What Does Not Kill You Makes You Stronger

I know, I know- it’s been a month since the last post and for that I apologize…again. The entire reason we wanted to share some of the recent past is to give you insight into what a train-wreck our lives can be, just like most people- especially those that venture into their own business. You are not alone! In this update, I get y’all caught up to June of this year and how the first half of the year put us on our back-side and all of the things that we didn’t see coming. Thank you for joining us for this crazy ride…

CHA-CHA-CHA-CHANGES…– There is a recurring theme within the lives of those that start and run a business, whether service or product based, and that is changes in direction are constant.  Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is often attributed with saying “change is the only constant in life”- or if you prefer the David Bowie version, “time may change me, but I can’t trace time”.  Either way, changes are coming and while not always clearly good or bad, your adjustments can dictate success (however you define that).  If you recall our last blog-post, A True Appreciation For Shrimp & Grits …Part 3, our final words of wisdom in 2018 looked like this:

“Heading into the New Year, our primary focus would be dissecting the ecommerce piece of our business and developing a plan to not only drive more people to our site, but to actual get them to spend some money.” 

Cue up the sound of screeching brakes and visualize the 180-degree rotation of our entire thought process.  The start of 2019 pivoted from our e-Commerce focus to look at figuring out how to have our own physical space that didn’t involve roving from town to town like a gypsy.  To be fair, this was more instinct than deep, meaningful introspective, and after all…there were bills to pay both at home and in support of our fledgling company.  I’d be lying if I told you we weren’t robbing Peter to pay Paul.  We just gave it a really hip and cool term, BOOT-STRAPPING, which made us feel neither hip nor cool…just broke.  The website would have to wait- we needed day to day cash-flow and as the months since Rhonda’s retirement quickly approached a year, it was clear our current direction would have us sleeping under a bridge by Summer. We weren’t anywhere near ready to open our own store and the only festivals and pop-up-shop opportunities were at least 5-hours away in Florida.  

FLIPPING OUR STATUS-QUO ON ITS HEAD- What we needed was a permanent pop-up-shop, but what we didn’t need was all of the things that go with a permanent location, ie; lease payments, payroll expense, and all of the “things” that go with opening a full-fledged store.  Several options existed and Rhonda and I dug into the who’s, what’s, and where’s of these mostly “Antique Malls” to see if we could find one that fit our brand. One thing that you will hear us preach is BRAND.  From day one we have stood on the belief that if something doesn’t fit our BRAND, we don’t do it.  Short-term profit at the expense of long-term branding strategy is not a good investment and we try very hard to avoid those expenditures.  We don’t sell antiques, we won’t get into pricing battles with mom & pop hobbyists, and while our intentions are to play nice in this world of “booths” and 10’ x 10’ cubicle-like spaces crammed into a warehouse, not just any location would do.  What we found was a gem of a boutique called Status Home Design, right in our home town. The owner Leta and her team, were exactly what we wanted.  The mix of other vendors (about 70) was seemingly in-line with our branding strategy, while our style complemented, without over saturating the store with identical product mixes.  For those who aren’t familiar with the “booth” concept, you basically pay rent for your space (between $1 and $4 per square foot) and then you give a percentage of your sales (7%-15% plus credit card fees) to the owners each month.  The benefit is you don’t have to do anything but keep your product in-stock and collect your profit at the end of the month. They manage the staffing and the customer service- usually a win/win situation.  Sometimes though, there’s conflict- both with other vendors and even owners, who (in their minds) are competing for sales.  So, they basically give their product away because they don’t have a clue what gross profit is or means, don’t have any type of pricing strategy, or just have a need to call themselves entrepreneur on Facebook.  We get it “Sally Soccer Mom”, you can drop the price on the 8-stem floral arrangements you picked up at Hobby Lobby with your 40% off coupon.  Just making your rent payment at the end of the month, however, is not actually making a profit and contrary to what you tell yourself, you won’t be here in 3- months…let’s move on.

