Meet local business owner, Brianne Mees. Brianne is the co-owner/director of Tender Loving Empire. She and her husband, Jared, moved to Portland in 2006 from the LA area, after graduating with psychology and art degrees, by way of Panama and Colorado. Brianne, Jared, and their 2-year old daughter, July, plan on calling Portland home for the long-haul.
What is your company?
Tender Loving Empire is a record label, retail consignment shop, and screen-printing studio focused on supporting handmade art and music, while fostering community exchange.
How did you come up with the idea?
Back in 2006, my husband and TLE co-founder, Jared, and I were young and idealistic and wanted to do everything we loved for a living. Thus, TLE began. He recorded an album, and friends had other artistic endeavors worth supporting. It all unfolded very organically, with the right amount of hard work and dedication to push it forward.
Where did you find your first customer?
We definitely started the business with huge support from friends and community. I don’t remember our first actual customer, but I’m positive it was someone who we loved already.
How did you determine your target market?
TLE has always felt like a reflection of our environment. We sell handmade goods and music that is made by our neighbors to our neighbors. When we moved to our current West End location, it became obvious quickly that a huge part of our target market had become tourists visiting Portland. We love being representatives of Portland creatives to visitors who are just forming their first impressions. The record label target market is a little more expansive, as it more commonly reaches audiences outside of Portland.
What are you currently doing to reach them?
We definitely have bent our energy to cater to visitors, while still being true to our tastes, ideals and local relevancy. I think our location is absolutely key in our ability to reach our target markets for the store. We do very little advertising. The label, by nature, has a lot more targeted approach to reaching people. We hire PR firms, pay for radio campaigns, record store outreach campaigns, social media campaigns, and encourage our bands to tour.
How much did you start up with?
We literally started TLE with tip money from our service jobs that we saved in a shoebox under our bed. Each label release only cost us a few hundred dollars at the beginning.
Did you bring on investors, get loans, or grow naturally?
We used savings and took out a very small loan to open the brick and mortar store in 2007. And another one to move locations in 2010.
What’s the best advice someone has given you?
Never give up. Tenacity wins. Don’t waste your time doing the parts of your business that you’re not naturally good at. Hire other people to do those things. Work toward getting your business to run without you, so you can free up your time to move the macro pieces forward.
What are your keys to staying productive?
Learning to find balance between work life and personal life has been key to my productivity.
If I get too caught up in work without nurturing other aspects of my life, my business actually suffers.
When you started, what was one thing you wish you knew?
I wish I had a business degree instead of a psychology degree. Although, I always say that if I had any idea how hard it was to do things the right way, I may have never jumped in with both feet.
Ignorance may have been a key element in us thinking this business was a good idea. Ha!
What resources or books do you refer to regularly?
Oh, you’re supposed to read books about business? 😉 My goal for the year is to have something to put on this list. I’ve depended heavily on asking questions, hiring professionals, and tapping my network for answers.
Has your company experienced any close calls or lucky moments?
Daily. As a small business owner, you get used to a certain amount of unknowns and close calls. Close calls get easier to handle in my experience. I also feel like every new person we encounter that has worked for us or with us, has been a display of luck. Every relationship and every opportunity helps you along your path.
What does success mean to you?
Contributing positively to our community, in terms of recreation and economy, providing our bands and store vendors the attention they deserve through well thought out structure, and paying the bills while keeping our heads. Success is a quality of life matter to me.
Where would you like to see your business 5 years from now?
I would like to have a greater reach and a larger audience.
There are many directions I can see this going.
What do you need help with?
We just joined a small business mentorship program in hopes to getting a few of the things we missed by not studying business ironed out. Hope that helps us move forward to the next step.
How can people find you online?