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Upcycled niche

Sisters-in-law find business, artistic, and consignment success at Booth 121.

Leah Robertson and Rebecca Aide are the talent and brains behind Booth 121, an upcycled specialty store on Monona Drive.

Leah Robertson and Rebecca Aide are the talent and brains behind Booth 121, an upcycled specialty store on Monona Drive.

Photograph by Taylor Ballweg, MaryJanes and Galoshes

(page 1 of 2)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

With two years behind them, Rebecca Aide, 43, and Leah Robertson, 42, have already expanded their “upcycled specialty store,” Booth 121. As of this writing, the store’s sales are up 222% over the same period of time last year. In fact, their December 2016 sales numbers increased 722% over the previous December, primarily because people appreciate their offbeat sense of humor.

The sisters-in-law have clearly found a niche. They sell upcycled furniture that has been painted, distressed, or repurposed by Robertson, and also offer unique crafts and home décor, cards, and jewelry on consignment from mostly-local artists.

Items that are particularly “snarky” tend to be the most popular, they report, such as socks imprinted with off-color statements, or a painted barn wood sign that reads, “Put your laundry away or I’ll punch you in the face. Love Mom.”

Other whimsical items include pint glasses imprinted with sayings like, “Hurry up with my damn tacos!”

“You can find something very nice for grandma — or inappropriate,” Robertson smiles. “We do try to walk a fine line. We don’t want to be disgusting, but I didn’t realize how many people share our sense of humor.”

About eight years ago, Robertson left an office job to focus on her true passion — repurposing old furniture into colorful showpieces — and entered the craft show circuit. Aide, the store’s retail manager, realized the business potential in buying items inexpensively and then reselling, and suggested they open a retail store. Booth 121 opened in November 2015, and this past March the business doubled its space when it expanded into the remaining half of the building.

The location, a short distance from the Beltline, provides ample parking and much-needed workshop space in the back where Robertson works her magic on old chests, bookshelves, wooden shutters, or special requests. Also hiding in the back is the store’s mascot, an adorable puppy named Pickles.

Some business owners might avoid working with family members, but these two, who have known each other since 1986, work well together. “Our personalities are similar and we think very much the same,” notes Aide. “We also know each other’s strengths. Leah is the creative one. Without her, none of this would happen.” To that, Robertson replies, “Rebecca is the business brain. Without her, none of this would happen.”

Kismet.

In addition to Robertson’s painted furnishings, a network of vendors plus friends and family provide the store’s inventory. It was also important to the co-owners to offer a sound consignment agreement. “Many shops split 50-50, but we wanted to do better than that,” notes Robertson. Booth 121 offers artists 65% of product sales, “and we pay on time, on the 10th of each month,” beams Aide.

(Continued)

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