IF ONE IS GOOD, TWO MUST BE BETTER- January, February, and March all rolled along fairly uneventfully with our move into Status, as well as a relocation and upgrade to a larger space at Lakewood.  Spring brought a quick warm-up outside and with it a few more festivals in Georgia and closer vicinity to Atlanta.  Strong January and February sales in Status gave us hope that this was a solid direction to take rusted fence, with discussions of finding the upscale vendor boutique in every major metro area from Tampa to Charlotte.  We would open small 10-20 boutique spaces and based on the Status math, would build our empire without hiring one single employee. Location number 2 was Simple Finds in the even more upscale area of Dunwoody, GA and while our space was smaller, this was an established and trendy area of old money mixed with young professionals.  Talk about a gold-mine…well, we talked about a gold mine, except it never actually worked out to be one.  I take the hit for the Dunwoody decision- Rhonda pushed back on that location from word one.  She was unsure if our customer was in the toney Buckhead area store, and once again, she was right.  I can’t be certain, but my belief is partly that we don’t charge ENOUGH for that customer, that their value is in how much they can say they spent, versus the product or its uniqueness or value.  Lesson learned and it was learned quickly.  One of the biggest benefits of these booth locations is the short-term lease agreements for the space.  All in all, we kept our losses to a minimum, forfeited a small deposit and moved on. Location number 3 was more of the same, just different customer base, or lack of it.  We were a little gun-shy with the Simple Finds losses mounting, but made the decision to move into Modern South just outside of Athens, GA if for no other reason, to offset some of the losses at the Dunwoody location.  This was also predicated on the fact that this was a predominately rural area that was more akin to our product line and no binding lease agreement was required.  We could move in right away and move out with a 30-day notice…and that’s about what we did. 3 straight months of red ink made that decision even easier.  The boutique that Amanda has in Statham is idyllic, in that it’s in a small town and in an old building on what is considered Main Street.  The problem lies in the sheer size of the surrounding population in that the footsteps in the store are just too minimal to support the location. 

DON’T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU IN THE BACKSIDE- The first half of 2019 also proved to be the death knell for my corporate career and my time with Publix.  You won’t find me dragging this Southern grocery icon through the mud…but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t give a clear view of my exit.  Clarity for the end of my 25+ years in the customer driven world of retail and operations was more smack on the back of the head than punch in the face- think Gibbs delivering a good “DiNozzo” (inside NCIS reference). It didn’t really hurt, but I got the message.  Promotion of executive leadership (term used VERY loosely) within our department was comical and creation of Senior Management positions to satisfy longevity contests were embarrassing.  Let’s just say I didn’t have Faith in the new leadership and it was decided it was time to go.  Rhonda and I had both retired (not really) in the last 15-months and were now dependent on our business skillset and ability to not kill each other to make this work. The first 5-months of 2019 had been a roller coaster, but quick pivots on poor decisions minimized losses and gave valuable insight into what was coming next…  

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A True Appreciation For Shrimp & Grits and the Great Pumpkin Debacle

This is the 3rd installment of a run down of the past 18-months or so of the building of our brand, rusted fence. If you missed Part 2- you can find it here. Sign up to receive notification of new postings and let me know what you think…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

IT’S NOT THE HEAT, IT’S THE HUMIDITY– The end of Summer 2018 brought on a sobering lull in festivals and shows, as we came out of July Mart and straight into a new school year.  As it relates to the return to the classroom, Rhonda and I grew up in very different business environments- hers being a hellish 6-weeks of denim needing, dress code stressing, overbearing parents that all seemed to wait until the last minute for back-to-school shopping.  If your business didn’t sell binders, BIRKENSTOCKS, or backpacks, you may as well have just shut down for 2-weeks.  It was too early and too hot for anything held outside, and who could argue? August in the South was meant for air conditioning and swimming pools.  What we did, though, was find other outlets to go after sales.  We were uber-focused on gross dollars, metrics, customer counts and conversion…you name the KPI and we chased it.  Enter LAKEWOOD 400 ANTIQUES MARKET and its behemoth array of garage space, dedicated to anything and everything you could possibly need for your home or garden, and maybe even an actual antique or two.  For somewhere around the low, low sum of $140, one could “rent” a space and set up shop to sell your wares the 3rdweekend of every month.  Not exactly the storefront we were looking for, but this would prove to be the jump-off we needed to truly understand everything we didn’t know…

