point.
SS: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to your business?
KP: When I about ten years old, my father pinned on my bedroom wall a piece of paper that simply said, "persist and persevere". At the time, I really did not understand what he was talking about but years later but now I do and is more relevant now in my business then ever before.
SS: What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about your business?
KR: Maybe that I am a one women show; a lot of people have assumed that I was a big, powerhouse in the vintage clothing business employing a small army of people. But it's just me.
SS: How would you hope GLO is described by your Dream Customers (those clients that really love you)?
KR: It a great compliment when people come back to my booth flea after flea and buy things because they love my style--or they just stop by and have a chat.
SS: What's the most amazing thing you've ever found?
KP: Man, this is hard to answer. Every market I find something that I think is amazing. When I think of it, I think all my "things" are amazing in their own way.
SS: Anything you've found that you just couldn't sell?
KP: Usually I have a hard time selling artwork because I just fall in love with some pieces. Other things I end up keeping are just goofy little tchotchkes, mostly things that are cat related.
SS: What's your favorite booth at the flea?
KP: More like favorite booths: All Things for You, The Bus Boutique, Dick Russell, Black Kitten, pretty much all the vintage dealers.
SS: What do you spend much of your time doing?
KP: Shopping, working, eating tacos and pizza.