In small business, popular wisdom suggests that a startup company takes at least five years just to learn how to function, let alone turn a profit. Based on their store expansion, extended hours, community mural, and booming side business only three years after their first start, Denise David and Jes Tano of Mankato’s Whimsy and Weathered furniture boutique are more than functioning – they’re thriving.
“The magic formula for us is that we are family, we’re driven, and we have an amazing work ethic,” said Denise, mother of Jes. “We believed in each other.”
A Natural Team
The mother-daughter team have worked together on various projects since Jes was in high school. When Denise started a local wedding design company, Jes bought her out and continued to run it after finishing a graduate degree in business. Both women have always been highly interested in art and design, although for years Denise chose to pursue design as more of a side business than a full-time calling.
“I’ve always had this need to create,” Denise said. “My undergrad was in corrections and I did that for many years. Like many people in that midlife age, I was just ready for a change.”
Inspiration struck after Denise spent some time working for a furniture boutique store located in Minnesota’s Twin Cities metro area. She loved the boutique’s business model of only being open for a few days per month and she knew that the Mankato area didn’t have anything similar.
It actually works. Your ideas and your craziness and all those things combined are something you can do not only as a passion but as a business.Jes Tano
“She was like, ‘Crazy idea! When you graduate, what are your thoughts of opening a store down here?’” Jes laughed.
Denise described Jes as her natural go-to girl for this kind of large-scale project. She never considered anyone else as her co-owner.
“I have zero bookkeeping skills,” Denise said. “It’s her business sense that guides the business. I will have these creative ideas, and she’ll always say, ‘Let me do the math for you!’”
The math they chose for their cozy-chic store in Mankato’s Old Town district was a successful creation. When they first opened Whimsy and Weathered’s doors in October 2016, they were met with wild success. Whimsy offers hand-painted furniture alongside décor pieces ranging from wall hangings, pictures, and mirrors, to vases, greenery, and knickknacks. The Whimsy girls personally select each item that they sell.
“We don’t carry anything in the store that we wouldn’t put in our own homes,” Denise explained.
What the women put in their homes is popular with their customers. The Whimsy team’s home décor picks are fast-sellers and led to an unexpected demand for design services. Patrons began asking the team to help them re-create the Whimsy look in their own living rooms. Now, the duo’s in-home design and paint consulting is a staple of the Whimsy business.
“We got asked a couple times and gave it a go, and with each one we learned a little more,” Jes said. She and her mother visit a client’s home to offer fresh perspective and do a little redesigning. Often this involves bringing a few pieces from the boutique, but their goal is to use as much of the owners’ original decor as possible.
Within three years, Whimsy’s popularity was so great that Jes and Denise where forced to change their business model from four to eight days per month as well as enlarge their storefront.
“I never thought we’d expand at this point,” Jes said. “I thought that if we expanded, it would be year seven or we’d be going to a different building.”
The team turned their former storage area in the back of their shop, plus some extra footage leased by their landlord, into a natural extension complete with painted brick walls and much more product. They’ve also been able to add a real break room.
“There used to be a little curb in the back section of our store, and that’s where you’d sit and eat,” Denise explained. “When the expansion occurred, we actually got an eight-foot table and we don’t have to sit on the curb anymore!”
“We’ve arrived because we have somewhere to eat lunch,” Jes joked.
Having a sense of humor and adequate space are both crucial to starting a small business, especially when you work with family. Denise and Jes clearly enjoy what they do as well as each other’s company, but they are the first to admit that their dynamic duo has its own set of challenges.
“People say to us all the time, ‘It must be great to work with family!’” Denise said. “Yes, I’m living the dream, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t argue. The thing that Jes and I are good about is it’s short, quick, and done. Five minutes later, we’re on to the next thing.”
A shared sense of values certainly helps.
“When you run a business, I think it’s very important that you don’t lose your brand and don’t lose your values for a dollar,” Jes said. “To find the balance of that is really [about] making a business where you can continue to do what you love and be successful enough to pay your bills and not lose yourself along the way. That’s really what I think Whimsy is about.”
Whimsy’s focus on their brand and legacy was the driving force behind the Whimsy Wings mural the shop commissioned for the side of their building. Visitors to Old Town see two sets of pink wings, one smaller than the other, stretching overhead along the red brick wall. Jes and Denise get a special kick out of seeing pictures of the mural crop up in their followers’ Facebook accounts.
“It was a lot of planning and a lot of saving,” Denise remembered. The Whimsy team reached out to the Twin Rivers Council for the Arts to find a muralist and settled on artist Michael Cimino. From start to finish, the mural took only nine months and became a downtown favorite.
“It was the perfect way for us to let people know where we are, but also give back to the community at the same time,” Jes said.
Positively impacting the community that has given so much to them is of first importance to both women, especially as they move into their fourth business year.
“It’s such a blessing, the people who come in here who love and support us and believe in our dreams,” Denise said. “What the community has given us is unmeasurable. It’s changed my life.”
Jes feels that the acceptance and support that Whimsy has found in the Mankato area is more than just business success. It’s also a confirmation that dreams are achievable.
“It actually works,” Jes said. “Your ideas and your craziness and all those things combined are something you can do not only as a passion but as a business. I love to design and I love to decorate, so the fact that I get to wake up every day and do that for other people – I think that’s my favorite part.”
When to Go
Since Whimsy & Weathered isn’t open every day, the best idea is to check their website for their dates of operation.