Four years ago, Lisa Repp decided she’d create a decorative wall unit for holding grab-and-go essentials in her Spokane home. Mainly, the wall unit held keys at a visible point near an entry because she and her husband always seemed to be searching for them.
But Repp, 41, also likes to use vivid colors and design elements, so she used her artistic talents on that first organizational product that hung in a mudroom-entry space. A neighbor noticed the handiwork, soon bought the piece, and encouraged her to fashion similar pieces.
Thinking she could sell a few items online, Repp launched ModShopGirl LLC in November 2012 for making organizational wall-hanging decor for residential and commercial clients. Repp now sells the pieces in various sizes, colors, and designs, almost exclusively through Etsy.com.
“It started just making things for our house that we needed,” Repp says. “I decided we needed a central location for keys, mail, wallet, sunglasses—all the odds and ends you grab as you go—and to hold notes for us to each other and grocery lists.”
She adds, “I didn’t even anticipate this becoming a career; it started out as a hobby.”
Today, Repp is the sole employee of ModShopGirl and runs the business out of her garage, handling paints and tools to make products with components such as wood shelves and device pockets using durable steel. The units pull together what she describes as “highly-intuitive, multifunctional” use in one place for mail, coat hooks, key racks, and wall storage.
“Many of my orders are mainly to the East Coast and California in high-density areas where people are living in smaller spaces,” she says. “Stylewise, it’s quite a bit different than what you’d find in stores. It’s more industrial-modern, which doesn’t sell the best here, but outside of Spokane, it sells. In general, people want one thing for their mudroom or entryway as a command center that solves organizational problems.”
She says ModShopGirl averages about a sale a day, so about 365 products a year. Two years into the business, Repp invested in “real tools” to craft units and create prototypes.
“I do cut and finish all my own woodwork,” she says. “Running saws and sanding is a regular part of my day, and I’m staining or painting.”
Repp graduated from Eastern Washington University with a degree in journalism and public communications. She grew up in Wisconsin, but her dad was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base, so she spent some time here as a child. She’s now lived in the Spokane area about 20 years.
Married to Richard Repp, an attorney at Witherspoon Kelley in Spokane, she previously worked as broadcast assignment desk editor at KHQ. She then worked at Job Corps helping youth enter trade schools until having two children, who are now ages 5 and 8.
To make ModShopGirl products, Repp selects higher-quality materials that she says set the units apart from what customers typically find in big-box retail stores. As examples, products might have solid walnut or zebra wood that costs about $25 a foot.
The steel sections in units often form pockets to hold magazines or laptops, she says. Steel surfaces are clear-coated and magnetic too, enabling users to write messages using dry-erase markers.
“I started paying attention to what was selling, and eliminating what was time consuming,” she says. “My customers will give me quite a few ideas just from their requests. Once I got a feel for the needs out there, I started focusing on those products.”
She says revenues the first and second year remained small, but sales took off for 2015 as the third year of ModShopGirl, adding, “It just kind of blew up.”
“I had 300 percent growth in revenue my third year compared with the second year,” Repp says. “I’ve done a bunch of residential orders, also a mass order for a London hotel. I think I’ve shipped to about a dozen countries.”
The London hotel operators asked Repp to make a stylized perforated-steel mail holder for each of its 50 guest rooms to provide a pocket where employees could place a menu for the facility’s restaurant and bar. Each unit also has a small shelf where guests can put their key card, wallet, and other small items.
Repp ended up making additional products for the hotel, including a custom-designed strip of steel coat hooks for each room, and then perforated steel light fixtures for headboards.
For some mass orders, ModShopGirl uses Spokane’s Krueger Sheet Metal Co. to bend components for shelves and device pockets. A Spokane Valley business, I-90 Express Finishing, handles powder-coating for steel parts in ModShopGirl products, while Repp buys perforated steel for some units from Spokane’s Alcobra Metals Inc.
Most ModShopGirl products are made to order. Repp has posted examples of more than 160 product options on Etsy. She gives clients quotes for custom work. Customers correspond with her through the website and send photos of home interiors, asking for suggestions. Others might need specific touches, such as a narrower shelf.
“People order what they want, and I make the item,” she says. “I get to be really creative and use a lot of colors while helping people with consolidating household chaos.”
Avocado green is one of ModShopGirl’s best-selling color options for the wall units. “It’s back,” she says, about the popular 1970s choice. But other requests call for turquoise, chartreuse, orange, red, and purple. “Sometimes it’s a rainbow on my kitchen counter. By end of the day, I have all my orders there I have to wrap up and ship out.”
Six months ago, Repp launched the start of a new product line she is marketing as ModShopKids. Next year, Repp hopes to open another division, ModShopPets. She envisions ModShopKids as primarily offering modern organizational decor targeted at kids and basic kids’ furniture.
The pets division would offer products such as modern, elevated food and water dishes for wall mounting.
Repp also sells on Etsy art paintings she creates.
Her organizational products sell at a range of prices mostly in three categories. Units at $60 and under tend to be smaller with a simple style. Next-level products typically range between $130 and $150 in bigger sizes and containing more material costs and features. ModShopGirl also offers large compartmental organizers at roughly $200, based on size and decorative touches.
Repp usually works part time around her kids’ schedules.
“I’m starting to add on a few nights after they go to bed,” she says. “In 2016, I had about a 10 percent growth, so it was a little more normal. I’m probably close to capacity.”
For the future, Repp plans to make some basic furniture such as tables and bench legs.
“I am looking into learning how to weld now,” she says. “I also plan to do some lighting products.”
She adds, “My husband has been incredibly supportive,” noting that he has to put up with things such as sawdust, new products briefly featured in their house, and a basement room used to wrap packages. “He sees this as a viable business going forward.”
She isn’t planning on hiring employees, though if the business grows significantly, she might add someone part time.
Repp plans a long run for ModShopGirl.
“This has allowed me literally to reinvent myself. I come up with something new or I learn something new. I have a list of ideas, so now it’s a matter of having enough time.”
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