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 Jason of Birchwood Supply Co.
Our jaws hit the floor every time we watch Jason of Birchwood Supply Co. unload his truck at The Cleveland Flea. From eight foot long bolt bins, to twelve-point buck mounts, to wall-sized vintage stadium score boards... Jason leans more towards "go big" than "go home", and we know that our shoppers love him for that. Not only is Birchwood Supply Co. present each month during The Cleveland Flea, but Jason also runs a brick-and-mortar storefront in Akron on an day-to-day basis, where you can source even more vintage finds for your home. Read on to hear more about the growth of this favorite Flea veteran over the years.
Cleveland Flea: What was your path to beginning your business?
Jason: It all started with the Cleveland Flea actually. It's been a process of over 3 years and slowly realizing I have something moving in a positive direction here. Actually realizing that people were receptive to my custom design and lighting, and then the vintage and found items to go along with it was really the push I needed to hit the gas pedal. A good friend of mine, Micah Kraus and I started working the Flea together, and he convinced me that this is really my art and continually challenged me to keep pushing my limits.
CF: Why do you love what you do?
JH: Because for me this is everything I am. It is an every day adventure of finding new ways to pour myself into everything I do and find out how I can adapt and push myself. It's been a lifelong journey for me to this point and it is exactly where I feel I need to be and love it!
CF: Why does Cleveland need a business like this?
JH: It's an opportunity for me to connect the Cleveland and Akron communities a little bit further. I always wanted to create a destination for people up in Cleveland to feel like they should come down and check out what is happening here. Come have a drink in the shop, meet other like-minded people, do a little shopping, and see what comes of it. I look at it as a chance for someone to stop in the shop and find something out about themselves they maybe didn't know was there. Cultivate and create together.
CF: Why is Cleveland a great place to launch and run a creative business?
JH: Because folks here get it. We appreciate and know the work that goes into creating something. The value of hardwork is understood. It is expected. It's always been who we are. I love that the people I come into contact with get a chance to meet the maker behind the shop. I know I have always appreciated it so much getting to know someone past the surface level. It adds so much depth and meaning to what is happening.
CF: What's the best part of running your own business?
JH: The sense of urgency in life. There's not a lot of spinning the wheels just to spin them. Every decision, action, or idea has a tangible result. It may take a lot of cultivation and time to see the end result, but that is the reward. It's attainable and can be felt everyday.
CF: What's your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
JH: The day to day upkeep and behind the scenes responsibilities. The things that not many people see into the building a business. Being your own accountant, business manager, marketing director, and connection builder. There's no time off.
CF: What are your goals for the business this year?
JH: I would love to be able to hire on 2-3 people to help run the day to day stuff at the shop. I want to grow my custom design work into a more consistent endeavor and grow some opportunities with that in the Cleveland and Akron areas.
CF: Did you see yourself growing up to be a creative vendor?
JH: Not in the least bit. This has been a journey for me that I didn't think I was capable of. I have let go of a lot of myself and opened up to what I am truly capable of. It's been a continual process of putting myself in uncomfortable situations and growing from them. Not looking at it from a win or lose viewpoint. It's simply just going through the journey that is what is important. You will always end up on the right side of the fence just going through it.
CF: What's the first big moment where you knew you were headed in the right direction with your business?
JH: That's tough. It was probably the moment it felt the realest when I handed in my resignation letter at my old job. I knew I was bought into what I was doing, but doing that was the actual going through the motion of it. It was real.
CF: Who inspires you?
JH: I have always had an underlying, gut response to creating Birchwood Supply and how it relates to my grandfather and uncle. I never knew my grandfather, but through my family memories and pictures he has always been with me. My uncle was my model and mentor growing up. I worked for him during my teenage years, and through those times I know now I learned a lot of what makes me who I am now. My oldest son, Ewan, carries both of their names as his middle name, George and Patrick. I remember there was one night I was at the shop really late just working on getting things in and set up and just taking a second to step back and know that they would be proud of me. It was, and is, very emotional for me.
CF: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in Cleveland Flea?
JH: Absolutely! I know I can do it. It gave me the motivation and push to do this.
CF: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to your business?
JH: Embrace the process. Trust YOUR process. Not someone else's.
CF: How would you hope to hear your business described by your dream customers?
JH: A place they can come, sit, and be at home and not feel like they need to buy a single thing. (But the whole buying thing is a good thing too)
CF: What's your favorite booth at the flea?
JH: I have developed a friendship over the years with Kevin at American Renaissance and love what he is doing. He's been a great sounding board and like-mind in this game.