Jennifer Grayson: Local Savannah Entrepreneur

Jennifer Grayson owns two retail stores here in Savannah: One Fish Two Fish, a home décor and gift store, which she opened in 1998 and The Annex , a clothing boutique, which she opened in 2011. Before owning her stores, she had a very successful career in the fashion industry. One Fish Two Fish has really become part of Savannah’s community and Jennifer’s story is a testament to what hard work and determination can accomplish. I was lucky enough to sit down with Jennifer and ask her some questions.

Pictured: Jennifer Grayson (on right) with her family

 

Her Campus: Did you always think you would start your own business?

Jennifer Grayson: I knew from a very young age. I started working in a Hallmark store when I was 14 years old and I loved the people…I found it fun, you know just meeting the people and I immediately noticed if you made a display or arranged certain things, they would sell…And so I knew I would open a store, from that young of an age, and I also knew I wanted to do that so I could raise my children and not have to put them in day care. And so it was kind of a double sided goal. I knew I wanted to do it because I enjoyed that line of work and then I knew I wanted to be a stay at home mom and that was the closest I could come to. After working at Hallmark, I worked in a Ralph Lauren store. I was probably 17 at the time and I got to fly to Dallas Market, so then I got to see the next layer of what you learn as a retailer. I thought, “this is incredible.” And I just decided the more I could work in different environments, the more knowledge I could gain and so I sort of used my younger working career as school.

 

HC: What inspired you to start One Fish Two Fish?

JG: I had worked many different jobs. I worked as a pharmaceutical rep, I even worked in a vet’s office for one day. I hated it, but had to cross it off the list. I had lived in New York and was flown to Paris to buy Haute Couture for Christian Dior. I knew I wanted to come back to the South and in doing so, I couldn’t think of anything that was going to match the excitement of working for Dior and flying to Paris and being with all the luxury goods…I had set a pretty high bar and so I decided it’s time to open my store because it was the only other thing that was going to- I didn’t want to take any backwards steps! You know, I thought “okay I'll just move forward and create my own world” and that’s when I decided to do it.

Image Courtesy of One Fish Two Fish

HC: What do you think was your biggest challenge with opening up this store?

JG: I didn’t have any money. And I’m not kidding. I took out a loan for $5,000 to do this and every time I would sell $50 and turn into 100 then I’d buy $100 worth of stuff. In 1998 when we started, I would buy old furniture and I would sand and paint it…people would come in and I would have things roped off with wet paint signs all over because I didn’t really have anywhere to put it. I didn’t have a warehouse, so I had to make it work. I made a lot of merchandise myself in the beginning. I also raised two kids in the store. Which now that I look back on it I don’t know how I did it. I did it because I had to, but holy moly, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. I mean I’d have playpens and cribs in the back and rocking chairs…it was amazing. But it kept them with me, which was fun.

 

HC: What has been difficult about running the store?

JG: I think my number one difficulty that I overcame would be… working in retail for so long you learn that every person that works for you, needs to work Saturdays. Every person that works for you needs to work an eight to ten hour day. You have all these rules set about how retail goes which is how big corporate retailers run their shops…I felt like I was missing out on a lot of good people that I was interviewing because they had a different schedule. And I was thinking, “I missing a lot of smart people because I’m stuck in this retail mentality of how to be a retail employee and how I need to be a retail owner.” And then one day I started thinking about it (it took me years to come to this conclusion) and I thought, “I am going to think of things differently.” I’m going to bring in people who are retired, people who are moms, people who can have split shifts. And I kind of thought outside of the box which is not typical for people in the retail world and I decided that I would get those really smart people by thinking in a more flexible way and offering more part time shifts. Because of this, I was able to gain a much higher level employee and different type of worker that brings a lot of really interesting experience to my table.

 

HC: Did you ever feel like giving up? What kept you going?

JG: Oh yeah. I had an employee steal a lot of money from me and I came very close to losing my business. And at that point, I wanted out. I was exhausted. I had two young children. I just thought, I’ll just go work for someone else. I don’t have to wake up at four in the morning worrying about these things. Then I kept thinking that my kids can come to work with me and I can leave for every school event…I thought about how much they were getting from having a mother that was flexible and never missed their events. And that’s what kept me going.

Image Courtesy of The Annex

HC: What advice would you give to students who want to open their own business?

JG: I think you have to really understand how hard you’re going to work and be okay with that. I think so many people walk into a store like mine and they think what a great environment to spend your days in… But they have no idea that I’m wearing all these hats. You know, I’m still dealing with overflowing toilets if the plumbing goes down and picking up trash and you have to be able to do that lovingly and happily because you never know what you’ll be facing in your day…And it looks so glamorous but the behind the scenes of what we do is a lot of hard work. So I think working in the industry and learning as many facets of whatever it is you are going to do is very valuable. I worked as a buyer for a company and did the corporate buying side of things. I absolutely hated sitting at an office behind a computer without any daylight and just watching numbers. I didn’t even see the stuff I was buying, it was all numbers driven. I couldn’t stand that job but it helped me understand how to look at numbers for my own company…just working in so many different parts of the industry so you can put together the whole picture as best you can before you jump in. Because when you jump in, it’s a commitment. It comes with a lot of financial obligation. You have to really know that it’s what you want to do.

Jennifer's story and passion have been such an inspiration to the community. Make sure to check out both of these amazing shops next time you're doing a little weekend shopping!