Growing together through social change
Thomas Tee.jpg

the first year

passion, personal relationships + technology

part 1 of 2: talent + passion

interview by: Eleanor Rigby

I met Thomas Reverman, creator of 5th Season, about 7 months ago when he came to one of our Entrepreneurs! Let’s Network! responsible business seminar and networking event. Everyone brought in an item that was an example of what they did for their company and he brought in this detailed wood carving of a wolf. This very humble and unassuming man just busted out this gorgeous piece of artwork that everyone was wowed by. Signing up as an Indie Flea Grand Rapids vendor was one of his early shows and I’ve had the pleasure of watching the rapid growth of his business. I believe the key to his success is his genuine nature that created an authentically personal and passionate business. He told me that 5th Season is really an extension of himself, and you can see the love that goes into his work. He has created items of beauty and utility and offers them to an audience that is relevant an interested. He has to market his products but he is more easily able to identify where his market is because the extension of his passion automatically attracts him to like minded people. 

My goal in doing this Q&A with Tom is 2 fold. I want to provide first hand experience and things to anticipate in the first year of business to the person that is thinking about starting their passion business or who have already just started out. I also want to further a conversation on how we can bridge the gap between person-to-person and online sales. In creating the Indie Flea events I am advocating that the most important step for a startup business is to go out there an get personal. In my career experience I have seen that people invest in people, not just their products. You can also see this in the movement we have entered towards creating and supporting local, family owned businesses versus larger corporations who we can’t identify with. We want to connect. However, the duality of our time is that we are also in the digital age where the convenience of shopping online is such a huge industry, the success of which we can see in companies such as Amazon. Many people view social media as an unfavorable disconnection from personal relationships, but the truth still stands that society can be found online and showing up there is a paramount opportunity. Thomas advises, and I agree, that businesses should start small, start personal and that will more easily help you transition into the second step of finding the outlets online that are a better fit for reaching your larger audience. Such is our transition from starting the Indie Flea events, local community events that host a variety of talented emerging creatives, to creating our online publication, Ms. Merchant Magazine. This magazine is designed to help those vendors gain a presence of a larger, relevant demographic audience. Even though I am a business advisor, I have learned so much from Tom and my wish is for his experience and knowledge to help others as well. 

Tom, how long has 5th Season been in business and what types of products do you offer?

A: This fall will be about 2 years. I offer a variety of Michigan-themed art, gifts, and designs. This includes things such as tee shirts, decals, coasters, and original art. I have learned that creating a selection of products with different price points opens up your customer-base. 


What or who encouraged you to start 5th Season?

A: My original intent was not to open a business. My first and most popular design is a deer in the shape of Michigan, and it was originally a tattoo design. I went to school in the U.P. and majored in Wildlife Management, so it kind of combined my passion for nature and love for the Upper Peninsula. Friends really liked it and encouraged me to put it on other things, not just myself. The ideas sprung from there. There are a lot of things to do in Michigan, being that there are 4 distinct seasons. We have woods, lakes, sandy beaches, and a mountain range. So 5th Season is kind of like the season that you love the most, whether that be "deer season" or what have you. This kind of opens up to endless creative opportunities since there are so many specialized hobbies and activities in the state. 


How has starting your business and making time to create items you are passionate about effected other areas of your life? 

A: Good question. I have become more relatable to people. I have also developed more of an accepting outlook. If something isn't working, maybe that's not the way it is supposed to happen, or you need to look at the situation differently. Working full time, and owning a business is a lot of work, and sometimes you feel there is not enough time in the day. So I'm working on making time to relax and stay balanced. I think it has also given me insight to what I can improve on. I'm great at creating/making quality products, and not always as great at marketing and business aspect of it.


I remember during our initial conversation you said that one of the most important things for you to do at a vendor show is to be present. You said that when you’re not present you miss the connections with people. My business mind thought, ‘can’t you replace that word connections with opportunities?’ As in opportunities to sell your product. I thought it was perfect that you used that word, connections, because that’s what all this is really about. Can you expand on the types of conversations or the way in which you connect with customers versus hard selling?

A: Connections with people can turn into opportunities; whether that be with a customer, or another business. If someone is interested in my products, it's important to first acknowledge them, and then understand what they want. For example, if I am at a trade show or art fair, I am obviously there to sell things, that don't need to be broadcasted. So, I try to bring people in visually with my display. I also watch how the customers perceive my products. The way you display your products has a huge effect on how much you'll sell. If people are not noticing my products, maybe it's not them but how I have set up. I try to observe the customers, and more specifically, what types of people are buying things from me.  If I am on my phone, I feel like I am missing out on those connections .This also determines what other shows I'm most likely going to sign up for. On that same note, meeting other vendors is another reason I like going to shows. I have met so many people that can create my products for a better cost, or better quality, and I am also helping their business. People are much more likely to offer their help if they feel you are helping them in some way as well. It's common sense, honestly :)

Have you had repeat customers or custom orders from vending at shows?

A: Yes, I have had several. Iv'e seen one lady Mary, 3 times in the last 9 months. I only know her from seeing her at different shows. I do get custom orders from meeting people at shows, as well as insights on other events or places that could sell my products. 


Like you said, these passion businesses are extensions of our true self. The societal atmosphere that we are co-creating is the desire to connect, build relationships and put out into the community our truest offerings. What are some examples of how you have seen that to be true? 

A: I've noticed that a lot of people from the Indie Flea events, hosted by Vendor Exchange group, are really passionate about what they do. No one is making or selling anything they don't feel good about, or don't enjoy sharing. I don't like to sell anything that I am not proud of, or that isn’t quality, and i think that is true for a lot of other people with small businesses.


You went on to say that one of the biggest benefits you found in doing shows was meeting other people and other vendors who you could collaborate with. I got very excited about this because that was one of the main missions of the Indie Flea yet in the past so many people have overlooked it. What are some collaborations you have made with other creators?

A: When you meet other vendors, they obviously specialize in something unique. I think a lot more people are looking for unique products, these days. This is why Etsy has become huge; people are looking for custom-made everything. If someone can produce something for me with my design, it adds to what I have to offer, plus they are usually local, which promotes other small businesses. 


Click below to continue reading our second interview on business selling + technology.