LEE KLEINHELTER // PIECES
Founded in 2004, Pieces brought to the area a forward-thinking aesthetic—Hampton’s low-key luxury with a mid-century Palm Beach punch—and a sustainable approach to achieving it.
What is your background?
My background is interior design. I was an Art History and Interior Design major. After graduating I worked for some of the top designers in Atlanta. Everything we do at Pieces is influenced by design. The product we sell, the way the store is styled and the projects selected are all centered around design. We rearrange everything in the store each month for a new look. We restyle existing pieces and create custom ones. We select a few projects a year that give us freedom to push the envelope with a look.
Was there a moment in your life when the lightbulb went off and you just knew what you wanted to do?
After finishing design school and working for multiple designers, I had experience from all angles. While working for Dan Carithers Design Consultants in Atlanta, I knew I always wanted to design but in a different way. As a designer your always sourcing product. That for me is what I enjoyed most and at the time felt limited to what Atlanta had to offer. It sounds crazy, but this was before you could hop on the internet and find the perfect table or chair. I spent my life organizing and styling with out realizing it. I never knew opening a store is how I’d ultimately use my experience and natural passion. I looked at it like I knew what I didn’t want to do and tried to determine what am I passionate about. The light bulb went off when I was at a job that I liked a lot, but I didn’t love. I used this as an opportunity to figure out what is it about design I love. Looking back that experience helped me make better business decisions today.
Pieces has such a specific aesthetic, how did that come about?
I never wanted to mimic what anyone else was doing. I wanted Pieces to look like no other store in town. Pieces happened really organically. There is no formula, it’s just very me. I love editing pieces and spaces, transforming them into a completely different look. I have always stayed true to our style.
Once you knew you wanted to have your own shop, what steps did you take to make that a reality?
Looking back I’m sure I’d do things a lot differently, and I did learn a few things the hard way. I spent almost a year building inventory, finding a space (a lot which fell through), designing the concept, logo, and dealing with all the legal and financial tasks. It’s much more expensive than anyone realizes. This wasn’t just a hobby for me, this was a career. I think it’s really important to be able to analyze yourself and learn how to evolve. What we did 9 years ago is a lot different than what we do today. Back then only really large companies had websites. You weren’t on the internet all the time, and you didn’t have exposure like businesses do today. This was before blogs, posts, tweets or pins. Today we’re getting the same recognition as much larger companies.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
I’ve learned always stay true to your concept and business plan. For instance if we are selling a lifestyle, furniture, or accessories, we aren’t also all of sudden going to be selling baby clothes or cupcakes. Stay true to your niche and be different than what’s already out there. If the market is saturated with the same products it won’t be profitable for anyone. You’ll spend much more time dealing with the “business” end of the business than the part you probably went into it to do. I’ve also learned that more isn’t better and bigger isn’t better. Being able to manage what you have and do it well is so important. Always know what your ultimate goal is in your career and surround yourself with employees that truly want that same result. Having a loyal tight knit team is essential.
What has surprised you about owning your own business?
I never realized how emotionally invested I would be in addition to being financially. My husband and I both owning our own businesses (he’s a builder) that can be unpredictable at times feels crazy. There’s always something that needs to be addressed or handled, so be prepared for the unexpected to pop up. You need to able to make decisions and trust your instincts with how to move forward.
What hardships have you had along the way?
I’ve learned a lot the hard way. You can’t always trust people and sometimes you see the worst. It’s not always easy to go through hurdles in business, but it’s made us a better company because of it.
What do you wish you would have known going into this?
I’m very hands on and do the majority of the buying, accounting, social media and behind the scenes business decisions. Going into this I’d never realized how much of the business side of the business we’d be dealing with on a regular basis.
What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?
I’m always looking for ways to improve. I don’t want anyone to ever think I have all the answers. I think raising a family and owning a business is always challenging, but I don’t think its anymore challenging than what anyone else is doing. It helps to know what your good at and focus on that. I think you also have to know when to say no and prioritize your time. I socially don’t do as much as I used to because I am so invested in my business and am so excited to spend time with a crazy 3-year-old after work and on the weekends. It’s all about quality time, surrounding yourself with positive support, strive to be a better person and be thankful.
Highlight of your career so far?
I’m very appreciative of being in magazines and blogs. It validates all the hard work, but the fact that people all over the world like what I do, know the store Pieces, and follow us means just as much or more. I don’t think people realize we’re one store, one website, and three people operating it all and competing on the same platform as large national companies. I love that we’re a small boutique that inspire people, and strive to offer unique pieces. We truly appreciate every follow, like, post, or nice comment. When you do it yourself it means that much more when someone appreciates it.
Best advice you’ve been given?
Be true to who you are.
Any other stories or information that you think is interesting or helpful?
Not only do we sell what we have in the store, we’ll help you find what it is you need. We work a lot with stylists and designers that send us shopping lists, and we are always happy to help find the right piece for their projects. We also have some custom pieces that are really special. Our custom lucite desk has been a perfect addition. Pieces is constantly evolving and growing in the store and out. We have a lot of great new inventory coming in the next few months, and we are wrapping up a really fun project we can’t wait to share!