IT’S REALLY JUST SELLING TOMATOES– Up to this point, our journey hadn’t been anything special.  A lot of daily conversation between us about what we should do and how we should do it.  Most decisions were broken down ad-nauseum and even when we thought we knew the direction we wanted to go, we analyzed some more.  We were definitely leaning into trying to sell things instead of understanding the “why” behind what we were doing.  If you’ve ever watched Kevin Costner in FIELD OF DREAMS, you’re familiar with the line “If you build it, they will come…” Great movie, but I’ve always thought that line was bullshit.  You have to give people a connection to your brand- stacking tomatoes 6-feet high won’t sell more tomatoes.  What sells tomatoes is having a reputation for selling quality and then getting them priced right.  We could stack dough-bowls to the ceiling and sell them cheaper than anyone, there would always be someone else that could stack higher and sell even cheaper still. What changed for us at the end of that Summer was our realization that until people knew who we were, we would have a tough time selling tomatoes OR dough bowls.  I had no idea at this point who GARY VAYNERCHUK was, but had already begun to understand that we were running sprints every week chasing dollars instead of pacing our growth to win the marathon…but more on that later.

ODE TO MOTHER NATURE– Quick flashback to June of 2018, as I left out what would turn out to be one of our riskiest, yet best decisions we’ve made, even as I look back on it almost a year later.  As we were researching festivals and pop-up shows for Fall, I noticed that SOUTHERN LIVING MAGAZINE sponsored a SHRIMP & GRITS FESTIVAL on Jekyll Island, GA.- 45,000 people over 3- days in September.  THIS would be our big break- I was convinced we were ready for the big-time…I mean after all, we had done a handful of pop-up-shops locally in Atlanta and we wanted to build our brand, right?  The only problem was that the show was a “artist/maker only” event.  That means it has to be handmade, by our company, in order for us to represent it at the show.  We clearly didn’t qualify to head down to the coast of Georgia and jump into the deep end of the festival pool.  This would have been a great opportunity to build our brand for $150 investment, garnering a small slice of real estate to share rusted fencewith a significant piece of the Southeast.  The only option to make this happen was to spend several thousand dollars to become one of the sponsors for the festival, allowing us display and sell any of our products, handmade or otherwise.  At this point we had quite literally done less than 5-shows (not even sure if we really made a profit at any of them) and here I was trying to convince my level-headed, overly analytical, business partner/wife that this was what we needed to do.  Credit to Rhonda for her trust in my “gut” on this.  September at the SHRIMP & GRITS FESTIVAL turned out to be a huge pivot-point for us that not only validated our belief in the direction for our company, but gave us the opportunity to showcase Rhonda’s skill set and our commitment to the brand.   (A big shout-out to MOTHER NATURE for her cooperation on our investment.  Hurricane Florence had the festival on shaky ground up until just a few days before, but the storm headed up the East Coast and made land fall in North Carolina, not only avoiding Georgia all together, but driving an additional 20-30,000 people south to the area seeking to avoid her wrath.)

TRICKY OR TREAT– Fresh off of our SHRIMP & GRITS success, the Fall festival season was in full-swing.  For all of the good vibes still resonating, hind sighting our Jekyll Island trip found some major misses with our pre-show purchasing as we ran out of key items very early in the show.  We definitely left a lot of sales dollars “on the table” so-to-speak.  Buying product, especially for a new business is tricky. Inventory dollars are scarce, so each buy needs to be spot-on with very little room for error.  We clearly did not buy enough pumpkins for S & G and could have sold at least 10 more sets.  We talked through it and immediately ordered a bajillion (or so it seemed) as soon as we returned to Atlanta the week after the show.  They would arrive before September ended and this guaranteed that we would NOT run out of pumpkins again!  That last sentence haunts us to this day and is a running joke and reminder to order strategically.  I can’t tell you how many sets of pumpkins we sold in October last year, but what I can tell you is ¾ of that last order sits in our garage, or more specifically, take up an entire corner of the garage- even as I write this blog.  They are still there…laughing at me with hallow eyes and their crooked, toothy grin.  There’s a pile of them atop our storage freezer, a not-so-subtle reminder that every season has a limited time-frame and running out is okay. 

GIVE HER THE BALL, SIT BACK, WATCH HER RUN– Understanding the 4thquarter of a retail company is Rhonda’s wheelhouse.  Rhonda’s inventory mix was as good as it had been all year and we ran out of the right holiday SKU’S at the right time.  Inventory of seasonal items was contained in 3 boxes and the dollars equated to that backstock was minimal.  We were reinvesting profits from a strong 3rdquarter back into the business, shows were scheduled almost every weekend and our Lakewood booth location was trending up with month-over-month double digit sales increases.  We were able to be more selective with what festivals we participated in locally and even had some follow-up invites to other shows in states all over the South, all based on our solid showing at Shrimp & Grits.  We returned to H & H for their Christmas show to wrap up our year and based on numbers, was a tremendous success.  We had moved from a 1-tent setup to now taking up a double space, allowing us to add fixtures and Rhonda the room she needed to ramp up our merchandising “wow” factor.  On the back-end of the business, we were operating better, but still had work to do. The website was due for a revamp and while Black Friday visitors to our shopping pages was the strongest it had ever been, the traffic was still not converting to sales.  Heading into the New Year, our primary focus would be dissecting the ecommerce piece of our business and developing a plan to not only drive more people to our site, but to actual get them to spend some money.   

