When the inventory of vintage goods Rena Krouse sold online started to dwindle, her entrepreneurial roots helped her recreate history.
“I grew a huge Instagram following and they would get irritated when I would run out of certain things,” Krouse, CEO of Green Bee Tea Towels, said in explanation of how her maker’s journey began.
“I was like, ‘Well, I can’t just make this stuff from the ’50s and ’60s,’” she continued. “And then I realized that if I could make something that had that same feel … I could sell it to my existing clients.”
Having worked in various entrepreneurial settings throughout her career, Krouse immediately got to work, she explained.
“I just went where the demand was. I say my first sales job was Girl Scout cookies. So I’ve always sold something or tried to sell something,” she joked.
Four years and a 700-retailer reach later, Krouse has stitched herself a booming business — which includes the recent launch of a showroom in Dallas, Texas — thanks in large part to Kansas City’s entrepreneurial resources for makers and creators.
“I cannot stress enough how amazing the Small Business Development Center has been with UMKC. If I knew that there were so many resources that were absolutely free and there was coaching help available, I would have done this two years ago,” she said, eager for fellow makers to take advantage of local resources.
The ScaleUP! program and craft fairs such as the Strawberry Swing have also been great support mechanisms for Krouse and her growing team — which has reached five employees.
“Last December we had completely sold out of every single thing. I think we had 75 to 50 towels left in stock — period. I had to shut down my sales in early to mid-December, right after Strawberry Swing,” she recalled of demand for Green Bee products.
Apart from abundant resources, latching onto trends has further elevated Krouse’s work, she noted.
“The farmhouse trend is so popular right now and then once [customers] get the towel, it’s incredibly high quality. It washes really good, you can bleach them, there’s no worry about it getting damaged or anything,” Krouse said of what keeps the Green Bee needle threaded with customers.
“I wouldn’t say they’re a piece of art, but they’re a usable decoration. People tell me that the cute factor or the design is just the extra part,” she said.
Click here to shop Green Bee Tea Towels current inventory.
For Krouse, Green Bee has proven to be more than a startup or a hobby business — it’s taught her how to build a brand with intentionality.
“It has been life changing … because I wasn’t sure what to do next,” she said of how Green Bee differs from her previous entrepreneurial ventures and the way ScaleUP! helped shift her mindset.
“I was like, ‘I know exactly what I’m doing,’ … like holy cow. I didn’t even know anything. It just takes you from that working in the grind every day. … I feel like I’m learning my job differently because now I’m a CEO, not a maker,” Krouse said of finding a balance between working on her business as opposed to in it.
“There’s no way that I could have gotten to where I am without the support of the city and starting locally,” she continued. “There is a big difference between makers that are more arts-minded and then people like me that are more business-minded — but the support of the community is there.”
Bridging gaps between the arts and business community could help strengthen the Kansas City maker community overall, Krouse added.
“We just need to get the resources that are business resources [to makers in the arts],” she said.
Everybody loves local, but the “local” label isn’t always enough to help a growing brand, Krouse suggested.
“I’ve been to several other cities and they have some local goods, but when you really dig deep, the makers that are in those other cities … they don’t do as well because they don’t have the community support,” she said in support of her theory.
“I’m really proud of Kansas City’s maker community,” Krouse said. “It’s definitely something I think other cities would do good to come here and observe and sey, ‘Hey, if we help each other and we all get along or whatnot, we can really kick some ass.’”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.