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Journal

Final Thoughts and Lessons learned...

 

Final thoughts and lessons learned..

I have fielded several questions from family, friends and customers since taking over Andover Trask a year ago.  Am I enjoying it?  Have I had a good year?  Do I like owning my own business?  What have I learned, etc.. There is no way to answer those questions with a single word or even a single sentence.  I also realized my answers varied according to my most recent revelation or experience.  After further thought, I now realize why.  What I have learned over the last year not only applies to business, but every day life as well.  The reason I jumped at the opportunity to own Andover Trask was to learn and grow.  I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, challenge myself and hopefully, have a little fun and success in the process.  As I continue down this path, and as my ideas for Andover Trask and Porch & Hound continue to grow at an astounding pace, I take away the following from my first year.  I am a little wiser, slightly more confident, have a few bruises but most importantly, I have a different mind set.  Today, I see things in a completely different light and it is a crucial part of my growth and the growth of  Andover Trask.

Let's start with shopping.  It may surprise you, especially given what I do, that I am not a big shopper.  It has always been such a daunting task - so many or few choices, a store not having exactly what I was looking for or simply, not being able to put an outfit together.  My shopping trips usually end with spontaneous purchases that will either be returned, listed on ebay or given to a local shelter months or years down the road, tags still in place.  After having my own retail business, shopping is a completely different experience.  Now when I go into a major department store, I look at the designer bags, I see beauty and mass production and I usually walk away feeling inadequate and doubtful that I will ever be able to fulfill ‘my’ dream to grow Andover Trask to it’s fullest potential.  It can be overwhelming...IF I allow it to be...

The beauty, I finally realized that what I found so intimidating is not what Andover Trask is about.  While it is necessary to watch the competition, you don’t need to let the competition define you or what you represent.  As the owner of my own business, I can decide what I want to design.  I can set the tone for my products and more importantly, I, for the most part, deal directly with my customers.  As a result, I receive emails, messages and comments on how much someone loves a bag, how they are using it or if I’m lucky, a picture of our products in action.  That relationship with customers is invaluable and keeps me motivated to design and produce a quality product.   The lesson: there will always be something bigger, fancier and possibly more successful but, it doesn’t have to define your own success.  Success comes in many forms and loving what you do and who you are doing it for, is a key component to your success story.

Bumps and bruises.  They come with growth.  While I have had an amazing year with sales, I have also taken a few hits.  Designs that didn’t sell, producing too many of a certain design or color, whatever the case may be, it comes with the territory.  Is it the end of the world?  No.  It is part of the process. I can only learn by trial and error.  Will everyone love the designs I create or colors I choose?  No.  But, I cannot let it affect my desire to keep trying.  Lesson:  Take risks.  Take your losses gracefully, learn from your mistakes, and most importantly, do NOT let it kill your passion to follow your path or dream.  You will never please everyone and creating something you believe in is sometimes more important and valuable than opinion.  Go for it.

Finally, sales and our customers.  We had our best year ever!  If you had told me January 1, 2016 what our sales would have been at year end, I wouldn’t have believed it.  I am humbled and ecstatic with our growth this year.   I will continue to explore new avenues to develop and grow BUT, I will not jeopardize the quality of our products to improve a bottom line.  Our products are and will continue to be American made.   Because we are a small business, we cannot offer the huge discounts of larger companies.   We do not produce overseas or order in large quantities.  Our costs and what we invest are very personal and as a result, we design, choose and inspect every item before it ships to make sure the customer is getting the quality they paid for.   And, if they are not satisfied, we will gladly fix it.   Lesson:  Producing a quality product and providing good customer service are not only crucial to growth but an easy and enjoyable part of owning your own business. Knowing you have made a customer happy whether with a thank you note, a discount or an easy exchange is a simple way to pay it forward.  Will you get taken advantage of?  Occasionally. But, you do not let it affect how you treat your customers as a whole.

Why am I sharing all of this?  Because you are my biggest lesson and my inspiration.   There is still a lot of growing left to do, but your support is what keeps me moving forward, what allows me to breathe when I feel overwhelmed and shines a light on what was once so intimidating.  And as we reflect on 2016 and charge into 2017, I can only hope that what I’ve learned in the past year as a business owner, will somehow translate to others. Define your own success without comparing it to others.  Take risks that will force you to grow.  And finally, stay true to who you are and what you represent.  

2016 exceeded my expectations. I expect nothing less in 2017.

Thank you so much for being a part of the Andover Trask family!

Cheers!

What a year it’s been!

 What a year it's been!

8 new designs, 15 new color combinations, 3 redesigns and a new line called the Porch & Hound Collection.

It has been a year since we closed and I officially took over Andover Trask. I am in awe at how much we have grown in that short period of time. When I bought Andover Trask, I did not have experience in design, marketing, ecommerce, taxes and all the other ‘business’ aspects that come along with owning your own company. But, I had passion. I had 3 new designs drawn before I signed on the dotted line and once I turned them into a reality, it was a new world and I haven’t looked back.