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Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Based on information obtained from Megan (my eldest daughter and proclaimed “mini-me”), my last blog post was a bit longwinded and it was suggested that I cut this one back a touch. I was also informed that she “didn’t love” the fact that I used stock photos instead of mainly real pictures, so I will heed that advice as well, throwing in a few more of the insider ugly-truth pics.  That being said…let us trudge on.

WHEN LAST WE LEFT OUR DYNAMIC DUO- Rhonda had left the corporate world April of 2018 and our young business was getting its feet underneath itself.  Big dreams of flipping the switch on our e-commerce empire, however, didn’t seem to be lighting up our bank account.  We were going into month #3 with little to no discernible income and the financial investment back into the company seemingly tripled overnight. Website expense, shipping materials, logo and marketing fees… the list went on and on.  While we definitely were not ready for brick-and-mortar yet, we needed to turn product.  I wanted to lean into the internet sales even more (FaceBook / Twitter / Pinterest) while Rhonda started to research local “Pop-Up” shops, shows, and festivals that would not only gave us needed inventory turns (remember, we’ve been sitting on product since January or February), but also a little bit of income.  As we grow, you will notice a recurring theme…Rhonda tends to be the more “grounded” of the two of us.  She will analyze then execute based on 25-years of business experience; whereas I will execute on my ideas and analyze on the fly, based on gut-instinct and 25-years of really good guesses (and some really BIG misses).  The genius of my point-of-view is that I know when to give in to Rhonda’s point-of-view…which is most of the time.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF FESTIVALS AND SHOWS- We set up for our first “Pop-Up-Shop” in May of 2018 in the neighboring city of Jefferson, GA at a place known as H&H Homestead.  Helena Dale is the owner of this unique venue where one weekend a month she has barn sales for customers to come and shop her eclectic mix of new and repurposed goodies, antiques, and found treasures from her most recent “picks”. Helena also opens up her property a couple of times a year to host 70 or so other “vendors” for large market events in the Spring and again at the end of the year for Christmas.  Rhonda and I jumped into the deep end of our first event when we signed up for the Spring Fling at H&H.  We borrowed the requisite 10’ x 10’ tent from our brother-in-law and prepared to set up shop.  Folding tables and black cloths were our initial set-up, but that wouldn’t last long. Customer reaction to our product was favorable but the table setup just didn’t feel right.  You see, when planning this business over the last 12 months, we knew our long-term goal was to open physical stores at some point. We began to accumulate retail tables, nesters, and display units to prepare for said store.  These would become the fixtures of choice for our tent and going forward, setup would be much more labor intensive but necessary.  This first show proved to us that brand presentation would be key in our drive for success and that included the overall look of our shop, whether in a retail store-front or under a white tent on a farm.  rusted fence didn’t light the world on fire at that May event, what it had shown us was that our vision was on-point and that with equal parts planning and hard work, this just might work out.  Special shout out to Helena for being the consummate host and her advice early on, which shaped what should be the roadmap of how businesses can be competitive but still help each other out for the common good.  As time passes, we quickly learn not everyone operated as kindly…

ATLANTA’S MART REDEUX- July brought around the second version of Atlanta’s Mart show and we were better prepared for what to expect. Rhonda had her show map in hand and planned out what new suppliers were on our list and what new products were going to join the RUSTED FENCE lineup.  Megan got her first taste of Mart and confirmed that she preferred Med School to the retail life and taking over the rusted fence empire.  Our very first purchased inventory, DOUGH BOWLS, would continue to be a core item and contribute to a large percentage of sales. Adding key product around this category was necessary to drive additional volume and Rhonda knew this as much as anyone. She strategically added a GIFT and a JEWELRY category and made some great purchases in both.  The devil was in the details and we were in good shape as Rhonda’s talent for buying would prove itself out over the next 6-months. Speaking of the next 6-months, this show also introduced us to Holiday Merchandise and our failure to recognize the importance of buying for holidays well ahead of the actual season, would prove to be costly.  Rookie mistakes…

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New Post, Who Dis?

