Indie shop owner Adrianna Fie has turned a passion for travel and a love for the style and functionality of French cutlery into a specialty online business — The shop features European basics for the home, sourced directly from family-owned businesses and legacy manufacturers where their products are created in factories or workshops. Adrianna took her time traveling to seek out quality, well-designed and sturdy products that complement all homes and make each job they do just a little bit easier. At the end of the day, it’s really Adrianna’s passion and form-and-function curiosity that make a mom-and-pop shop in a sea of unlimited online resources. Today Adrianna shares some personal history and how her beloved Flotsam + Fork came to be.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Early on, I had a strong affinity for the science and the natural world. I was sure I’d grow up to be an archaeologist or an astronomer. Maybe a veterinarian. Over time, though, I realized I liked making things and set my sights on becoming a jewelry maker. Along the way, I developed a very strong desire to run my own business.
What was your career path like?
Well, it started in California (where I’m from) and has taken me across the country (to New York) and halfway back (I live in Minneapolis now). Along the way I pursued a variety of interests — jewelry making, food, retail — and continually sought out opportunities to work with people I admired.
How did you create Flotsam+Fork?
Naturally, it all started with a trip to France in 2011. The kitchen supply stores in Paris absolutely mesmerized me. Later, when I returned to America, I realized many of the products that caught my eye were not easily or readily available here. Basically, I figured I wasn’t the only person who adored French cutlery, so I looked into the specifics of importing from Europe and starting an online retail site. It took a few years to get everything into place, but by 2013, Flotsam+Fork was up and running.
What is the best part of your job?
A lot of retailers would probably say the sales are the best part, but for me the best part of this is receiving a fresh delivery of new inventory from overseas. I still remember when our very first shipment of French linens from Charvet Editions [came in]. There’s this undeniable sense of intrigue and wonder that washes over me whenever I first set eyes on [a] new package, with its European handwriting and foreign language labels. It’s truly magical.
And the hardest part of the job?
Staying focused and on-task. This is my business, so there’s no one telling [me] what to do or asking me to take care of things — that’s on me. I love the independence, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it’s challenging.
What on-the-job tools do you use every day?
We run the shop on the Shopify platform, so that’s the easy answer — whether it’s fulfilling orders, adding products to the inventory, or posting content. The technology is always getting better! When the orders are coming in, though, the most essential tools are my trusty tape-guns!
How do you handle on-the-job stress?
Long walks around the lakes here in Minneapolis and regular trips to Europe.
Do you run a tight financial business?
I certainly like to think so. We pour most of our revenue back into the business and are always working to build on our success and use our available resources to develop the shop and grow our clientele.
What life skills have been most useful in pursuing a career as a creative and a buyer?
I’m an incredibly curious person. Does that count as life skill? I always want to learn more about objects that catch my eye. Where did it come from? Who made it? What makes this special? Combine that with my insatiable appetite for travel, and you essentially have the Flotsam+Fork blueprint.
How do you stay inspired?
The number one thing is travel. Like I said before, Flotsam+Fork was inspired by a trip, and going back to Europe — walking the streets, visiting the shops in my fav cities — is definitely how I refill the inspiration tank.
Who is your ideal customer?
The ideal Flotsam+Fork customer is a curious traveler with an insatiable appetite for discovery… not to mention good food and wine. The kind of person who pulls a knife out of the drawer — perhaps a cute little paring knife she picked up on a trip to France — and [is] immediately transported back to the streets of Paris.
Is it hard to maintain regular customers online?
I would have to say no to that. Obviously every shop is unique, and we’re fortunate enough to have a really strong group of core customers, people who come back again and again. I think the big thing is finding your niche, committing to your vision and delivering a consistently good experience. That’s why we keep up regular correspondence with customers through our email newsletter, and work to keep our social channels compelling. These days, when a shopper can click away to some other site in the blink of an eye, it’s really important to build relationships and cultivate loyalty.
What tips would you offer to new online shop owners?
Do not rush into it. Take the time to really decide what you want to do with your shop. Figure out what your potential customers want and how you can serve their needs. That being said, at a certain point, you just need to start. It won’t be perfect, but you’ll have something to build from.
Oh, and get an accountant to set up your books! You won’t regret the additional investment when tax time rolls around. And finally, ask questions! People love to help and it never hurts to ask. This is something that definitely didn’t come naturally to me, but it’s a skill I have been cultivating. You can’t always do it all on your own!
What is your favorite functional home product that you carry?
I absolutely love our newest French paring knives and regional knives. They are from a new vendor we found after a trip to France this summer. We were looking to expand our line of French cutlery to replace our best selling line that had been discontinued. We found these at a small specialty knife shop in the center of Paris and were so impressed by the quality that we knew they were the ones. It’s such an everyday joy to use a well-crafted knife, and these are no exception.