As an evolving artisan with merchandise in several local stores, Kelley Ruzicka has found the world of online commerce both a blessing and curse.
“It’s great to get an email from someone saying, ‘A friend of mine bought one of your bags. Can you sell them online?’ And sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no," Ruzicka said. "I want to focus on that in 2017.”
Just a few months ago, Ruzicka wasn’t sure what shape her online presence would take. In fact, she shut down her Etsy shop for a few weeks this past fall.
“I’ve been having a hard time keeping up. I just had to make up inventory,” said Ruzicka, owner of Little Ms. FancyPants, a name inspired by her daughter’s froufrou childhood nickname.
It’s been an eye-opening experience for the Tosa mompreneur, a former IT professional-turned- seamstress and wholesaler.
“I’ve had to turn away a lot of business because it’s only me. But I guess you can look at it two ways. You can hire people and do all that, or you can do it alone in your own time. I’d rather be busy and successful but set my own terms.”
Time for a change
It’s part of the reason she left outside sales, her job for 17 years.
“I was frustrated,” Ruzicka said. “It got to the point with the kids that every day was Groundhog Day. To get ‘em up, get ‘em to day care, rush home, try to get dinner on the table, get baths — it was just not what I wanted our life to be. So I made the decision without a plan to leave corporate America.”
It was March 2013. Her son was in junior kindergarten, her daughter in second grade, which made an already scary life change even more unnerving for a solidly two-income family.
But, Ruzicka said, the chance for a better life was worth the risk.
“Sure you have two incomes and you have more money, but you don’t have the time and you can’t get that back,” Ruzicka said.
She found her direction in May 2013, after dabbling with a few quick sewing projects.
Scarves and purses
Today, her signature scarves and purses, including creations made from free burlap Colectivo coffee bags, are now staples in stores like Cattywampus and U-Turn. Her merchandise is also available at shops in Brookfield, Milwaukee and Pewaukee, as well as a coffee shop in Jackson, where she creates private label, coffee-inspired items she sells only to the shop.
Ruzicka has no independent brick and mortar presence, at least not yet; she’s resolved to focus on her online storefront before she even thinks about opening her own shop.
But she’s also in no hurry to check that off her list.
For now, Ruzicka said, it’s enough to be doing something she enjoys, in her own time, on her own terms. Like this past summer, when she took a step back from business to spend time with her kids.
“I probably work now more than I did when I was full-time in the IT profession because I do work from home, and when you’re doing weekend events along with the administrative portion, that adds up. But I also do have that flexibility.”
It’s an opportunity that makes the learning curve of entrepreneurial life well worth the effort.
JUST THE FACTS
BUSINESS: Little Ms. FancyPants
WEB: littlemsfancypants.com and Etsy
OWNER: Kelley Ruzicka
TYPE OF BUSINESS: handbags, scarves, accessories
PEARLS OF WISDOM: “When customers come up to you and they say, ‘Wow, this is really cool! You make all this? I really love this stuff.’ That right there solidifies it for me.”