Á LA CRATE: Young boutique scored with sound advice
Sarah Mullins, co-owner of Á LA CRATE, a vintage, reclaimed, and custom rental warehouse in Monona.
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Sarah Mullins is pretty sure she’d still be in business even without the counsel she received from the Madison Chapter of SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, but she knows that advice helped her clear some hurdles.
Mullins, the co-owner, along with husband Jeff, of Á LA CRATE in Monona, is nearing the five-year mark, which many startup businesses never see. Thanks to SCORE, she now has a fuller understanding of why the devil is in the details. “I’d like to think we’d be around, but the business planning really did help us with some of the nitty-gritty details that we might have skimmed over otherwise,” she says.
Hold me accountable
Á LA CRATE, a vintage, reclaimed, and custom rental warehouse, is still very much a boutique business, which is just the way Mullins wants it. Its business space along Industrial Drive is chock full of uncommon rentable goods, everything from mismatched vintage china to 8-foot-long reclaimed harvest tables. The pieces often go out for weddings and other celebrations, birthday parties, and trade show booth displays.
“We try to buy locally, and everything here is either made by a member of our team or a local artist, or is found,” she explains.
The Mullinses developed the business concept from their wedding experience. They had collected a number of unique pieces for the big day, but it wasn’t easy to find the pieces they wanted in a short timeline and on a budget. So something that should have been fun turned out to be stressful; following their nuptials, they sold everything they had purchased for the décor.
“We knew a lot of couples in the same boat,” Sarah notes, “and thought that Madison is such a great sharing community, what better place to see if this would take off.”
Without advice from SCORE counselors like Joel Petersen, the takeoff would have been more challenging. Sarah and Jeff were both art majors who had a lot of ideas when they opened in 2011, but they didn’t have much funding. As they struggled to take the next step, they heard of SCORE, and the free counseling and business plan vetting available from the Madison Chapter, which has about 50 retired mentors from a variety of industries, was a godsend.
“The fact that it was a complementary service, and you’re meeting with retired business professionals, was pretty awesome,” Sarah states. “They were very approachable and gave us someone to be accountable to.”