(Mark Stowers, Nov. 10, 2017)
Ferndale, MI – As an artist and construction worker, Tiffani and Chris Best didn’t plan on learning and teaching business skills. But they’ve been educating business owners since they opened the Rust Belt Market several years ago in Ferndale. The former Old Navy building was transformed into an open-air market for creative vendors and vintage collectors to come and show their wares. Over the years, infant businesses, somewhat established enterprises, and those just needing more exposure have come through, grown, matured, been fostered and have “graduated” to brick and mortar businesses of their own.
“We’ve been around since May of 2011,” Christ Best said. “It started with 70 independent set ups. The idea was to bottle an art fair. We went to a handful of art fairs and my wife and I were inspired at how many people were out there in the midst of and just after the recession who were grinding and hustling and using their skill sets to try and make a living.”
The Bests saw how cool the collective of artists were and how they were synergistic. They decided to find a way to offer this on a more consistent basis, as well as to create a business that would let them use their own artistic skills. They’ve been delighted and surprised at how many businesses have flourished along with them.
HUDSON INDUSTRIAL FURNISHINGS
Dave Hudson of Hudson Industrial Furnishings on Hilton in Ferndale, had been making industrial furniture in his spare time while working in the digital effects industry and selling pieces online out of his garage. After putting his pieces in a few art shows, he decided to take the plunge by getting a space at Rust Belt in 2012. While there he began learning more about sales and business too.
“I primarily make furniture from steel and wood in an industrial style,” He said. “I do a lot of commercial installations in bars and restaurants but do some residential. Rust Belt was a great space and great location. I wasn’t a customer service person but being there working on weekends you learn how to talk to customers and how to do business. You talk to other business owners and learn all the other crap you don’t want to do like taxes and all the things that go with running a business.”
Hudson got his on the job business training at Rust Belt and recently opened a brick and mortar store on Hilton in Ferndale.
When he’s there working in his 1,000-square foot space, he’s open but he shuts down to deliver pieces
“It’s by appointment but I’m usually here five days a week. I’m open if the lights are on,” he said.
DETROIT SURF COMPANY
The Detroit Surf Company had been around since 2005 creating custom t-shirts and then morphed into creating paddleboards and skateboards. Living part time in Hawaii, Dave Tuzinowski sold his Detroit Surf Co. t-shirts out of a backpack while surfing. That evolved into a full line of apparel.
“Somewhere around 2010 we started making stand up paddleboards and then a branded snowboards and skateboards. We stumbled upon the Rust Belt and I thought we should come in and sell our apparel,” Tuzinowski said.
After putting in his application, Tuzinowski got a quick call from Best and began their partnership.
“We had a Spartan spot at first. We didn’t really know what we were doing with display and retail. So, we fumbled our way through it the first couple of years,” Tuzinowski said. “Then we reinvented it into a nice spot and sales were always good. But then it was time for us to take the brand to the next level and make our own store.”
He began with a pop-up store in Detroit but was displaced and moved across the street into the Auburn Building where he set up shop at 4240 Cass Avenue.
The Collected Collage began when Michele Longo found antique and vintage pieces of jewelry and resold them at fairs and outdoor markets. After having to set up and break down so much, she wanted to find a more permanent set up and happened up on the Rust Belt Market.
“I started off selling there as a temporary vendor for the holidays in 2013,” she said. “I expected to leave but I ended up being an employee of theirs in January of 2014. I started managing all the vendors for them.”
In addition to managing she was working in Ypsilanti and eventually that grew into her opening a shop in Rust Belt.
Now she is opening a shop in the Kerrytown Market in Ann Arbor as part of a market.
“It’s an upgrade. My shop is a lot bigger and I’ll be open seven days a week,” she said. “I really wanted to expand and sell more than just vintage jewelry.”
Cyberoptix was an established business by Bethany Shorb selling online orders of her hand designed ties since 2005. Her decision to join Rust Belt was to establish a tie to local retail.
“We were at Rust Belt Market for about three years,” Shorb said. “We will be celebrating our one year anniversary of our store on November 11. We realized a product line of exclusively offbeat ties and scarves might not be sustainable for a stand-alone brick and mortar shop. We’ve expanded our product line a thousand-fold.”
Shorb added the Well Done Goods to her business umbrella and “now make in house just about any item you can put ink on or laser cut. We even have our own line of jewelry now.”
Cyberoptix, located at 1440 Gratiot Ave, 1D in Detroit, now has 25 employees working in production, filling orders and staffing the retail store on Gratiot. And she’ll be back at Rust Belt for their Holiday Pop-Up that runs from December 15 through the 24th. She also has acquired a 1980s 15-foot Grumman Step Van to create a full mobile boutique so she can participate in summer festivals and events. They wholesale to over 450 boutique and museum stores include the Museum of Natural History and the Library of Congress gift shops.
The Rust Belt Market may not seem like a “business school,” to those walking through and enjoying the eclectic art and locally made products, but seeing so many “graduate” to new levels of success shows the value of getting real world experience and support in an environment where others are doing the same.
Rust Belt recently won several awards from the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce, including Business of the year.
Learn more about Rust Belt Market at http://www.rustbeltmarket.com.