 

There have been a million reasons we haven't written anything since Spring of 2018. It has, indeed, been over a year since my last BLOG post and for that, I apologize- not that I expect many of you have been waiting with bated breath for the musings of a middle-aged, sometimes cranky and overbearing husband, father, and doggy-dad.  For whatever reason, this felt like the right time to put pen to paper…it’s time to get y’all back in the fold.  I give you my word I will share words (and Rhonda, too- along with maybe some guest input along the way) once or twice a week going forward.  There’s a lot to talk about, some of it may even be interesting- but whatever it is, it will be honest.  Our goal here is to give insight into what we do, how we do it, and let you join us for the ride.  We have a ton of plans for where we want to take rusted fence and many of the thoughts behind our strategy will be very public.  Laugh, cry, criticize- we will take it all in stride.  So, for the returning diatribe, I’ve decided to chop this “WHERE HAVE WE BEEN” recap into 2 or 3 parts, depending on how wordy I get…enjoy.

LET FREEDOM RING - Today is July 4th, 2019- Independence Day and the first full week of my retirement is ending…Yes, retirement- not retirement in the true sense of the word, because clearly at the age of 49, a full 6-months short of the dreaded “50”, we would have some significant pain from the IRS if I took early payout on stock and my 401. No, this retirement is just a walk-away from the corporate world, in this case Publix Super Markets, a privately held (employee-owned) super market chain of just less than 1200 stores in the Southeastern U.S.  Walking away from one’s ‘Big Boy’ job is not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re 10-years short of anywhere near proper timing…but walk away is what I did.  We’ve all had that moment where we step back and assess what really makes us happy and how we can best pivot to make the most of where we are at in life.  That moment for me was in February of this year and I can almost give you the exact day and hour, at our annual meetings in Lakeland.  I kept hearing the shrill sound of her voice as it moaned like a rusty hinge, droning on about checking boxes.  It was clearly time to say good bye to this closing door, time to check out the opening door over here…

WE’RE NOT HERE TO STEAL YOUR MAGNOLIAS - Rhonda and I were the original Chip and Joanna… (how many times have we heard that from some young super-home-decoratey-type couple?) No, but really, WE were them before THEY were them.  They were just smarter and faster to the starting line, crushed us and everyone else out of the gate, got into a huge, comfortable, and ludicrously cash producing stride, and crossed the finish line before the ink even dried on our business plan.  Now we are playing catch up, trying to go to school on the path they have forged for us and a million would be copycats.  You’ll remember (at least some of you, I hope) the very first blog I wrote back in February of 2018.  If you want a quick refresher, you can find it here.  I talked a little about Rhonda and I, who we were and the roots of decor and what would eventually morph into the inspiration for rusted fence.  I am very proud to say, not much from that opening salvo has changed.  We are still very much committed to Simple. Inspired. Style.  That was actually the name of the blog in the beginning, and that too, is due for a facelift- but we’ll talk more about that later.  Our goal was and always will be, to give people a place to talk and shop all things home-related but at a price that could be affordable yet not cheap.

THOSE WHO IGNORE HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT - By all accounts, it has been a crazy last couple of years.  Let me timeline this for you…  We launched the company in Q3 of 2017 which is to say, all of the legal stuff was handled, we put the business plan and all of the great ideas that had been scribbled over late evenings and Pinot Grigio, into actual action.  I taught myself just how much I didn’t know about WordPress and building websites, set up all of the merchant and “back-of-house” operations, and learned that wholesalers don’t really like you unless you can meet their exorbitant minimum purchase requirements.  All of this while putting in the required 10-hour days on the full-time gig.  Those of you that really know me, know that I like my 4:00 AM emails and texts.  I know none of you are up (except you Annie), but when you do finally crawl out of bed, I need an answer to whatever problem I was having- all before the rooster’s even cleared his throat.  The funny thing was, my schedule was nothing compared to Rhonda’s.  She was up and answering emails by 7:00 AM, out the door by 8:00 AM, and if she walked in the door by 7:00 PM that night, we called it a win.  I would be crashed out by 9:00 PM with Rhonda in bed next to me mapping Christmas floor sets and doing schedule review for her primary employer, with a little side work on product planning for rusted fence.  All in all, the last 4 months of 2017 pretty much sucked.

