Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Incredible Woman #24 - Kristie Harker. Tuesday's Questions

KARA: "I think that the business you have is so interesting. Would you describe what you do – tell us all about your business. Talk about the advantages and disadvantages to owning your own business."

KRISTIE: "Quite by accident, I discovered a small treasury of Hotel Utah door and window casing remnants in 2003. I was looking in a salvage yard for old wood to re-frame an odd sized picture, too large to custom frame in the budget I was working with. The 4 ½” casings had been stored outdoors, under an open sided shed since 1989. I loved the authentic “shabby-chic” crazing and chipped paint. The first frame turned out so well that I got more wood and had a second one made. The shop owner told me that if he had framed the identical print in the same look, the frame would have cost me $600-$900. (As a comparison, I charge $250 for the same size.) When people invariably oohhhed and aaahhed at my new/old frames, the light bulb went on in my head, and the casing acquisition turned into a short term business so that my two high school children could be employed at home.

There were some interesting learning experiences as we dealt with the setbacks of dealing with wood milled in the early 1900’s. Slight variances in wood widths not detectable by handling them, but magnified when cut on a diagonal were discovered much too late, as we spent our first months cutting and matching by appearance of the wood. We ultimately found 9 different widths of wood and carefully sorted them for uniformity. The next 6 months we repaired the damage caused during removal from the hotel, including cleaning, pulling nails, gluing splits using 7 clamps at a time, and chiseling off glued on wood.

The frames turned out to be impossible to mass produce. A mass produced frame takes about 15 minutes, from start to finish including the art. We were so clueless as to what we got into! Our frames ended up with 4-6 hours to complete, up to 9 hours if there was a custom color finish. Each cut was carefully considered to be where the nature of the aging changed the appearance of the wood. Then, other pieces had to be found which were compatible. Unattractive damage was touched up.

The “rabbet”, which holds the glass, needed to be built on or cut in. Corner V-nails have to be ground off, as the wood is so hard they won’t go in all the way. We had to set up a website, get photographs, and figure out how to sell them. Not a good business model of efficiency.

Okay, Okay. It all sounds crazy that we would do so much work to manufacture about 200 frames then shut it all down. There was a much easier plan originally. We had an agreement with a local shop to manufacture the frame fronts for a very reasonable price. When my first 35 were delivered, the quality was SO bad that I couldn’t bring myself to sell them! I said to my kids, “We can do a better job than that, and we don’t even know what we’re doing!” So, we broke most of the frames back down, bought equipment, and forged ahead! The time and expense factors went up exponentially.

My children always got paid, but I have not been paid a dime yet! I believe that I have about 6,000 hours in it, and just barely broke into the black. I refused to quit until I broke even. I’ve always planned on quitting when I earned it all back, but now that it’s finally here, I will probably continue to custom frame with pre-manufactured moldings.. I love the artistic fulfillment in creating just the perfect blend of picture with frame. Financially, being the owner rather than the paid employee has been a disadvantage. I’d have been WAY ahead if I’d been working at McDonalds!

Despite my business failure financially, it was a success in other ways. I feel like the farmer who said that he was raising children, not potatoes. My children learned that mediocrity is not acceptable as an employee. Excellence is the only acceptable standard as a merchant or as an employee. Many times we faced dilemmas and we learned to think outside the box as a team. They learned the value of money as they earned their own to spend, and that they could do hard things they’d never done before. One of my favorite axioms was burned into their minds: “What is the worst thing that can happen if we do this?” “What is the best thing that could happen if we do?” Conversely, what is the worst that can happen if we do or don’t. It applied to a surprising number of roadblocks that arose. Generally, the potential for good was so much better than the worst that could happen that it propelled us past the fear of failure. It pleases me when I hear them ask that question on their own as they face crossroads in their lives."

I actually have one of Kristie's frames - not one with the Hotel Utah wood (although I would have loved to have one of those, because that's where Rick and I had our wedding breakfast!) - she gifted me a lovely print and framed it herself. Here is a photo of that picture:

KARA: "I know how important family history is to you. I know you do a lot of journaling. What kinds of things are important for you to record? Talk about the different things you do to make sure important things in your life are documented."

