I'm a big believer that the strength of a marriage comes from the differences between the partners more than the similarities, and with our Tin Cats Antiques business, I'm finding that to be true in our business partnership as well.
My wife and I have a lot of similarities. We both love animals (it's not called Tin Cats for nothing). We're homebodies, forsaking parties and large groups of people for the quiet and comfort of our own home. We both believe deeply in our faith, shoring up each other when that faith gets tested as it has been over the last year-and-a-half.
But in a partnership, especially a business partnership like ours, we need to have some different strengths to overcome each other's weaknesses. That's where I think Jami and I are a perfect match.
She's focused on the antiques. She wants to know everything about them — where they came from, what's their history, what kind of wood are they made of, and of course, how old are they.
She also has an uncanny ability to "touch up" pieces when necessary.
In the antiques world, the ideal is not have to make any repairs to an item. A perfect piece will have its original paint and hardware. Sure it can be worn, but when you find something that is almost 300 years old, it's reasonable to expect a little wear and tear. The best is when you find a piece signed and dated because you know when it was created.
The reality, though, is that sometimes that wear and tear is bad enough to detract from the value of the piece. Maybe the wood splintered, or perhaps sometime in the last 200 years, someone tried to do a repair job on it, but didn't do it very well.
That's where Jami's gift comes in. I've watched her take obviously discolored or injured items and through a variety of tools (and secrets she's come up with), restore the piece in a way that is virtually invisible. I want to stress that she's not doing this to mislead anyone. She takes a minimalist approach, doing only what is absolutely needed, and collectors buying from us will know of any repairs or restorations. In this business, you don't last long unless you have integrity.
She's also the salesperson in the family. I took one of those aptitude tests one time, and the two things I should NEVER go into are sales and social work.
What I bring to the antiques table
So, what, you may ask, do I bring to this endeavor?
Well, muscle for one thing. And no, I don't mean the kind that shows up at your house and threatens to break your legs if you don't pay up.
No, I mean the kind that hauls stuff around. I learned a long time ago helping my parents, Mary and Dick Wilmarth, with their antiques business (Wilmarth's Antiques) that a lot of this stuff is heavy. I mean, really heavy. It turns out that real wood is a lot heavier than the stuff they make furniture out of these days.
So, one of my jobs is to move stuff around. My favorite words are, "Let's see how that would look over there."
OK, I made that last part up. Couldn't we just decide where we wanted it to go first and just move it once?
I'm also the business guy in the relationship. With my education and professional background, I've had to learn a fair amount of accounting, and someone has to keep the books and make sure taxes are paid, and documentation is kept, and reports are filed.
Left to her own devices, I have no doubt that the IRS would show up on our doorstep a few years down the road demanding back taxes. Not because she's trying to cheat the government, but simply because those things are of little interest to her. Fortunately, she has me.
I'm also the marketing guy. My background in communications, graphic design and technology gives me the skills to create logos, business cards, and web sites. I built this web site using an open source application called Drupal. I enjoy that kind of thing.
Finally, I love woodworking, and have built a number of pieces in the style of those early antiques. That work won't be sold through our business, of course, since it isn't old, but it does mean that at some point, I'll be helping with minor repairs, much like my dad used to do. He was a master at repairing furniture. I remember him challenging me to figure out what he had repaired on a particular piece. I would examine it closely, but invariably, I couldn't spot it. Ironically, he didn't build furniture from scratch. He just repaired it.
Recently, though, I did put my woodworking skills to use to design and build a sign for our booth. When we went to Round Top in January to scope out the show, I noticed some of the booths had signs with the name of their business, and the marketing part of me took over and designed a sign for us based off of our logo. It's even got a real tin cat.
A business partnership is kind of like a marriage, or in our case, exactly like a marriage. Jami has a unique set of talents that will help make our business successful. I bring a different, but equally valuable, set to the table.
I'm hoping that those differences that have made our marriage strong will make our business strong as well.