fiddle leaf photography
Nov 18, 2017
As I’ve grown my business I’ve come to know so many dynamo women business owners in Edmonton who are the most beautiful mix of grit and grace. Do they have it all figured out? NO. Do any of us? They are working their way through, one day at a time, trying to make life what they want it to be. And on top of it all, they are raising their own kids, who are watching them forge a path that isn’t always easy but is full of reward. I’m fascinated by these women and want to learn more, which is why I asked if they’d sit down and chat with me. This is the first entry in the Grit + Grace series.
When you walk in the Edmonton showroom of River City Tile Company it will almost bowl you over. It is BEAUTIFUL. I’ve looked at a lot of tile in my life as we’ve renovated more rooms than I’d like to admit, and yet when I visited River City Tile for the first time last year I just wanted to run my hands over most of the tile and take some home with me. There is every tile colour and finish under the sun and although they do have classic staples, much like a good wardrobe, they also carry some simply stunning WOW pieces.
But you know what’s even better than a great business? A great business that’s run by equally lovely people. And that’s the case here. The duo behind River City Tile are Aaron and Chelsea Brown, a husband and wife team who founded their business in Edmonton 6 years ago.
On a chilly late fall day, I met Chelsea at the River City Tile showroom for a few photos and then we sat down in her office to chat about running a business, being a mother, and a few random things in between.
Tell me a bit about your business
We are a high end, luxury, tile business. We specialize in custom and unique tile for the client who wants something a little bit different. We’re on the cutting edge in terms of tile trends. Fashion trends are important to our store and our business. Generally, anything that happens within the fashion industry tends to trickle down to home décor and hard finishes like tile; it’s our job to bring that to the Edmonton market.
How long have you been in business?
This is our sixth year.
What’s your favourite part of running your own business?
Getting to work with my family. My husband Aaron is here and if it weren’t for that I’d never see him, so I really appreciate that aspect. It’s also to be able to have the luxury to bring my kids to work if they are sick, and to have a place for them to hang out in times when we don’t have childcare.
Where do you hope your business will be in 5 years
I hope that we’re about the same in terms of sales, but that we’re able to step out of the business a little bit. I’d love for my husband to be able to take weekends off and to come home for dinner. I’d love for the business to become a little more self-sufficient so that we don’t have to grind quite as hard anymore.
How many staff do you have?
Right now we have 10 full-time staff and then we have subcontractors who work for us full time. Once we add the subcontractors in we are closer to 17 staff.
What’s one thing about being in business that you never expected?
Everything! How difficult it is to wear all those hats, and I think if we knew then what we know now, we probably wouldn’t have done it. I’m thankful we didn’t know how much work it was going to be and how much it was going to test our family. We’ve been through things that we never thought we would have to go through, only to then to come out on the other side and realize that we can actually manage it. I think if you’d asked me 6 years ago, “hey, how would you handle this situation?” I think I would have said, “not well”. But now that I’ve been through it I think, “ok, I can handle that”. So in that regard, I’m thankful for it because it has taught me a lot about myself and it’s taught me a lot about what our family can handle together. We are stronger than we know.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever been given?
To write a business plan, which is something that we didn’t do when we first started. We thought, “how hard can it be?”, we’ll just buy tile and then sell it for more than we bought it for. Easy. But really making a business plan and having goals for your business is so important. There are times we get busy and we’re so active working in our business that we do zero work on our business. It’s not until we step back and look at it that we can actually make some positive changes and move forward.
We had a slow down in the company about 2 years ago during the height of the last recession and we ended up with time to think, which we hadn’t had before. That was probably the best thing that ever happened to our business because instead of just grinding every single day putting out fires and treading water, we had an opportunity to take a closer look and ask ourselves, “how can we make this viable so that it works better?”.
How old are your kids?
They are 8 and 7 (2 girls).
What is the hardest part of being a mom and running your own company?
Changing hats. The drive from when I leave work to when I go pick up my girls from school, I have to kind of shove all of the work stuff down and all of the mom stuff bubbles up. Sometimes when I’m driving I’ll remember things like I was supposed to pick something up, or I’m supposed to book a parent-teacher interview and I forgot, or so and so has a birthday party and we need to choose a gift. It’s funny, it’s taken some time but when I’m at work I can turn those sorts of thoughts off. It’s during that drive that I have this shift in thoughts and then my mom hat comes on. I do feel like I’m getting better at switching back and forth, and now when I’m at home I’m really a mom, and when I’m at work I try and really be at work. But, you know, it’s hard sometimes. My babies are always top-of-mind; it’s just the logistical mom things that I’m able to stow away for the day.
What is your favourite kid product you could never live without?
My kids are old enough now that we don’t really need anything. But you know what I give to all the new Moms? Lilypadz. They are silicone washable and reusable nursing pads and you can go swimming in them, they don’t leak, and you can wear them at night time without a bra. They are amazing.
What’s the song you put on when you need to get all the stress out?
I don’t. I turn all the sounds off and have silence.
What’s the app you could never let someone delete from your phone?
Do you have a recent book you’ve read that you love?
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. It was kind of a heavy read at times but funny at other times. It was really good.
What’s your Starbucks order?
High heels or sneakers?
Ballet flats – somewhere in the middle.
Leggings or jeans?
Early mornings or late nights?
Salty or sweet?
Salty. I gave up most carbs in June, so I’m not really eating many sweets.
Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a mom now than it was being a mom when you were growing up?
I don’t know.
My Mom actually says to me a lot, “I don’t know how you do it all” and I say, “I don’t know how YOU did it all”. I feel like growing up my childhood home was a lot tidier than my house is now. I also feel like she never forgot anything ever and I forget stuff all the time.
I guess it’s where you put your energy. One of my favourite “mom jobs” is sewing elaborate Halloween costumes for my kids. I’m actually not a great seamstress so it’s very time consuming, but I love it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My Mom wasn’t a crafter; she would tell us to just go to the dress up bin and find something that still fits.
I do feel like I have a lot of choices now in terms of the type of mother I’d like to be, and there seems to be less stigma about outsourcing certain things. Sometimes I might bring the most amazing homemade treats to the class party, and then other times I’ll sign up for juice boxes because I know that just isn’t going to be the day for me to pretend I’m Martha Stewart. I do like baking and doing those sorts of things with the kids, but there are certain times that I just have to say I can’t do it all. Because no one can.
The older I get the better I am at finding balance in life, but I’m not totally there yet.
Do you feel like you have this whole Mom thing figured out?
No! But I do hope when my girls are older and they look back on their childhood they see that we really worked as a family and that this business was a family commitment. They didn’t ask for this, but they are very much a part of it and I hope they can look back at this time in our lives and say, “Wow, look what we’ve built. Good for us!”. And when they become mothers and don’t have it all figured out, because I’m sure that they won’t, I hope they can feel some solidarity in that and know that we didn’t always have it all figured out either.
Stay tuned for more Grit + Grace interviews coming up in 2018. Know of an entrepreneur you think would be perfect for Grit + Grace? Please send me an email with her name!
Fiddle Leaf Photography offers in-home newborn and family photography sessions as well as casual business photos for Edmonton small businesses. Want to know more? Shoot me a message and we’ll talk about how to best capture your unique situation.