Almost three years ago, Huntersville resident Beth Peterson bought 10,000 pounds of decorative and functional wrought-iron sculptures that would serve as an anchor to her new business: The Mustard Seed.
The 45-year-old, single mother of two moved here about 11 years ago from the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York. After the poor economy forced her to leave her 15-year career in the mortgage business, she took her chances and opened a home decor and accent store.
She built a base of local clients while operating out of the barn at The Bradford Store on N.C. 73 in Huntersville. It went over well, but it wasn't easy, she said.
"It was a huge leap of faith for me, but I knew I had the personality and talent to get it done," Peterson said.
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Peterson has an associate degree in interior design from Bauder College in Atlanta. She specializes in technique or distress painting, which gives tables, cabinets and other furniture a distinctive, yet natural, weathered look.
The indoor and outdoor iron pieces she sells range from benches and wall hangings to candle holders and door knobs, all of which are handmade and imported from a distributor in Mexico.
Peterson sells about 40,000 pounds of iron a year to 600 monthly customers, including repeat local clients and a dozen wholesale distributors throughout North and South Carolina. Wall art ranges from $35 to $150 while the most expensive item, a custom-painted dresser, tops out at $600.
"I have a fiercely loyal customer base that spends about $200 or so each time they visit," Peterson said. "I also get a fresh crop of new customers because my location is unique enough to inspire people to come in."
Peterson re-located her business in January to a spot she's had her eye on since opening: a small, white, 1900s farmhouse, across the street from The Bradford Store. In February, she put up a sign, added some hard-to-ignore decorative sculptures to the front lawn and e-mailed her database of customers.
"They flocked in," she said.
Sandy Osborne of Denver visited the new location last week.
"It's so creative," she said. "It makes you want to convert your whole house to metal art. I just enjoy being in here and looking around."
Curiosity also plays a role in drawing in customers, Peterson said of her N.C. 73 location, which she estimates is seen by thousands of commuters each week.
She also promotes local artists and their services.
"When the economy got bad, I realized people weren't decorating their homes, but losing them," Peterson said. "So, as an entrepreneur, I had to diversify. I couldn't just peddle wrought-iron anymore."
That's when she decided to transform her store into a center for design ideas.
"I decided to team with local contractors, who also were unemployed or looking for work because local home builders were shutting down," Peterson said. "And I thought I could help put those local tradesmen to work by offering their services out of my store front."
Brett Eavenson, a fabricator and artist from Concord, showcases his industrial furniture and fences at the store.
Davidson's Denise Connelly painted the store. She uses the space as a billboard for her talent and her 6-year-old business, DC Faux. An artist throughout her life, she specializes in faux finishing, murals and decorative painting.
Connelly said she appreciates Peterson's support of local artists. .
"By having artists come in and feature their work, I think it features her work," Connelly said. "It creates an environment to show people how it would all work together in their home. She definitely supports local artists. She kind of wants us all to win."
But, to Peterson, it's more than just a home accent store.
"We do interior and exterior painting, flooring, fountains, stonework, pergolas and fire pits, but our specialty is outdoor rooms and wrought-iron fencing," she said. "Opening your own business is not for the faint of heart, but you have to go for it. You have to do what you love."