But, our success has very little to do with me, but rather our customers. I cannot thank you enough for weathering the first year storm with me. I have received so many emails, notes, comments, texts and even calls from customers with encouraging words about how much they love our bags.   Not only do we have several repeat customers, we have customers who call me ecstatic because they just introduced our company to a friend or to a store manager who may be interested in carrying our line. They love their bag so much that they are excited to share it with others. When you see the passion and vision you have carry through to your customers, it is the best compliment you could possibly receive. YOU, the customer are what make this job so much fun. Your faith in our bags, our company and in me to continue to produce a quality product, are what keep me motivated and I cannot thank you enough.

That being said, I cannot wait to introduce our new designs for 2017!   We will have several and they range from modern to throwback to classic. It should be another exciting year and I look forward to spending it with you! YOU are what keep this wheel rolling!

Happy Anniversary to us and...CHEERS!

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

The Porch & Hound Collection

 

Not just a brand, but a lifestyle.

Sitting on the porch has always been a big part of my life.  As a child, our screened in back porch was an extension of our living space.  Our front porch, the backdrop for high school prom pictures.  Today, I spend an obscene amount of time on my front porch, coffee or refreshment in hand, listening to the birds, the train or just watching the world go by.  My neighbors all know, if we're on the porch, that means 'Bar is open' and 'Welcome!'  There have been several occasions when a neighbor will drive by, see us sittin', throw it in reverse, pull in and join us.  Three hours later, and after several laughs, they continue on their journey.  That's what a porch is.  A gathering place.  A place to feel welcome.  A place to lose track of time and whether I am with family, friends or our pets, it always brings a smile to my face.  A place to share the day's events, stories from the past or a place to sit in solitude.  Whether it is on a beautiful blue bird day or watching and listening to a storm, memories are made.  I am proud to introduce a collection of products designed with your family, friends - two legged and four legged - in mind.  

Sit...Stay...Enjoy.

What's in a Name?

     As many of you know, the names of our bags have significant meaning. Matt has a strong love for literature so he honored that through his work, creating a line named after Southern authors and their characters. When I bought Andover Trask in December, I knew the style Matt so successfully started would transition beautifully to something I love as well, the Virginia horse country. With my Southern ties and my equestrian history, I have named my first design after my passion.

     I am beyond excited to introduce The Belle. Southern Belle you might ask? Well, yes, it is beautiful to look at and tough as nails, but there’s more to the story. I started riding horses when I was 8 years old. When I was 13, I was very lucky to become a horse owner for the first time. Little did I know, I would continue to own a horse until I was 46. For 33 years, I owned three wonderful horses and one adorable pony.   But my last horse held a special place in my heart. Not only because I knew she would be the last horse I would ever own and that we shared the same birthday, but because she was my first mare. I always thought the relationship with my geldings was special until I had a mare. We were very similar. Stubborn, tall, playful and would rather go on a beautiful trail ride than work on our flatwork. Her name was Belle. Saved by the Belle to be exact. Her mother was an ill-tempered thoroughbred that was due to be sold once she birthed her foal. When Belle was born, the owners looked at this big, beautiful, bay filly with a big blaze and 3 white socks and decided if she could throw foals like that, it was worth putting up with her temper – so they kept the mare and named the filly ‘Saved by the Belle’.  

     Now, one of the most important qualities you need to know about Belle is, she LOVED to eat, hence the feed style design. Yet another thing we had in common. But, not only was this bag inspired by Belle’s appetite, but by my love for horses and my equestrian life as a whole. From carriage rides through Charleston as a child, to horse shows, fox hunts and long leisurely trail rides, I wanted this bag to capture it all. Brass and leather straps not unlike the tack you would see on a carriage horse, a main compartment big enough to hold brushes, sprays, ointments and wraps. Inside and outside pockets big enough to hold phones, picks, mane combs, prize lists, ribbons and of course, a key clip to easily find your keys to the truck.   So wherever your equestrian life may take you, there’s a bag for that!

     Not to say this bag is an ‘equestrian only’ bag, hardly the case. I just wanted to share the inspiration behind the name and the design. Elegant. Rugged. Beautiful. Where ever your trail may lead, Belle will get you there….

The Next Chapter...

For a month, I have been trying to tackle the task of rewriting the ‘About us’ section of our website. The truth is, I don’t want to rewrite it. Matt was an integral part of Andover Trask and I want his story, the start of Andover Trask, to remain as it is, a vital part of the company’s history. Although the company has changed hands, it only means Matt’s chapter has ended - but like any good book, the story is far from over.

I heard about Andover Trask in May 2015 when a friend introduced me to the brand. After my first visit to the website, I was hooked. I fell in love with several designs but finally decided on The Sawyer. Upon receiving my bag, I could tell that every detail was meticulously considered - whether it was the hardware, leather, placement of the tag - this bag was made with pride.

But, there was another component that resonated with me. It was rooted in Atlanta. My Mom and Dad were raised in Atlanta and I have several family members and friends who live there. My mom was a fashion model in the 50s and my Dad shared numerous stories of his days growing up in Atlanta. My favorite consists of him playing guitar and singing at parties along side Blind Willie McTell, a renowned blues singer who often entertained from the streets. Their experiences and the stories they share take me back to a place we can only imagine today. Our world has changed so much but the values, traditions and appreciation of what was, still carry on.

