The Creative Hand, an engraving and personalized gift shop, opened its doors in Red Wing, Minnesota, on November 11. Customers can expect a fresh environment and items available in all price ranges, according to owner Michelle Tracy.
Before deciding to embark on her own business, Tracy spent the last five years working part-time with Backwoods Framing and Engraving. She found herself in that role after being jobless for a year when taking time off to write a children’s book. When she and her husband returned home from a vacation, she happened to receive a call from a friend who worked for a temp agency with an opportunity to work for Backwoods Framing and Engraving.
“I went and was offered the job within minutes of arriving,” Tracy recalls. “I have been an artist and crafter my whole life. I had never done this type of thing before but I’m a fast learner and it sounded fun.”
Tracy explains that when she first started working with Backwoods, it was still a home-based business. Shortly after becoming a Backwoods employee, there was an unexpected death in the family and Jerry, the husband of the Backwoods team, was diagnosed with lung cancer. “During this time, I was basically handed the keys to their home and told to make any decisions I need to,” says Tracy. “When they were home and not at chemo treatments, they started teaching me everything about framing and engraving.”
This was a stressful time, according to Tracy, but she continued to help them and learn as much as possible about engraving and running a business. Orders continued to grow until they decided to open a brick-and-mortar store. “Three years ago, they opened a storefront with Jerry dying shortly after signing the papers,” Tracy says. “I and the two other female owners continued to run and operate Backwoods for three more years. I ran the engraving dept and, as before, it continued to grow every year.”
When Backwoods suddenly closed, and Tracy was given a two-week notice, she had to determine what she would do next. “As a 50-year-old woman with no formal education, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Plus, my husband is getting close to retirement age and we enjoy taking little trips,” states Tracy. “My husband and I discussed opening a home-based business doing engraving but then the more I thought about it, I knew I would miss all the customers I had worked with over the last five years — I love that my job allowed me to be a part of people’s lives on very personal levels.”
Tracy tells A&E she was unable to purchase any of the equipment, products, or store fixtures when Backwoods closed, but she was okay with that as she didn’t want people walking into The Creative Hand thinking it’s Backwoods. So, she applied for a loan and purchased a used laser engraving system and sublimation equipment.
“I got to invent and brand myself,” she says. “I had learned many things that I liked and didn't like from working at Backwoods, so I was able start The Creative Hand in a knowledgeable position and know what worked and didn’t work.”
When deciding on the store’s layout, Tracy says she had a small space to work with and not a lot of storage area. “I knew my stock would all have to be out, open to the public’s eye; I knew I had to keep it as clean looking as possible,” she explains. “I did some research and came up with the idea of mimicking Scandinavian design/look.”
With a limited budget, Tracy enlisted her brother-in-law to build the store fixtures. “The storefront I rented already had a great color scheme and lighting, so I added pops of my brand color and simple store fixtures to complete the look,” she states. “I know that as time goes, I will make changes and little tweaks here and there, but I’m really happy with what I was able to accomplish in three short months.”
Currently, Tracy offers custom laser engraving and dye-sublimation on a large variety of products. She explains that her focus is to have it be as easy as possible for customers.
“I hear too often, ‘Oh, I’m not creative. I don’t know what to put on it.’ So, to help them out, I have some products engraved with personalization ideas, plus I’m working on binders that will have tons of different designs for the customers to choose from,” says Tracy. “And I always tell them, ‘It’s my job to be the creative one. Let me put together some ideas for you and we’ll go from there.’”
Tracy adds that most of her past customers followed her to The Creative Hand and she has received a lot of support from her community. She held two grand opening parties; a private one for family as well as an official ribbon-cutting ceremony with the chamber of commerce, with whom she has worked with in the past.
For now, Tracy’s goals are to continue to grow the business and let people know she’s there and what she offers. “I just love working with people and treat them with kindness,” says Tracy. “The possibilities truly seem endless and as an artist/craftsman, I’m only limited by my imagination!”