"Take it from me" Q&A with Lions & Rabbits owner Hannah Berry
interviewed by: eleanor Rigby
Lions & Rabbits emerged in Grand Rapids, MI only 2 years ago and has already become a well known neighborhood name. Hannah Berry, the creator behind the art studio & event space, is a leading example to many aspiring female entrepreneurs & the community. she has made the leap from passion to brick & mortar & become a voice at local small business discussion panels. I, like so many of us, want to learn from the best!
Question: Lions & Rabbits is such a unique and fun name, what was the inspiration behind that?
Hannah: Haha, it is a little different. I was a single mom when I started calling my personal artwork Lions & Rabbits. It was kind of an inside joke over the fact I got a large lion tattoo and my daughter had a pet rabbit that was so cute but I wasn't too fond of. Then when I thought about the name and what it could mean from an outsider's perspective, I thought about the diversity within the animal kingdom. Lions are known for symbolizing strength, Rabbits as gentleness but both are beautiful and are known for their ability to do things several other animals cannot.
Question: When you envisioned the boutique before it opened, what was your passion and purpose? What was it that you most wanted to contribute to the community through your dream?
Hannah: It's a funny story, I worked at a bar in Grand Rapids as I was going through school for Art Education. My dreams are still to be an Art Therapist and to open my own practice or work within a hospital setting. With that being said, there are no schools in greater GR that have a hands-on program. I never wanted to teach in a school but when I found out I was pregnant, I was like okay, you cannot survive off a Printmaking degree- (which is very wrong) so I switched into Art Education. Because I'm an overly passionate person, I found working in schools did not cut it for me.
When I was offered the building, it was to be a bar manager for the previous owner. That was also a path I was never going to go down on. Although the previous owner knew nothing about art, he saw my fire and enabled me to follow it. He offered it to me as a studio space and a few months later, whatever I wanted. After he had given up on his conversion, he ended up finishing the major construction on the building and selling it to us.
The building was studio space for myself, yoga instructors and a florist. After meeting with several influential people from CPA's to community leaders, I finally started to formulate ideas on sustainability. Art in Grand Rapids is not a sustainable business. It's appreciated, respected but not purchased like in other larger cities. It's also viewed as "exclusive", but it's not. Because I worked in hospitality for years, I understood this from the beginning. So many people had said to me during my serving career, I'd rather have a night out on the town and a good dinner than a painting, and I didn't understand. This has always been something in the back of my mind as I create, show and market my own work. It's a tough pill to swallow but I know that we, as artists, are the ones that need to change that mentality.
I've always been super community oriented, I want everyone to love everyone. When I thought about the sustainability of the gallery I wasn't thinking about just artists. I was thinking about the community supporting artists. Having someone use the space for a wedding or other events, can create the building's sustainability. Covering the walls with local artists work creates the conversation and hopefully a sale to a collector or maybe someone’s first art purchase that would have never happened otherwise. For now, my mindset has been "continue to serve these incredible artists while making a difference in the community surrounding them."
We recently started selling handmade goods made also by local artists. It's been a fast growing expansion because people understand tangible objects. They are more apt to buy them for gifts or personal use. It's slowly getting there but I have no fear that Lions & Rabbits and the other studios are contributing a change to Grand Rapids art culture. Since I do have a passion for education outside of a school, I have been working with active artists to create programming that is accessible to everyone. We have been hosting several classes that dive into the same material college provides. As these programs slowly grow, we get to see people tighten up their skill levels or just start the experimental process. That is real education.
Question: Being a mom and having your own business is very inspirational and aspirational for many of our readers. How on Earth have you been able to do it?
Hannah: Coffee and community. We have so many people who are passionate about their contribution to Lions & Rabbits that it makes it manageable to balance life and work.
Question: You completed art school while being a mom, that also takes a tremendous amount of dedication, not to mention time management skill. What about art has made it such a driving force in your life?
Hannah: Because I don't know what else life is about besides pursuing happiness and equality.
Question: I remember you once said to me how you wished you had used Quickbooks from the beginning, it has simplified so much of your working process. Can you give us some hints about other tools and resources you think are “must haves” in establishing your business?
Hannah: Haha, meet with someone if you don't know the answers, that's their job, people want to help you. There is nothing worse than going to a tax person and telling them you didn't file last years taxes because you have no idea what you are doing.
Question: I know you mentioned your dream for Lions & Rabbits, but a lot of times we need to diversify ourselves in order to pay the bills. I think how you’ve expanded to hosting weddings and events in order to help support, sustain, and grow your dream is genius. Any ideas on alternative ways small brick and mortars can do the same and help them get more immersed in the community?
Hannah: Like I said, events sustain the business and I'm somehow really good at organizing them. With that being said, we jumped through a lot of hoops, rezoning with the city, more build out, events are not cheap and are time consuming, but they are sustainable. It all just comes down to where your passions are and how many weekends you are willing to give up to help your dreams come true.
Question: You have had the honor of being asked to be a speaker at some local discussions about small businesses and developing Grand Rapids. Can you tell us a little about your experience with that?
Hannah: Everyone wants to be a small business owner so they are great to come talk to people and hear other people's questions and perspective. It helps us grow as well.
Question: You are passionate about making a social and environmental change, what operations and resources have you used that have actually helped you to grow your business and make it more appealing to the health conscious customer?
Hannah: Like I said, it's all about community. My interns are asked to plan events that they are passionate about. I learn so much from other businesses and love to collaborate. You cannot and will not survive if you don't respect other people's passions. With that being said, I make it a very large priority of mine to not step on other entrepreneurs toes, but work with them to create a dynamic difference. When I opened Lions & Rabbits I asked Rebel Reclaimed what they thought because I was so afraid they would be mad at me for selling handmade goods. He said, "Listen honey, you're doing something completely different and local businesses do not survive without other local businesses." That has been my advice to other people and I will always be conscious of supporting the businesses that are cultivating the culture we believe in.
Question: What can we expect to see and be part of at Lions & Rabbits in the coming year?
Hannah: We are welcoming two Art Therapists to our space this year and that's what I'm most excited for. After wedding season, comes ArtPrize. We work with real artists creating a real curated space to show real art awareness. Holidays; repeat.
Question: Is there any other advice you want to give to our aspiring business ladies?
Hannah: Yes, there are five things I would say to women business owners.
1. Be conscious of how you are perceived. With that being said, don't apologize for what you know is right and what people don't like about you, unless it's actually bad.
2. Just because you are a woman, doesn't mean you are given an upper hand. With all the women empowerment movements going on, I feel like a lot of women think things are a lot easier than they are. The respect that I have earned is not only because I'm a strong mom who had a kid and went to school and worked at a bar, it's because I don't f*** around with my passions. I work really hard for very little right now. That's where support, time, and growing experience come into play.
3. There is nothing wrong with making ends meet, it's going to happen. A lot. I have faith that Lions & Rabbits will flourish. That's not just a faith in myself, it's a faith in all the working parts that have made our space a home.
4. Life is good and business is hard but it's a gift you are awarded every day. You have your own choices to make. Don't rely on other people to make them for you, rely on building your army to work with you.
5. Money is only money. Lions & Rabbits has not and will never be founded on making bank or my family getting rich off of it. It's about supporting local artists so they don't have to work two jobs to pursue their passion.
We’d like to thank Hannah for interviewing with us and sharing her experience and advice. Keep an eye out for upcoming events at Lions & Rabbits.