NEW YEAR / NEW HOPE - With the New Year, 2018 brought renewed energy, and a confidence that would careen our business into the stratosphere of the uber-successful somewhere between Pottery Barn and WayFair.   After all, we had a combined 50+ years of business experience- how could we fail, right?  Okay, this is where you think I’m going to tell you we fell on our face…and you would be correct, because we did- a lot.  We fell on our face almost daily, just not such a hard fall that we couldn’t get up and recover…to fall (and fail) again.  Lots of little trips and miss-steps.  The saving grace, besides lots of prayer and divine intervention at times, was our absolute determination to make this work- and that experience I referred to, was a great fall back when we were just too exhausted to think.

TIME TO SHOP! - Our first “Mart” experience was in January and it did not disappoint.  Atlanta’s Americas Mart is a twice-yearly event that lasts 8 or 9 days and is a continual review of wholesalers and the newest and greatest products for all things home, furnishings, and fashion.  Rhonda had been to one of the shows last year with a friend and that event was the building block for our white-wine induced strategy sessions in the Summer of 2017.  We met with our first suppliers and some (Mud Pie) that we will never, ever, buy a thing from…ever!  It is super easy to get seduced by the parties and freebies, all in the name of placing “show-special” orders.  It was a quick orientation into working for yourself and realizing the money you spend is truly your own.  No Kickstarter campaigns or venture capitalists were beating down our door to invest- this would fall on me, Rhonda, and American Express.  We survived our first “Mart” and would live to tell about it.  We were a business, had a website to prove it, and now we would actually have product to sell on said website.  Look out Amazon, we’re coming for you!

THE IDES OF MARCH- We launched our online presence via FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram in March, while sending out emails to everyone in our “Friends & Family” network, including discount coupons and shipping incentives.  Product from January “Mart” began to arrive as the UPS driver quickly realized that we were now going to make his daily route into our subdivision much more labor intensive. I swear I heard him mutter on more than one occasion “damn entrepreneurs!” as he drove the bulbous brown blob away from our home.  Our product was heavy and we quickly realized that while pricing was wholesale, the shipping and residential delivery was not.  Time to pivot again…GOOGLE to the rescue.  Quick searches found that using the local UPS Store qualified as a commercial address and a little research into USPS and services that provide shipping volume discounts, could lower rates considerably.  Good to know…not that we were shipping anything yet…but still good to know when and if we ever had actual online sale to someone other than a family member or friend that lived in the next subdivision.

APRIL SHOWERS- God decided it was time for Rhonda to quit killing herself for someone else’s dime and after much consternation, she walked away from her 30-year career in April of 2018. 30+ years working in and around shopping malls could demoralize anyone, but not Rhonda- she loved it.  Save for the HELL that is November and December each year, the business of soft-lines retail can be somewhat rewarding…and Rhonda had it down to a science.  With that, hanging up her keys was no easy task for someone who’s very genetic code was seemingly cast somewhere between former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and legendary interior designer Dorothy Draper.  Anyone that would let her go was a fool, but as I’ve always said, Rhonda needed to be running her own show.  I am confident that it’s now time to prove me right- (whispers silent prayer that we can actually make money at some point).

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5 Outstanding Things That Arrive With Spring

 

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the spring season for 2018 is officially on the books between Tuesday, March 20 and Thursday, June 21.  That differs from what meteorologists recognize, preferring a more convenient guide, use March 1- May 31 as their metric.  Either way is fine, since most of us pay very little attention to the date itself, only truly believing spring is upon us when the time-change kicks in (all due respect to Punxsutawney Phil).  Any list of 5 Outstanding Things That Arrive With Spring has to start and end with warming temperatures and outdoor activities.

#5- Boating Season and Time at the Lake

Lake Lanier Boat Ride

#4A- Baseball 

The first thing you'll notice is that I've already started adding to our list of 5 Outstanding Things That Arrive With Spring.  We now have a 4A and a 4B.  This was not the original intent, however, there's a real struggle here to even get it down under 10, so you'll have to forgive the creative license.  The first of our "4's" on the list is America's Pastime.  I grew up with baseball.  Played it on vacant lots growing up in Detroit, played organized baseball in high-school, and still watch or listen to my beloved Tigers to this day.  Rhonda, on the other hand, hates it.  She thinks it's boring to watch, certainly won't listen (apologies to Ernie Harwell), and has even less of a desire to venture to a ballpark.  No disrespect to the home town Atlanta Braves and their cavalcade of legends (Aaron, Murphy, Chipper).   I'll always be a Gehring,Kaline,and Justin Verlander kind of guy.  The month of March always brings about renewed hope when pitchers and catchers report, no matter how terrible the previous season was, everyone's a contender on opening day.