KRISTIE: "On February 5, 1984, I made a decision and a long term commitment. It was the day I wrote my first “family letter”. Phil’s sister who lived in Oregon asked all her siblings to write once a month. She planned on copying and distributing all our letters to each other. Although the family plan only lasted a few years, I determined to continue the course individually. I sent it out to extended family, long term friends, and missionaries every month. For the next 25 years, 9 months, and 3 days, I kept a record of the escapades of our children, noted local and national events, and recorded important family events and achievements. I included jokes, background information on holidays, made brief mention of trials, and expressed gratitude that God shares the unchanging wisdom of eternity with us. Most of those 9,408 days and 13.5 million minutes of the “middle section” of my life were filled with ordinary life experiences. But, some were beautiful and extraordinary. I am so grateful that I have more than my memory alone to recall them. To facilitate this process, I left a notepad by my computer to jot down key words. Then, when I sat to write, I was not an utter blank. I have trouble recalling what I did yesterday, let alone what I did or thought during a whole month!

In November of 2009, I finally reached “The End”. The mailman delivered 306 sets of letters. I missed writing twice during that time which covered about half my life span. It has basically been my adult journal, and my most prized possession—the only thing of value stored in our fire-proof safe. But, rather than sit around for too long, I’ve started new projects. One will be to add pictures to that same family letter record. Then I’ll print and bind it. I’ve begun the long scanning process of photos from old albums. I’ll also write the history of my young life then record my best stories on CD for my future grandchildren.

My first project of my new writing era is halfway finished--a children’s book entitled “Mr. ConGENEiality”, intended as a surprise for my Dad’s 90th birthday present in March. (His name is “Gene”.) I spent two months looking at all the home movies, listening twice to Dad’s audio history, and re-reading all the historical items we have compiled over the years. I have just finished the text, and my artist son-in-law is illustrating it. Fortunately, a nephew is a graphic designer, so the entire thing from start to finish (except the publishing) will be done by immediate family members! Hopefully it will preserve my father’s exceptional warmth and personality for generations to come.

My sisters and I work together on family history. Each of us has naturally gravitated to an area which interests us the most, and which have combined to make a complete whole. Two sisters pursue genealogical research quite successfully. Two other sisters have put together video records and scan old family photos which are shared on a family website. Two have either taken records or interviewed my parents and produced written accounts. I have pursued the collection of old photos, but my favorite thing has been to instigate or preserve verbal history collections. Before they were completely destroyed by age, I rounded up old cassette tape recordings of my paternal grandparents. My good husband, the consummate computer geek, helped me transfer them to CDs, and break them into tracks. We burned over fifty copies to distribute at an extended family reunion. I coaxed my maternal grandmother to record her life story, which is a marvelous look at life in another era, which has also been transferred to CD. Additionally, Phil was instrumental in setting up direct verbal recording of the personal histories of my parents and a separate one with them and their adult children into the computer. To prepare, I carefully thought out list of things I wanted my folks to address. Each week, my parents selected a topic or time of life to reminisce about, guided by those questions. Since I live across the street from my parents, it was easy for them to walk over once a week for weeks on end to record directly into the computer. You’d think I’m done now, but I’m not. The latest thing I’ve done is to visit aunts and uncles to take a look at their old albums and see what photographic treasures they have that I do not. Another familial effort is underway to scan and share gathered photos of interest with hundreds of other relatives."

What an incredible project! I knew some of this, but had no idea how extensive Kristie's efforts are. What an incredible example for us to follow. I'm really inspired to get my family history underway. My gratitude to Kristie - my oldest son was a missionary during some of the time that Kristie sent her letters out, and he got several of them. Missionaries love to get letters - it make them happy. So... my son's happiness was, in part, thanks to Kristie!

Thanks for stopping by today - tomorrow we'll talk about lessons that Kristie has learned from her trials, and about the different kinds of service she does. Hope you'll come back and learn more about this incredible woman.


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