A' La Crate Rents Out a Piece of History

Newlyweds Sarah and Jeff Mullins worked hard to save up for a new kitchen for their Monona home. But instead, the creative couple used the money to open A' La Crate, LLC, which Sarah describes as a do-it-yourself vintage rental warehouse specializing in large collections and unique props for event, design, and photo shoot needs.

The idea came to them after they spent an inordinate amount of time collecting and cleaning unusual vintage items for their own 2010 wedding. Things got stressful. "At the end, we still didn't have enough for the wedding, and we wished we would have had a resource for vintage items. It would have removed a lot of the legwork," Sarah said.

Aprés wedding, with a garage full of leftover collectibles, they researched the idea of renting out their collection, and the idea to open the state's only vintage rental business took flight.

Sarah enrolled in several courses at the Small Business Development Center, and presented the business plan to SCORE advisors. "We really thought through how often things need to be rented out for us to recoup money," she said, "the life span of a piece, how much to devote to repairs, and how to price and track items."

They've devised a rule of thumb: Purchase an item (through eBay, Craig's List, or another source), then rent it for about one-fifth to one-third of the cost, so it will be paid off after three to five uses. "That covers what we may have to spend to fix or clean it," Sarah said.

Admittedly, Sarah is the visionary, while Jeff is the craftsman who largely renovated the old paint warehouse space on his own and is available to create backdrops, barn doors, and other custom pieces on request. The couple continues to hold down other jobs as well. Sarah, 31, is a self-employed graphic designer, though she's scaling back, while Jeff, 35, is an instructional designer at UW-Madison.

A' La Crate's two-story location, just off Monona Drive, includes collections of everything from blue Mason jars to vintage furniture, dozens of milk glass pieces, crates, china, metal washtubs, sewing boxes, birdcages, and even a green, 10-foot workbench. Hiding in another room are six full-size church pews, while the upstairs loft contains antique frames – some repurposed into chalkboards – old suitcases, garden gates, doors, and bedsprings, which, Sarah suggested, can be the perfect holding rack for decorative paper cones filled with popcorn or candies.

Their most unusual item is a full-sized, aluminum carousel horse, which is kept at their home a few blocks away. And what about the box of deer antlers? "They make great centerpiece accents." Of course!

"We try to offer high-quality pieces at an affordable price, because I think vintage things are made so well," Sarah said, adding that they do not claim to be antique experts. "We just appreciate the value," she said.
Rental costs vary by item, from 50 cents a day for a vase, to $225 for an ivory, crushed-velvet sofa. The workbench rents for $325. On average, contracts have ranged between $300 and $500 for weddings, and thanks to A' La Crate's exposure at this year's Bridal Expo in January, they've presented about 80 quotes thus far. "We've paid back the inventory investment from 2011 already," Jeff noted.

"It's going to succeed!" Sarah beamed, high-fiving her husband.


A' La Crate Vintage
4601 Monona Dr., #101, Monona, WI 53716
608.669.2541 | alacratevintage.com

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