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    Friday, December 01, 2023

    Small Business Success: Selling hand-made crafts, and a stress-reducing atmosphere

    Stimulating customers’ creativity in an atmosphere where COVID-induced stress fades away is what drives and guides Emily Cross with her Clinton boutique, From Stem to Fern.

    Creating such a store was her goal in February 2020, when she planned an April 1 grand opening. Weeks later, COVID-19 and the governor’s order shuttered her shop, she feared permanently. Fortunately, she overcame this obstacle and, COVID-certified, opened just two months behind her original schedule, on May 26.

    Customers can now select from plants, pottery, wall hangings, jewelry, planters, and other decorative and utilitarian products and tchotchke, hand-made by Emily herself and 12 local artisans and craftspeople.

    They have the additional option to design their own terrarium, living wall, or succulent product, inspired by one of Cross’ designs. The customer selects a product and describes how she would like it modified or recast according to her design aesthetic and home décor. Cross then gathers the raw materials, and, with the customer’s input and guidance, custom makes a unique product, charging the customer only for the materials.

    As a result, From Stem to Fern was named the best Shoreline shop to buy a gift and Clinton’s best new business in Hearst Media Group’s 2020 poll of readers. Cross has been able to give back to the community by volunteering for events created through the Clinton Arts Council, which seeks to nurture diverse arts, cultural and educational activities throughout Connecticut, and by creating a venue for artists to generate an income with their art.

    Cross believes, and her customers affirm, that the combination of creative inspiration and fulfillment with unique product displays, in a COVID-conscious environment, helps her customers let virus-related stress and other pressures of the day slip away.

    In 2015, Cross had moved from Asheville, N.C., where she had a career in executive search, retiring as director of training and development, and worked as an avocation with a friend who designed and created floral decorations for weddings. That latter experience gave her the confidence to open From Stem to Fern.

    When she connected with the Southeast Connecticut Chapter of SCORE for business advice, she could not know she would also need their counsel and encouragement to navigate a once-in-a-century pandemic.

    Her SCORE association also provided what she calls an accountability that contributed to her developing the self-discipline and determination necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur.

    “My SCORE mentors helped ‘keep it real,’” Score said, explaining that, at each monthly update meeting, they would establish her deliverables for the next meeting, giving her concrete, tactical targets.

    Cross’ own creations are designed and her artisans’ products are selected to offer a sentimental and healthful range of options, and to inspire the creativity of her customers in decorating their own homes and in selecting gifts for others.

    From Stem to Fern is closed to street traffic on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when COVID-cautious customers can reserve the shop to themselves and their companions.

    “Whenever customers visit, I want them to feel the pressures and stress of the day fade away,” Cross said. “If we achieve that, I’ll have met my goal for my business.”

    Hugh M. Ryan is a certified mentor for the Southeastern Connecticut chapter of SCORE. He can be reached at hugh.ryan@scorevolunteer.org.

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