Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your store?
My name is Giselle and I have owned Rare Device for almost 7 years. I bought it from Lisa Congdon and Rena Tom. I am also a mom of two girls; one is seven-and-a-half and one is almost four. I bought the business right when I had a baby, which was crazy because I went into working for myself and owning a small business and motherhood at the same time! So my life kind of changed all at once. But it’s been awesome. It’s not easy at times, but it’s also so fun at times. I’ve just grown so much through both [motherhood and owning a small business]. Rare Device has been around for 11 years. It was founded by Rena Tom and then Lisa Congdon became a partner a few years later after Rena moved the store to San Francisco. It was my favorite store in San Francisco, even before I owned it. So when I heard from Lisa that they were selling Rare Device, I had to jump at the opportunity! It’s been great. We carry a lot of local, independent artists, but it’s not exclusive to that; we also carry artists from all around the world, and we have an art gallery that we rotate every six to eight weeks, where we feature new artists and have a show where they can sell their work.
How do you choose the items you sell? Do you have a specific list of requirements, or do you go off of more of a gut feeling?
You know, it’s a little bit of both. I would say that in the beginning it’s all about gut, you know, it’s like, “Oh, I like this or I like that.” I buy things that I would want to have myself, or things that I know I would want to give to other people. But then over the years you get to know what customers are looking for, and there are so many awesome things out there that it’s not hard to find things; it’s actually more hard to narrow it down! You have to be like, “Ok, am I going to pick between these two because of money or space?” There’s a lot of people making awesome things, so it’s never hard to find things that are good.
Do you have a best selling item?
I’ll go by brand: one of our top brands is Yellow Owl Workshop. They’re based here in San Francisco and they sell a wide range of items. They have jewelry, prints, make-your-own stamp kits, indigo kits, and cards. Those do really well for us. And then another brand that does really well is P.F. Candle Co. They’re based in LA and we can’t get enough of them!
What’s one notable challenge that stands out in your experience running the store? How did you overcome the challenge?
I think that honestly, this is going to be deep, but it’s realizing that the store is me, and that if I want to grow the store and grow the business, I also have to grow myself. I have to look and see what my challenges are and what I’m not good at and what I can improve and work on. It’s just so hard to face that. But you have to be real and ask what’s getting in the way of yourself. I’ve been doing a lot of self-growth and thinking since 2017. And it continues on. And also with everything happening in the world and being a boss, that’s what pushes me. I have all these people now that I’m responsible for who work for my business so I want to give them the best experience I can.
Was it always your dream to own a store? How does it feel to get up and do what you love every day?
It was my dream for a few years before I actually bought the business, and I even wrote a business plan for starting my own store. I was working for an advertising agency as a projectproduct manager and a producer and feeling like I wasn’t fulfilling the creative side of me. So even though I’m not really an artist in the sense that I don’t concentrate on making things, I feel like the store is a good outlet for me to be in the artist world and show my creativity to people.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self in regards to following your creative passions if you met her today?
It’s getting through the hard things and also that feeling of not knowing what your future holds. When I was 21 I always felt like, “What am I doing?” I didn’t have direction. And I feel like riding through that unknown and getting off of it is so rewarding when you come out the other side. So I’d say don’t feel like you’re failing. I want you to know that it’s all part of the journey. I’ve actually had a lot of twenty-something employees, so I think about that a lot - how it feels to be 21 again. It’s fun, but it’s hard.
What is your proudest moment in regards to Rare Device? Was there a moment where you felt like everything came together for you?
For me, this was super early, but maybe 6 months into owning the business, the SF Chronicle contacted me and they wanted to feature me in the Style section. And I was like, “Me? In the paper?” And they came into the studio and took a picture of me. So to be in the local paper, to be asked about work and what you’re doing and your business felt great. I hope you don’t mind but I want to change this answer. Here’s the new one: Last summer, I went on a camping trip with my family for a whole week where there was no Internet access. I was able to do this because I have a stellar manager who is so highly capable and whom I trust so much, and I have an awesome staff that really work so well together. This was my first real vacation after owning the business so this was a milestone for me. I came back 7 days later then got sick for 2 more days after and everything at the stores just went so smoothly and everyone was still happy and content. We work very hard to make sure we have a good group of people working at RD and this occasion just proves that we indeed have a solid, awesome crew.
What are your long term creative goals? (Can be related to Rare Device or completely separate)
For the business, I really want us to be a place where the community can come together; I mentioned that in the mission statement. Having a place where artists are really proud to show their work and strive to be here. And then for customers to come to this place and be inspired. So putting those two goals together. I would say that creatively, that is a big mission for the business and something I’ll always work towards. And for myself, in terms of creative goals, I think just making things. I’d love to get my hands dirty and maybe learn to become an artist, whether that’s ceramics or something else I don’t know, but making something with my hands is my goal.
How does it feel to get up and do what you love every day?
Oh my god. You know, having worked in corporate settings for a while before I did this, it feels so different. Because it’s my own business, so there’s a certain amount of stress, but it’s my thing and I can get in there and problem solve it. But how does it feel when I wake up? It feels awesome. I remember working other jobs before this and going on vacation and you know that feeling of dreading the day you get back? These days, even now, 7 years later, I’m always happy to be back in the fray and jump back in. It’s nice to have that feeling. I know I’m lucky and not everyone gets that, because it’s scary to go out on your own! It’s risky, everyday, so that’s the payoff, I guess.
Was there ever a time when you thought that you would fail? How did you deal with that feeling and recover from it?
All the time! That’s a tough question. As a business owner, it’s constant. You’re always second-guessing or doubting yourself. For me, I get over that feeling by pushing forward. I just say, “Look, we’ve worked so hard to be where we are, and every business has problems, and we’ll get through it.” I have an awesome, wonderful team of employees who support each other and support me so I always have them to lean on and know they’re doing a great job. Just powering through! Getting through it, day by day.
How do you choose the art that goes on display in the gallery?
We are so lucky because we’ve been around and doing the gallery for such a long time that people submit their work so some of them come from there. A lot of them come through me paying attention to what people are doing and approaching them myself. I consider the approachability of the art; that’s a big thing. I want people walking in to Rare Device feeling like they can touch things and see things and feel welcome and warm, versus some traditional galleries where it feels like you can’t touch anything, or you have to be quiet. So I want the opposite of that; I want people to be able to interact with the objects that they see. So I look for something approachable. Also, pricepoint is a factor. A lot of our customers who are shopping make an impulse purchase, so it has to be in that range where they can make the purchase and spend a little bit of money on original art and feel good about it.I also really look for emerging artists, someone’s who’s established their roots but isn’t known everywhere yet. We help each other get on the radar.
Do you do anything creative on the side? Are there any personal project you’re working on right now that you’re especially excited about?
Honestly the last few years have been all about the business and my family, but this year I’m starting to think about how I need another creative outlet. So I’ve taken some ceramics classes and I’ve done throwing on the wheel and also hand building, and I’m trying to figure out which I like better and work on that a little bit and spend more time to learn that. I also have this thing where I want to do watercolors even though I don’t know anything about them. Every time I see a sunset I wish I could translate it into paper! And then as far as the creative stuff goes, I don’t know, I follow so many artists and know so many of them I kind of just live vicariously through whatever they’re doing.
And check out Giselle's Ten Facts feature here.