It’s not often that having “very expensive taste on a 5-year-old’s budget” is considered a positive, but in Meg Piercy’s case it was the catalyst for a new career path.
It all started with an abandoned dresser that Meg plucked from an alleyway when she was expecting her first child. Armed with buckets of paint and a vision, Meg transformed her once deserted dresser into a bona-fide statement piece. She and her husband continued to hunt for more furniture pieces (in alleyways and beyond) and after a year of lining their hallway with dressers to sell on Craigslist, they anxiously signed a lease on their first 800 square foot storefront and officially launched MegMade, Inc.
Since then, Meg and her husband have expanded their team, sold furniture in over 30 states, and upgraded to a showroom where they currently keep more than 300 pieces of refinished furniture. Keep reading to find out more on how they turned their side hobby into a booming business and what is next in line for the team at MegMade.
Name: Meg Piercy
Location: Chicago, IL
Current Title/Company: Founder/CEO of MegMade, Inc.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communication, University of Kansas
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
I interned throughout my college career at Fleishman-Hillard, a PR agency in Kansas City. I worked on the Hallmark and Royal Caribbean accounts and loved every minute of it. I worked in their London office during the summer on the London Olympic Committee. Quickly after graduation, though, I decided to move to Chicago and landed a job as a consultant where I was on a project at the Chicago Sun-Times for two amazing years. I was fortunate to find a great job right away because I had a lot of work experience coming out of school. To all college students—I recommend getting great internships; it’s worth it!
You like to refer to yourself as an “accidental entrepreneur” or “mompreneur.” Tell us why! What brought you to where you are now?
When I was pregnant with my first son, my husband was starting a new company and we were broke as a joke. I had very expensive taste and the budget of a five-year-old, so I decided to paint a dresser I found in our alley (yes our alley!). It turned out cuter than imagined so after I had my son we would find furniture and paint it for our house. Naturally we didn’t need 25 dressers in our home, so we sold some on Craigslist. We had no idea it would turn into a business at the time, but was a fun way to make extra money.
Tell us about your first sale. What were your initial expectations of starting the business and how do they differ from now?
Our upstairs neighbor was moving and asked us if we wanted a dresser that they were otherwise going to donate. We painted it dark blue with a light gray stripe down the center. We sold it for $80 with free delivery—we were just so excited to sell something! We had no idea what we were doing at the time, we were just having fun painting together and selling what we made.
Over time, we started painting more and more. We started painted and sold two or three pieces per week so we began to think of it more as a business than a hobby. We hired my cousin to help us (who is still with us today). Because we didn’t start selling furniture with the end game of a business in mind, we didn’t set it up as such until about a year after we began.
After a lot of research and coaching, we now follow the franchise model where we document everything we do so that it is duplicable. We have grown at such a fast rate; we can hardly believe it. Thankfully, we have been able to handle growth because of systems that are now in place.
You opened your own physical shop space in 2013. How long did it take between selling pieces on Craigslist to be ready for a storefront?
It’s so funny to answer this because we still have to pinch ourselves that this little hobby has turned into a full-fledged operation. We went from painting pieces in our hallway, to painting them in our spare bedroom, to painting them in our garage (that we rented from our neighbor), to renting a 800 square foot store front around the corner. Each phase lasted about three months and the whole transition took about a year. Now we laugh at how nervous we were to sign a store lease. It seemed so risky but it was a good risk that has paid off.
How did your business evolve once you had a physical shop?
Having a shop gave us instant credibility. We love Craigslist, however, many people (for good reason) consider buying from people through the site to be risky. We still use it as a platform, but now our focus is to use Craigslist, our website, and social media to drive customers to our new showroom. We’ve also found that pieces display better in our showroom than our garage (go figure!).
What new responsibilities have you taken on? Did your team grow or are you still a one-woman show?
Oh gosh no, I could never do what we are doing now alone. My father always told me not to be intimidated to hire people that are smarter than you. I have taken that as truth and surround myself with ten of the best and brightest paint specialists and business folks who work hard on taking us to the next level. I have an amazing team who supports one another and I am grateful for each and every one of them.
How do you balance life as a mom with your business? What does your typical day look like?
Schedule, schedule, schedule! When I am in mom mode, I am a mom and not a business woman. When I am at work, I am focused on getting the most important things done so that when I go home I can be fully present with my kids.
I wake up between 5:30-6:15 a.m. and play with our two sons and make them breakfast. Then their nanny has them from 8:15 until 5:15 p.m. when I’m at work. I love the texts from my nanny during the day with photos of my boys having a blast. They make me smile and give me a mini break!
I leave work at 5 p.m. to get home to play with the boys and have dinner. Our youngest goes down at 6:30 p.m. and our oldest goes down at 8 p.m. My husband and I then connect about our day and either watch TV or get a little more work done. I try to save the fun work for nighttime so I’m not falling asleep while doing it!
