Main Street Creativity
How Jennifer Lisa created two businesses that sustain her professional and personal life.
Jennifer Lisa always knew she wanted to be an artist, but it wasn’t until high school that she gained access to the mentorship and resources that would help mold her raw creativity into fine craft. What started as a job wrapping jewelry for the holidays in high school resulted in the young artist befriending a goldsmith and being invited to stay on. Working her way up the ladder, Jennifer began learning the basics of jewelry making.
Following what felt “like destiny,” Jennifer applied and was accepted early decision to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and spent the next decade in Providence, Rhode Island committing her professional life to learning about design and jewelry. After her formal education at RISD, where she was also a teaching assistant for youth art classes, Jennifer worked for a fine craft jeweler as well as a costume jeweler. She also created her own one-of-a-kind hollow-form jewelry of nickel-silver and eighteen karat gold. The unique combination of materials and design landed Jennifer exhibitions in galleries nation-wide.
After spending her twenties in Rhode Island, Jennifer decided to move back to Maine, where her family had resided for twelve generations before her. Jennifer taught art for four years at a local school, where she eventually met her husband, who was also a teacher. Jennifer and John started a family together, and for a few years Jennifer focused on being a stay-at-home mother. But one weekend when her daughter Annabelle was a toddler, friends asked to see her jewelry. After unpacking her jewelry, the desire to express her creative side was sparked anew, and shortly after, Jennifer began making jewelry again.
In 2008, Jennifer launched her brand Quench Metalworks on Etsy, an online marketplace for unique goods. She also started a rigorous tour of retail craft shows around New England, including Arts in the Park in Belfast. Jennifer developed relationships with a large community of craftspeople and enjoyed a successful start to her own business.
But after six years of up to fourteen shows per year, Jennifer grew tired of the retail craft show circuit. The market was getting saturated, the schedule was grueling with a young child, and Jennifer missed the additional creativity that comes with a brick and mortar shop. It was time to change the business model.
Around the same time, Jennifer and John decided to move to a less rural community. “We knew we wanted to be near the ocean, and in a city that could support a shop someday.” They also wanted more performing arts opportunities for their daughter. The family explored cities up and down the coast, and ultimately chose Belfast.
Settling in Belfast wasn’t entirely random for Jennifer. Having grown up in China, Maine, Jennifer visited the coastal city as a child with her parents. “I had great times here as a kid, going to the Grasshopper Shop, running up and down the streets, sailing with my parents.” And Jennifer recalled her dad daydreaming about her having a shop in Belfast someday.
So when Jennifer opened Quench downtown, “it was a bit of a brass ring for me to be able to have a shop in Belfast, because it was always in the back of my head,” she said. Jennifer’s original plan was to open a shop within five years of settling in their new community, but just one week after moving to Belfast in June 2014, Jennifer leased a small retail space at 9 Beaver Street, (which currently houses Tusk). Two months later – stocked with her own jewelry and some consigned art – Jennifer opened her first brick and mortar shop on August 15th.
“It was a great starter store, but there wasn’t enough foot traffic,” Jennifer recalled. “I wanted this to be my career, it wasn’t just a hobby.” So when a space became available on Main Street just ten months after opening on Beaver Street, Jennifer jumped at the opportunity.
It was a big move for Jennifer. “I didn’t have enough of my own inventory or the capital to buy inventory to fill the space,” she recalled, which was four times larger than her first store. So Jennifer came up with her own cooperative-style business model. Tapping into the community she had developed during her craft show days, Jennifer invited artists to pay a “vending fee” to be represented at her store. Unlike a true cooperative, Jennifer maintained full creative license over the design of her shop – which had been part of her vision in operating her own store. In turn, she gained a consistent cash flow – particularly helpful in the winter – and was able to grow her clientele and inventory.
Today, Jennifer operates more like a traditional shop that owns more inventory outright, rather than consigning or renting space. Quench, which is open year-round and specializes in “eclectic goods for the curious soul,” is full of Jennifer’s own jewelry, as well as small-production items and local fine crafts.
Jennifer also still operates her wholesale business Quench Metalworks through her website, (she left Etsy when she opened Quench in 2014). The two businesses complement each other well: in the quieter winter months, Jennifer focuses more energy on filling her wholesale account, as well as growing her personal brand through social media and online marketing.
In the summer, Jennifer builds relationships with Quench customers, whether they’re one-time visitors or local residents. “I’m selling more and more of my own work. Clients like that I’m here, that the person behind the counter is the person making the work. I have incredibly loyal customers that continue to come to me,” Jennifer expressed gratefully.
And relationships have and continue to be a major key to her success. “Customer service is absolutely the key to my success,” Jennifer said. “Greeting everyone and making them feel like they’re appreciated is important, because I do appreciate when someone comes in and buys a $6 temporary tattoo, or a bigger item – every sale counts.” Whether it’s a one-time customer or a repeat client, Jennifer knows that people coming into the store value a personal connection, especially in a world where consumers can have anything shipped to their front door with the click of a button.
In fact, Jennifer’s ideas for next steps – because her creative wheels never stop spinning – revolve around this idea of building relationships. “I want to move my work bench into the back of the store, so I can get more work done when its quiet, and people can see what I’m doing. People find it intriguing to see me work, even when I’m just filing something at the counter. It’s a conversation starter and it’s part of the experience. I can also adjust jewelry for people right there and then.”
As a Belfast resident, relationships to her neighbors are also very important to Jennifer. “I love the connection between downtown and the residential area,” she said, listing off an impressive number of her neighbors in and around Cedar Street that also have businesses downtown. “We all live within a stone’s throw of our businesses and we’re all really invested in this city both as business owners and residents.”
In fact, Jennifer credits her time volunteering on the Our Town Belfast Board of Directors with helping her develop comradery with a group of sole proprietors and small business owners downtown like herself. “I believe in this community and I think it’s a stronger community when we support organizations like Our Town Belfast, because of the beautification efforts and organization of sales and events,” she said. “The Early Bird Sale is the best day of the year for me and this year’s Sidewalk Sale was great too – it brought tons of people downtown and first-time customers into my shop. Supporting this organization that does all of this for us is priceless. Everyone benefits from the work that is done to maintain our lovely historic downtown.” Besides Our Town Belfast, Jennifer also supports theater and art in Belfast.
Quench celebrated five years in business on August 15th, 2019. Learn more about Jennifer Lisa, Quench Metalworks, and her brick and mortar Quench shop online and on Facebook, or visit the store at 33 Main Street.