Ask many small business owners, and they'll tell you running locally owned retail shops can be a challenge in any economy, much less today's. But imagine the additional obstacles of moving your successful small-town, high-end boutique to a larger city.
James Snowden and Randy Terrell took on those obstacles during a recovering economy when they moved Finderskeepers Market, a 5-year-old interior furnishings boutique and design studio, from Mount Sterling to Lexington's Walton Avenue earlier this year.
"Our faithful customers are sticking with us. We already have seen them multiple times. That's a good sign," Snowden said recently at the store, a few blocks east of downtown.
The shop has maintained its same niche strategy, selling contemporary home furnishings with carefully selected vintage items used in unusual ways. For instance, you'll find an old silver church door handle shaped like a crucifix that has been placed on a table as a sculpture.
Snowden calls the style "New Victorian Ruralism: Victorian elements mixed with rustic farmhouse details."
A former children's librarian, he designs items and runs the shop. Terrell, his life partner, is chief financial officer for a Lexington pain management and ambulatory surgery center.
The decision to move to Lexington came after the pair analyzed their Mount Sterling customer base. It turned out three of every four were coming from areas outside the small city, and the majority of those were visiting from Lexington.
"We thought it was ridiculous for us not to take advantage of that customer base," Snowden said. They were buoyed by the confidence of seeing their business increase every year since the shop had opened, "even in the depths of the recession," he said.
And since the move, Finderskeepers has found a new set of customers, too, including interior designers shopping for resources for their clients.
Snowden offers design services on a limited basis, but the bulk of the business is retail. "There are people who walk in and say, 'I love this look. Can you make my house look like your shop?'" he said. The next person in the door might want to take home an item for a tabletop.
Despite moving to a larger city where tastes might be somewhat different, the type of products for sale has stayed the same, even though the merchandise itself is changing constantly.
"People know if they want that lamp, they'd better get it before someone else does because when it's gone, I will order something different in its place," Snowden said.
"You know the old saying, 'Finders keepers, losers weepers,'" he said, invoking the shop's name.
"I am selling my own personal aesthetic to my customers," Snowden said. When an item goes in the shop, "it has to be something I find appealing, otherwise I don't carry it."
He thinks "knowing who you are as a retailer is important and not straying from that," he said. "If you're not trying to please the entire public, you create that aesthetic you want to represent, and people will flock to that."
Finderkeepers carries a range of price points, from high end to very affordable, in new and vintage items.
"Anyone could come into the shop and find a gift item like unusual candles," Snowden said. But when a client is redoing a room, they can purchase a sofa, dining room table, bed and unusual lighting.
The store has found fans in nearby businesses along the East Main and Clay Avenue corridor that have suffered during the recession, some even being forced to close.
"Every additional shop we get that builds on that base helps all of us," said Mark Shawk, owner of The Lamp Place.
And though Finderskeepers is near other boutiques and in style-conscious Lexington, Snowden doesn't think the city is saturated with similar stores, because everyone's tastes are varied.
"In this field, there is the opportunity for everyone to be successful," he said.
He trusts his design instinct and does not concentrate on what other businesses are doing.
"That almost becomes a distraction," he said.
Snowden has gained a following online with a well-regarded design blog called The New Victorian Ruralist. It's about design, first and foremost, but also offers detailed updates on the shop, entertaining and sometimes recipes. It's a collection of his observations on style and life, he said, "and the secrets to a life less ordinary."
The blog has increased the shop's visibility. "We've had people say, 'OK, you're two hours away. I've got to come see your shop.'"
And when they do visit, Snowden likes the "awe factor," for customers to be surprised and delighted by what they see. And he is not reluctant to go out on a limb to offer things people have not seen before, "a product exclusive to you and your aesthetic."
That could be the hornet's nest, attached to a small limb with two white porcelain flowers wired on. He's laid it across the top of a very large glass straight-sided container. Or you'll find the iron chandelier, on which he's hung simple wooden chair spindles, that is lighted with Edison-style bulbs in the sockets.
"Any time you show something somebody has never seen before, that creates a demand for it," Snowden said. "Hopefully, that is what has pulled us through these past couple of years."