At Work: Maxine Dear’s Pretty Studio Space

Niki with books that will become future Maxine, Dear products

Niki Quinn didn’t really have plans to go into business for herself. She had just finished up a dual degree at The Ohio State University in marketing and transportation & logistics. All logical signs were pointing to her getting a “real job” in a corporate setting, but it didn’t feel like the right move for her. Enter her then boyfriend, and now husband and business partner, Josh Quinn.

He was working on his own in Los Angeles and would come to visit her. On one of his visits, he gave her a wallet he made himself out of an old book, Tiger tree (American language today). It was a nice gift, but an even better idea. Of course, being the prototype, it needed some improvements, but it was a good product and a great way to reuse discarded library books.

Josh wanted to make more and develop the wallets into a product line and business model. Niki wasn’t so sure. But she’s always been the more reasonable and analyzing half of their partnership, while Josh has been the passionate risk taker. He took the Tiger tree wallet back to Los Angeles, walked into Fred Segal and asked for the buyer. The buyer just so happened to be there, looked it over, and took 20 wallets.

“Getting into the best boutique was really lucky for us,” says Niki. “I really credit that moment as what got our business going.”

Niki and Josh put together a business plan and Maxine, Dear was born.

She moved out to Los Angeles to make things with Josh. Their first business purchase was a $50 Huskystar sewing machine from JoAnn Fabrics.

First business purchase

“It could barely sew what we needed it to, but it worked for awhile,” she says.

Later on they made their best purchase, which was an industrial sewing machine. They needed it to keep up with the demand for their wallets. After being featured twice by The New York Times, Maxine, Dear received calls from Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel for their product. At one time, the couple had products in 100 stores. It was hard to keep up, mostly because it was just the two of them, but also because their wallets require a specific kind of book, which was sometimes hard to find.

Going to estate sales and looking through the remains of people’s belongings was wearing them down. They needed another idea. They started making belt buckles that could be made from other types of books.

Best business purchase

Living in Los Angeles was fun, but it got expensive. Their dream was to move to the east coast somewhere and open a shop. Columbus seemed an ideal choice− Niki had gone to school there and had family close by.

They started scouting for retail spaces and found a spot at 17 Brickel St.

At the time (2007), there were not many clothing stores in the Short North. They were opening Tigertree about the same time Maren Roth was opening Rowe Boutique. Niki thought it was something “Columbus was ready for.” It was.

Columbus Underground readers voted Tigertree second Best New Shop of 2008 and awarded them with Best Store for 2009 and 2010.

The space in the alley was hard because of its location off High Street. Niki says now that part of the difficulty was probably also due to the fact they were so young (23) and had things they needed to learn. The space did provide room for them to work on their Maxine, Dear products. It also helped them transition from just doing Maxine, Dear to also doing Tigertree.

They moved Tigertree to its new and current location at 771 N. High St. on March 20, 2008. All the space was necessary for the store, and Maxine, Dear had to move into a 10 foot by 10 foot room in their home.

Pincushion Pig from Grandview Mercantile

Niki and Josh like being in Columbus because it is a place where it is very easy to get involved in the community.

“It has a small city feel, but with a big city culture,” Niki says, adding that it’s very affordable and easy to get around.

Josh has gotten involved in other projects, such as Wonderland, and Niki has taken over Maxine, Dear. She has also diversified their product lines to include jewelry, cards, buttons, and prizes for Tigertree, and started working with Eartha Limited to find books to reuse. They also work with Hollywood Imprints in Gahanna to print their T-shirt designs they sell in-store.

One of the benefits of owning your own business is being able to see a void and act on it immediately. If they feel there is a product they are missing, they can make it or source it and get it done quickly.

She says Suzi West has been a great mentor for sharing business ideas. She also relies on the network of independent boutique and small business owners who have carried Maxine, Dear products. This network is a fantastic resource for advice. They are especially close to the couple that owns Penelope’s, a boutique in Chicago that is similar to Tigertree.

Darling helpers Rufus & June
Watchful eyes
Some of Niki's favorite finds inside old books

Want to start a shop of your own? Niki offers the following as advice: Have lots of confidence and a Just-Go-For-It attitude. Be prepared to work hard and work all the time.

It wasn’t until their third year of having the store that they were able to get someone to help out, and even then it only allows them about a day off. Niki hopes one day to have Tigertree be a bit more automated. Learning to let go a little bit has been hard, but it is refreshing to get some time away.

Visit Tigertree at 771 N. High St., Columbus, OH 43215. 614-299-2660.
The store is open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
You can also Like them on Facebook and Follow them on Twitter.

Love her studio? Check out the rest of the Quinn’s beautiful style here.

Do you know of, have, or work in a creative workspace and would like to be featured in this series? If so, please contact Anne Evans.