I also make time to have fun with friends. I think to be a healthy business owner and working mom it’s essential to stay connected with friends. I am in a church small group on Mondays and try to hang out with friends or family at least one other time during the week.
It’s crazy right now operating a business and having a young family, but between a schedule, an amazing team at work and home, and the best husband a gal could ask for, it is manageable.
How do you see your business evolving further in the next few years?
At this point, we are focusing on perfecting our systems. Our goal is to duplicate our model in other markets and/or open other storefronts around the Chicago area. To compliment our furniture selection we are now adding several services and finishes to make MegMade a one-stop shop!
Going forward we are going to have furniture, upholstery, home goods, and other home accessories. We believe that in order to successfully scale our business, we must perfect each stage before moving forward!
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you began selling pieces nationwide as opposed to staying local?
We now have pieces in 30 states! I can hardly believe it. The biggest challenge in shipping nationwide is you lose control over the piece when it leaves your door. You are at the disposal of the shipping company to keep it from getting damaged or lost. It’s a long story, but we did have a shipper lose a dresser! Honestly, how is it possible for someone to lose a 150 pound dresser? Needless to say, when we are confronted with road bumps like that we take them as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them going forward.
We now have several shippers we trust to get our pieces safely form point A to point B (without any issues), which makes our lives much easier. Our finishes are amazing and hold up incredibly well, which also makes shipping not as scary. It’s our goal to find at least four new shippers per month so we can expand our nationwide reach as well as have multiple backup plans (just in case).
What advice would you offer other entrepreneurs (and especially mompreneurs!) who are striving to meet the growing demands of a young businesses?
Know your numbers. We hired a bookkeeper and my life became infinitely easier. It is so important to know your profit and loss for each month in order to know how to scale and what aspects of your business are the most profitable.
Secondly, plan your day. When you are starting a business, you can get pulled in so many directions. If you don’t plan your day the night before with what needs to get done, you will get lost in the business and it can be very frustrating.
Third, don’t forget to have fun! If you don’t have fun with what you are building, it is going to be tedious and you will want to quit.
The tone of the workplace starts from the top and if you are passionate about what you and your team are building, your team will follow suit.
During the times where you think it is too much and you want to quit (we all have those moments), find people in your life that will encourage you and help you to find your passion again.
Fourth, I lean on my faith. I spend time reading the bible and in prayer and it helps to give me peace and hope. If you are not a Christian, then find something that helps you discover peace—you will need it when life gets hectic and overwhelming.
And lastly, if you put the hard work in now, at some point in the near future you will have built something that will be able to run without you there all the time. Then you can rest!
One of the most taxing elements of owning your own retail business is handling customer service issues. How do you deal with this and what challenges did you face along the way?
I am a people pleaser to my core. I want everyone happy at all times, so this was a huge thing for me. 99 people could give me a glowing review and I would focus on that one bad review! I have gotten so much better about focusing on the positives because I realize you can’t please everyone—but we try to.
There are some people that will be upset no matter what you do. The goal is to identify these people and know ahead of time there could be trouble! That way we direct them in the nicest way possible to go elsewhere or we just need to bend over backwards for them.
Our new expectation that we’ve set is to under-promise and over-deliver. Most of the time I’ve found out that frustration can occur if we haven’t communicated enough to a customer. So we work on overly communicating so we don’t get calls about the progress of their piece. We strive to face each issue head on with humility and grace so usually it isn’t that big of a deal. When you hide behind it, it gets worse. Thankfully we have had very few issues with customers but when they arise, they are never fun.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Be confident. Don’t let others around you dictate what you believe about yourself. Be bold, be fun, and enjoy life. It goes fast.
Meg Piercy is The Everygirl…
Favorite source for vintage furniture?
MegMade! (Just kidding.) I love Randolph Street Flea Market, but my favorites are the old raggedy, very poorly organized little thrift stores in Chicago. You can find gold at a fraction of the price!
Perfect day off in Chicago?
I have two boys and a six pound toy poodle so my husband and I love to take long walks over by the beach and act like kids. Kids see fun and joy in the smallest things and I love to just follow them and take it all in—they grow up fast.
Must-have for new moms?
I don’t go anywhere without my Baby Bjorn front pack. Both of my kids loved the front pack and it makes carrying them on walks and doing household chores so much easier. Also, a noise machine for their bedrooms. Lifesaver!
Happy hour drink of choice?
I grew up in London for part of my life and will always love Pimm’s Cup. We grill out a lot when the weather is nice and I love Blue Moon with an orange wedge, too!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
I love my family so much and wish they lived closer, so probably my mom and sister. Time together with the three of us is precious and I wish there was more of it. As for celebrities, Kate Middleton because she is so regal and Mother Theresa because she was so loving and kind.