Today I’m thrilled to share the story of my long-time friends and Kansas Citians Casey and Sloane Simmons, co-founders of a store called Stuff, as a part of the “Amex Welcomed” program with @americanexpress, which is showcasing the people behind our favorite local businesses that welcome American Express. Did you know that over 8,000 more places in the Kansas City area started accepting American Express® Cards in 2016?
A retail store that features handmade, artistic gifts – now there’s a recipe for success, right? Well, sisters Sloane and Casey were told by many that they were nuts to consider the idea. And add to the fact they were also considered by some to be quite young for such an undertaking at the time they opened the doors in 1996.
Today, Stuff is a Brookside neighborhood fixture, and its owners have both roots and tentacles in many pockets of the community. What follows is an excerpt of an interview I conducted recently.
John Jantsch: I’m speaking with Sloane and Casey Simmons, co-founders of Stuff, a retail gift store in Kansas City, Missouri. So, Sloane and Casey, tell me about Stuff.
Casey Simmons: We are an artistic lifestyle store. We are dedicated to handmade, artistically created stuff for home, gifts and personal use. Anything from fine art paintings to a tiny token that you can drop in your pocket for good luck and everything in between; all aspects of your life.
John Jantsch: How long have you guys been doing this?
Sloane Simmons: We have been in business over 20 years. I guess we are in our 21st year. So, a long time.
John Jantsch: How did you get the idea for starting Stuff?
Casey Simmons: The story began when Sloane and I traveled a lot in our other business. One of the things we loved to do when we traveled was to go out and try and find locally/regionally made artistic items and goods. We wanted to bring a little piece of that home with us.
John Jantsch: What would your customers say makes Stuff special?
Casey Simmons: We can answer that actually because we ask that a lot. They come to Stuff for the experience. When we last collected the top five reasons that people come to Stuff, they never once mentioned the products. That’s just a true story. We did a survey and what we found out is this is what they say about our store: it’s an escape; I get my retail therapy when I go there; I have a happy factor; I feel very inspired. Inspiration is the number one word used to describe us when we ask people.
We thought the greatest irony in our lives is that we own a store called Stuff and people seldom talk about the stuff itself.
John Jantsch: What’s your take on working with family?
Sloane Simmons: I always jokingly say that work is work and play is play. Casey and I in particular have a pact. It’s not even silent, it’s spoken. When this business encroaches upon our familyhood and our sisterhood then we need to probably shut this place down.
John Jantsch: What’s the hardest thing about what you do as a business owner?
Casey Simmons: I’m going to say maintaining my energy and curiosity about my business. I don’t have any problems staying passionate about the world around me or staying energized about my future.
Sloane Simmons: I think most small business owners that we talk to will tell you that their number one struggle is finding the right staff members. Human resources is not for the shy of heart. For small family run businesses and small businesses in general, you have to really choose wisely who you decide to bring into the business to represent you. We’re open 358 days a year. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for somebody to be in a bad mood.
John Jantsch: When somebody comes to you and says, “I’m thinking about starting a business.” Do you have any sage advice for what they need to be thinking about that they probably aren’t?
Casey Simmons: First we say, “Are you crazy? Are you absolutely out of your ever-loving mind?”
My sage advice is to surround yourself with people that will tell you what you don’t want to hear. Then, listen.
Sloane Simmons: What we’ve told our clients is that you have to live in the truth. You have to live in what you know about yourself and what you think you want to do.
John Jantsch: What’s the most fun thing about what you get to do?
Casey Simmons: Lunch. Okay, I’m just kidding.
Sloane Simmons: I think the easiest and most joyful, fun thing we do every day is that we get to make people happy. We tell stories all day long that seem to bring great joy. They’re not made-up stories. They are the truth. We get to watch people just be truly, truly happy.
Casey Simmons: I would say, kind of the same thing, but it’s a little different for me. My greatest joy is getting to live a life that is authentic.
John Jantsch: Who has played a role in your success?
Casey Simmons: Both of our parents were small business owners and entrepreneurs. They both have very, very different skill sets. Our mother was a perfect example. She was a female business owner when that was just rare. She was consulting in an industry it was rare for women to be in. I would say two of our mentors are in our family.
Sloane Simmons: The two people I think about a lot when it comes to style and work ethic are my grandparents on my father’s side. They ran a rather large farm together. They grew crops and also had a hog farm. Which, I’m sorry, if there is something harder than retail it would be hog farming.
My grandmother and grandfather showed me the joy of running a small business, how to manage a small business and a family and how to not have that business ruin a family.
Casey Simmons: I would say one other thing. You are surrounded by mentors every day whether you realize it or not.
John Jantsch: Where are you on the path to world domination?
Sloane Simmons: We are not done. The greater vision has never changed.
Casey Simmons: We will never be done.
Sloane Simmons: I will say, a small business feels like it’s always moving forward. You just don’t want it to go sideways or backwards.
Casey Simmons: We’ve survived two major economic crashes in small business and handmade retail. I mean, it doesn’t really get any harder than that. We’re really not a need-based business.
Sloane Simmons: When your doors are open to the public 358 days a year, you think you are in control of your business but you’re not … You’re open to the whims of others.
“This post is sponsored by American Express, but all opinions are my own.”