#4B- Spring Rains Bring Color In Bloom

Flowers Garden Spring

One of Rhonda's favorite things about spring is planting.  Let's not confuse that with the actual labor required to maintain the flowers once they are in the ground, but the initial rollout of the flower process- that is her wheelhouse.  Of the 5 Outstanding Things That Arrive With Spring, this is firmly at 4B due to the labor piece of the equation.  I like working in the yard as much as my beautiful wife likes watching baseball.  Now the 4A and 4B makes sense, doesn't it?  I am the gardener in our house.  I have zero decision making authority, but I swing a mean mini-shovel.  The rub here is the pollen.  Timing is everything when it comes to planting in the south.  Usually peaking in early April in Georgia, this yellow wave of "dusty paint" covers everything in its path for about 2-weeks.  One is tempted to just stay indoors for the duration.  Barring this, hide your outdoor furniture, pray for rain to wash it away every few days, and get your plantings in the ground prior to the onslaught.  If all goes well, you'll have beautiful blooms everywhere before summer and cuttings will grace every table and shelf inside and out.  Follow the link here to see our full complement of bud vases and containers to hold that freshly cut spring color.

#3- Outdoor Concerts and Festivals

Summer Concerts Outdoors

Nothing says warm weather and change of seasons like outdoor concerts and weekend festivals. Number 3 in our 5 Outstanding Things That Arrive With Spring, these outdoor gatherings are the quintessential use of Daylight Savings Time.  I don't remember a weekend that, during warm-weather months, we didn't have planned events in and around Atlanta.  This social calendar was built early in our dating relationship with countless concerts at Pine Knob in Detroit, enjoying the warm breezes and 1 or 2 adult beverages.  We've instilled this same love of music outdoors with our girls...Kenny Chesney at Lakewood, Luke Bryan's Farm Tour, and Jason Aldean at Samford Stadium in Athens.  Family, friends, and good music- staples in our world then and now.  Local festivals are also on the radar once spring has found its home...wine tastings, oyster festivals, and county fairs all make the cut for great family time and outdoor fun.  Find an event in your home town and head out with your blanket and chairs- it'll be time well spent.

#2- BBQ and Backyard Entertaining

Garden Party Tabletop

At the end of a long work week, sometimes we just want to kick back and relax at home.  After all, the biggest expense most of us have, is tied to our house, why shouldn't we actually enjoy it from time to time.  The second highest rated of our 5 Outstanding Things That Arrive With Spring is BBQ and Backyard Entertaining.  Our passion has always been to gather at home.  Impromptu dinners for 4 or small weekend barbecues with 15 of our closest family and friends.  Graduations, wedding rehearsals, and ringing in the New Year, all inclusive and worth the effort.  rusted fence was really born out of this entertaining and idea factory that is my immeasurably better-half.  We truly enjoy hanging out with our group and sharing good food and great libations.  We grill, we play corn-hole, we make s'mores around the fire pit...all in the name of family and close friends.  Decorating for our parties is an event in and of itself.  Every table is just right, every candle displayed to perfection for form and function.  Flowers and herbs are everywhere, carefully arranged in containers and vases. Conversation flows like the wine and a good time is had by all.  There truly is no place like home.

#1- Easter

Pastel Eggs Around Flowers in Vase

The single greatest of our 5 Outstanding Things That Arrive With Spring is hands-down, Easter!  Let's start with the obvious...from a Christian perspective, the 40-days of Lent and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is pretty high-up on the ladder of what matters in life.  Reflection of one's shortcomings is not uniquely religious, though, and it's observation is rooted deep in history, philosophy, as well as the Bible.  A symbol of Jesus wandering and fasting in the desert until his death (Good Friday)and then rising again 3-days later on Easter Sunday.  This is the time to renew your spirit and reset your personal commitments, clear out the old for the new.  Spring cleaning is a yearly quest intrinsic of this need to reestablish our norm.  It is not always fun, but a good cleaning of our house and home can cleanse the soul at the same time.

