When Jerina Vincent realized she either had to go online or drive to Madison to find a variety of handcrafted gifts, she was inspired to open her own store in Verona.
JNJ Craftworks, which opened in September in Prairie Oaks Center, supports dozens of local artists by selling their handmade items and providing them with a space to teach others through classes like basket weaving and embroidery.
Along its walls are fine art paintings, artificial floral arrangements, pottery and T-shirts (including Girl Wonderful and licensed Badgers and Packers gear), and its shelves are full of handbags, coffee mugs, doll clothes, baby products, organic skincare and soy candles.
Vincent, the store’s only employee, also makes and sells her own greeting cards, hair accessories and jewelry.
“I am very crafty,” she said.
She hopes the store’s presence will help foster creativity within the community, and one of her goals is to invite area students to sell their artwork there one day each year. One of its rooms can also be rented out for parties or meetings.
JNJ Craftworks is always looking to represent more local vendors, who can either pay the store a monthly rental fee, a percentage of the cost of its sold goods or a combination of both.
The store’s inventory is “constantly changing,” especially with each season and holiday, and its 50 vendors (two of which are teachers in the Verona Area School District) bring in new products at least once per month.
“Once they make it they bring it,” Vincent said.
She said people often come into the store looking for something “one-of-a-kind.”
“That’s what I’m hearing from the customers, it’s affordable and it’s handmade,” she said.
Before opening her own business, Vincent had been a job recruiter in Fitchburg. In that role she was expected to talk almost “continuously,” which became physically difficult with a TMJ disorder that affects her jaw.
With the full support of her husband and young daughter, Vincent decided to quit her job in June 2015 and pursue a new career path.
“My flash of inspiration was simple,” she wrote on her website. “If we didn’t have my kind of gift shop, why don’t I open it myself?”
Vincent, who holds a master’s degree in business administration, gained retail experience last year while working at Walgreens in Verona and taking online courses to learn how to sell crafts.
“I loved it,” she said.
Since photographing new products and posting them online can be difficult and time-consuming, Vincent determined that having a storefront was important for her crafting business. However, she still updates her website weekly.
As a marketer she also spends time browsing websites like Pinterest and encourages vendors to “keep it trendy” by offering hot selling items, such as crocheted bun hats.
“I tell people, ‘This is selling good,’ ‘this is not’ and then ‘make this,’” Vincent said. “All of (them) take custom orders, too.”
And every booth has a story, like the recycled mitten display.
“She (the artist) always looks for wool products,” Vincent said. “If you have an older sweater, give it to her (and) she’ll make a mitten for you.”
There are also paintings from a Plainfield woman who can no longer see, wood art from a 75-year-old Janesville man and essential oil diffuser necklaces from a Paoli woman who used to teach kids with autism.
“Everything has their label of whoever makes (it),” she said. “Ninety-nine percent is all handmade.”