Miss Bee Roberts Created Her Own Opportunity and Now She Has a Flourishing Handicraft Business
GERTRUDE E. S. PRINGLEApril11922
WHEN Miss Bee Roberts in 1916 went to visit a sister in New York she had not the slightest idea that she would there obtain an inspiration that would lead to her financial independence, and put her at the head of an engrossing business of her own.
Two friends showed her an advertisement in one of the daily papers calling for toys. The War, it will be remembered, had cut off the world’s supply from Germany and a toy famine seemed imminent. Laughingly the friends declared they would design some toys and send them in. So, with much amusement over the thing, they sketched soldiers on wood, cut them out, painted them and set them up on little stands. When finished the toy soldiers were pleasing to behold, for the makers in fun-loving rivalry had tried to excel each other. But after sending them in, what was their surprise to get a letter from the advertiser saying he would take three thousand of them. The two friends had no intention of carrying the joke further, so they dropped out of the transaction. However the incident furnished Miss Roberts an inspiration.
“I’m going to try that myself,” she told her friends.
On returning home she began her handicraft work without capital, not borrowing one cent. It was therefore not born full-fledged with a studio, a stock of materials and skilful advertising to announce its arrival in the world of business, but was commenced in a small way in her own home with the making of toy soldiers.
Now Miss Roberts has fine, roomy quarters in a fashionable Toronto thoroughfare, four assistants—of whom a sister and two nieces are her partners—and the products of her studio are sent to New York, Hamilton, Halifax, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Victoria, as well as disposed of locally.
Not Solely Financial Gain
IN TALKING with Miss Roberts one is impressed with a certain indifference on her part to the financial aspect of her work. Very evidently her heart is in her craft and she enjoys it for its own sake.
“I love my work. We all do. When busy painting or planning I lose all track of time.”
That is how Miss Roberts sums up her business. She does not take any interest in figures. I verily believe they bore her, and she is glad she can now afford to have someone look after that end for her. She had almost to be coaxed to admit that her goods sold from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and then she explained conscientiously, “Not huge shipments, you know, but monthly parcels.”
While she has not kept track, or possibly does not remember the financial results, Miss Roberts expresses herself as well satisfied with the progress of her work. For the last two years she has drawn a salary and been able to put money into the business. Last year she took a trip to Buffalo to see the handicraft sold there, but says she found nothing better. I strongly suspect she saw nothing quite so original as her work.
That it pays to advertise is an accepted dictum, yet Miss Roberts has never advertised. Others have advertised for her.
“People came through hearing about my things. One person brought another,” she explained.
Back from New York her first step was to order some ordinary white wood. Having dabbled, she says, in wood carving, she knew how to use tools. On the wood she sketched various soldiers, Highlander, Scots Guardsman, Frenchman, Serbian and a jolly Jack Tar. These were five inches high and painted in oils. When a few dozen were completed she took them to a downtown store to see if she could sell them. To her delight the proprietor eagerly bought them and gave her further orders. So back she went to her wood, her saws and her paint and made soldiers until every corner of her room held them— more than 100 in all. Now this, of course, reads like instantaneous success without any preliminary setbacks. But it was not the success it appeared to be. True the toy soldiers, vigorously drawn and delightfully painted, were ahead of any others or the market, but the trouble was that Miss Roberts had not asked enough money for them to compensate her for the time involved in making them. That sometimes happens with those whose minds are more set on the artistic side than the financial returns. So Miss Roberts decided to give up making toy soldiers; she would instead construct toys and other things for children. But she has a kindly feeling for the soldier men and always keeps a set of them in her studio, not to sell, but to remind her of the small beginnings of her now flourishing enterprise.
Furniture for Tots
WITH her thoughts directed chiefly to child wants—and Miss Robert must surely be a lover of children to be able to guess so wonderfully what they need, for she seems to have thought of every conceivable thing to delight them—she turned her attention to furniture for kindergarten tots. She made charming little tables and embellished them with pictures illustrating some familiar nursery story, such as Little Red-Riding Hood or the Three Little Kittens who Lost Their Mittens, while the chairs, as can be see in the accompanying photograph were decorated to match in a most original way. When little ones are kept indoors what amusement they find in a white enamel nursery shelf on which is painted a procession of circus animals, or a bewitching white desk with Mother Goose cháracters on it.
For little girls there is a wonderful doll-house with a verandah all around, an attic, bathroom with full equipment and even a “curate” in readiness to serve the refreshments for afternoon tea.
Mother Goose characters appear in the studio in many forms. Some old favorites: Bo Peep, Jack Horner and Tommy Tucker fourteen inches high, cut out of wood and painted, are designed to adorn the walls a nursery.
For the Grown-Ups Too
BUT toys alone could not be depended on to make the venture pay, for though there is always a certain demand for them the industry is a seasonal one with a big rush but once a year. It means working ten months piling up toys for the Christmas season. So Miss Roberts puts her brains to work to evolve useful things for grown-ups as well as children. The result is the bewildering variety of things to view in her studio, all touched with the grace of originality, and showing the superior craftsmanship that is the result the maker’s strong artistic perception. For the candy-loving family there are round boxes enamelled in colors or painted designs. Scrap baskets are to be found in every tint; glove darners are transformed by having a black-browed beauty at one end; talcum powder tins are decorated to match bedroom colors; flower pots are enamelled in art shades suggesting the accentuation of a color scheme in a room; score cards and bridge prizes make a strong appeal, while decorated knitting needles catch the eye with their novelty.
One most attractive section of the studio is given over to a display of painted parchment lampshades done in beautiful rich colorings by Miss Roberts’ sister and attesting the artistic gifts of this family.
One of the quaint fancies that has conquered the continent is an enamelled lead pencil with a bonneted face or kitten’s head at one end. For the school girl there is a set consisting of ruler, pencil, pen and rubber, painted to match in pink or blue, while a blotter with a cat face in each corner and cat inkwell would lure a small child to write.
No little girl would throw her dress on the floor when she possessed a pale blue hanger ornamented with garlands of flowers, while a small boy would enjoy washing his face when he had his own basin and jug of white enamel with Mother Goose characters painted on them. What mother would not welcome the whitest and daintiest of oilcloth bibs, decked with nursery rhyme characters, or an oilcloth protector that would amuse baby while covering his portion of the tablecloth?
It was one year after starting before Miss Roberts felt she could branch out into a studio of her own in which to exhibit and sell her wares. The year though had been well spent, for she had been learning her work and gradually finding a market. At first she fashioned all the furniture herself after her own original ideas, but now she has the heavier pieces, such as bureaus, tables, chairs and see-saws, made to her design, and she does the decorating. Otherwise she would never have time to fill all her orders.
Napoleon once said angrily to a timid adviser, "What, wait for an opportunity? I make opportunity.”
And so it seems that women who achieve success in business today make their own opportunities. They produce something desirable, or offer that which is in steady demand, and gradually the public makes a path to their door. But what above all women demonstrate in business is strict economy and careful management whereby often without a dollar of capital they are able to build up a remunerative undertaking, that while ever increasing in value, pays a good living wage to its originator.
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