Beach House Deck

Easter is also the first official holiday of Spring and a signal that it's time to take the first break of the year.  SPRING BREAK, specifically and so aptly named. This is a ritual of a completely different nature and one that is taken very seriously in our house as well.  This renewing of spirit also has a long and hallowed history, mostly rooted in warm-weather cities going back some 50 years,  on the sandy beaches of Florida and Alabama.  Sometimes the "yankees" choose Spring Break in the balmy cities of Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, but 55 degrees is still considered winter in the south. Y'all can have it- we'll stick to the Panhandle, thank you very much.  The pursuit of the ocean in our house is a constant and Spring Break is the opening day of our beach season.  Spend some time with your family, get outside this spring, enjoy the weather.

Discover our 5 Outstanding Things That Arrive With Spring and then tell us what your list looks like.  Subscribe to Simple. Inspired. Style. to get updates and join the rusted fence mailing list to be first in the loop for discounts and future promotions!

3 Best Ways to Keep Your Spouse Happy

When it comes to home decor and fashion, I certainly don't pretend to be an expert. When it comes to relationships and understanding my better-half, I claim to know even less. Somehow, I seem to have mastered the 3 Best Ways to Keep Your Spouse Happy, at least as it relates to home decorating.  The single-most important of these is to just let them win.  I learned early in our 25-year marriage that Rhonda takes color and texture to heart.  I, on the other hand, do not...not even a little.  A survey I read about in the Chicago Tribune found that almost 60 percent of women think "managing different home decor styles" is one of the biggest move-in challenges for couples.  Read it here if you need further convincing, but trust me- they nailed it.  As I jump into my first blog and tackle this seemingly harmless issue at the same time, I'm feeling a tad bit intimidated- but I shall trudge on.

3 Best Ways to Keep Your Spouse Happy
Jim and Rhonda- Date Night

Very rarely do we, and by we I mean the husband half of the marriage, really choose to pick the home decor battle.  My guess is that it ranks somewhere between "Do I look fat in this?" and "My mom's coming to visit...for a month."  Once you get over the 'let them win' piece of this, choking down the rest is fairly easy.  Reason number 2 on our list of 3 best ways to keep your spouse happy is...drumroll please...buy her flowers.  Yep, that's it- buy your significant other flowers.  Not just roses, but bouquets of arrangements. Better yet, buy random flowers and arrange them yourself.  You won't do it right, she'll want to rearrange them, but you will look like a hero for putting in the effort.  Win-Win!  Now, as you get more experienced in the relationship thing, you'll start to see how these floral drop-ins become integral to completing her centerpiece displays. You'll have tulips in bud vases and roses in cylinders, hydrangea will fill your foyer. You don't have to understand the methodology grasshopper, only that there is a deep-seeded desire to make your indoors look like a greenhouse. You'll appreciate the smell if nothing else.

Mini Roses in Boca Lantern

The final task in our 3 best ways to keep your spouse happy is to be the laborer.  That's right, you have to be willing to do the work.  My job is to carry the Rubbermaid containers up from the basement for the seasonal decor change out, then lug them back down, full of past-season treasures.  In case you were uncertain what seasonal means, it can be defined as anytime your significant other wants to add or remove decor.  Move the furniture around, grab a ladder, move the furniture again, change the wall decor (in my house 5-foot metal stars are the bane of my existence), move the furniture one last time...you get the idea.  My wife's job is to be the supervisor, stand back and critique, direct an inch to the right, an inch to the left, take everything down and start over.  It will start to feel like a cover shoot for Garden and Gun Magazine at some point.  This is when you know you are getting close and the work is almost done.  Until next month.

Way #3 3 Best Ways to Keep Your Spouse Happy
Small Metal Trough Twine Balls Sofa Table

As I bring the first rusted fence blog to a close, I probably should mention a 4th way in our 3 Best Ways to Keep Your Spouse Happy.  This one will sneak up on you if you're not careful.  The 4th is to really appreciate what your significant other does.  Very early in my love of Rhonda, I realized she had so many talents, so many redeeming qualities, that I surely didn't deserve her.  One of her greatest gifts is her ability to pull a room together, to bring about a calm, a true "house to home" transformation.  rusted fence is a product of this talent.  It is an evolving vision, changing much like the seasonal decor in your house.  We want to share this process with anyone that wants to join us on the journey to uncover SIMPLE. INSPIRED. STYLE.

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