When I heard Matt was interested in selling Andover Trask, I had a dream of taking over but never thought it would become a reality. I am a firm believer in things happen for a reason and pay attention to signs. When I met Matt for the first time in November, it was like meeting an old friend. We discussed Andover Trask, the direction we hoped it would take, the coincidence that it was Atlanta ties that brought us to this point and it became clear, this was the beginning of something wonderful and the signs all pointed to a great future.

So, it is with great pleasure that I take on the story of Andover Trask. As a Virginian with Atlanta roots and an equestrian who thrives on canvas and leather goods that will stand the test of time, I look forward to bringing you the same thought to detail, the deep heritage and the uncompromising final product that makes Andover Trask so special. I will continue to carry several of Matt’s classic designs as well as introduce new designs over the coming years.

Thank you for your support. Thank you for following our journey. And buckle up, we’re just getting started!

Cheers!

Laura Stewart



Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South

Carnegie Survey of the Historic Architecture of the South

For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated and obsessed with historic architecture. And in the South, at least, a love of great old buildings brings with it the regular pang of heartache when those historic structures are for ever reduced to rubble, whether by neglect or intentionally to make way for development. We do a particularly poor job of preserving our historic architecture here, and our general lack of building codes often allows grand old buildings to be razed and replaced with characterless edifices of stucco and vinyl. This is an ongoing conversation in Atlanta--and I'm sure throughout the South--and a passionate group of us Atlantans get together from time to time to consider ways to embrace and preserve our scant stock of historic buildings.

Long before I, or any of us, for that matter, were contemplating the importance of conservation in the Deep South, the architectural photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston spent years (primarily in the 1930s) creating a systematic record of fading Southern architecture. Her collection--the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South--provides more than 7,100 images of structures in rural and urban areas of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, and to a lesser extent Florida, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Johnston recorded the exteriors and interiors of houses, mills, churches, mansions, plantations, and outbuildings that would, without her records, have been permanently lost to the ages. In 2008, Johnston's negatives were digitized, and now the entire collection is available online via the Library of Congress.

I've put together a Pinterest board with many of my favorite items from the Carnegie survey. Here are a few of them:

Belle Grove Plantation, Iverville Parish, Louisiana

Completed in 1857, Belle Grove was one of the largest mansions ever built in the South. The masonry structure had seventy-five rooms (including a jail cell) spread over four floors. It fell into disrepair following the Civil War, and it burned in the night in March, 1952.

Old Christian Church, Selma, Alabama / Outbuilding from Mt. Airy, St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana

Drish House -Tuscaloosa, Alabama
John Drish used slave labor to build this brick and stucco plantation home between 1825-32. Over the years, the house fell into severe disrepair, but it was never torn down. This year, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is in the process of being restored. Unfortunately, many of its original details have been removed. Find out more about the restoration here.   

Seven Oaks Plantation, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
Building circa 1830

Dumaine St. at Bourbon, New Orleans
Image circa 1937-38 
Dumaine St. at Bourbon, New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana

Georgia Central Railway Bridge, Savannah, Georgia
This masonry bridge, built between 1848-58, no longer carries railroad traffic, but the structure still stands in Savannah.
Georgia Central Railway Bridge, Railroad Street, Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia

Gin & Tonic

Preparing gin and tonics with Fever Tree and St George at Andover Trask

Spring has arrived in Atlanta. Soon enough, it will be oppressively hot here, but for now the weather's perfect. The new season brings all sorts of rituals, but restocking my bar with all of the gin and tonic essentials may be the best sign that spring has sprung. 

I live in a 10th-floor condo, so there's no place for a garden, but I do keep a few potted herbs on my balcony to use in cocktails. Every spring, my grandmother sends me basil and mint that she has rooted from her herb garden up in Rome, and I parlay it into a spring and summer worth of cocktails--gin and tonics, buffala negras, mojitos and margaritas. I tried to call in my order for herbs last weekend, but Mimi said it was early yet for basil. So I'm using basil from Whole Foods for now, but the homegrown stuff is coming soon. 

I don't use a recipe; just a heavy pour of St. George Terroir gin, Fever Tree tonic, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprig of basil. It's perfect for spring, and the hotter it gets outside, the easier it goes down. 

Gin and Tonics at Andover Trask in Atlanta

Journal

Andover Trask has grown a lot over the last year or so, and I've been wanting a place to connect with our customers and the wider community. I've hesitated to start a blog because I don't consider myself to be a particularly gifted writer or photographer, but it's time to start sharing the inspiration behind the brand. So this is it, the Andover Trask journal. Hopefully it will become a place to share inspiration, ideas, good music and maybe a cocktail recipe or two. 

Drawing of historic architecture by Matt Weaver of Andover Trask

Historic architecture is a bit of an obsession for me, and it tends to consume much of my free time. If I'm not Andover Trasking, there's a good chance I'm sipping a gin and tonic and sketching old houses. If anyone else out there is similarly obsessed, reach out!