We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Spencer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mary, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
My husband and I are in business together. I probably was the driving factor in wanting our own business. It’s just something I’ve dreamed about since I was little. I’ve enjoyed all the jobs I’ve had leading up to this point, but I always had a yearning to do my own thing. We started in baby steps with Jon starting out in 2007 while I still had a full time job. He had wanted a change in career and was exploring different options. It sort of just fell into place. I handled the business side and he did the creative work. After the company I worked for shut their doors in the location I was working at in the 2009 recession, I secretly rejoiced as now I was given the opportunity to create my own destiny and we then were able to expand our business.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
After 4 years in the military, Jon headed to art school in Atlanta and ended up working for many, many years in the advertising and graphic design field. He decided to try his hand at metal work in 2005 where he apprenticed at a local metal shop then in 2007 we purchased our own equipment and he started creating custom gates, fences and artwork. I went to a liberal arts college with a BFA major in graphic design and minor in painting. I was fortunate to get a job directly out of school with Hallmark Greeting Cards in Kansas City as a product planner and worked with some of the most talented creatives in the industry. I left and moved to Atlanta where I dabbled in prop design working on holiday decor for malls. This was back in the day when malls would go all out with elaborate decorations. It was such amazing and inspirational job! At the time I was freelancing doing all sorts of creative jobs to make money. I worked for floral designers doing weddings and events, I illustrated presentation panels and did faux finishing for private residences. It was such an exciting and terrifying time in my life. I was in my early 30’s, single and living on the edge from paycheck to paycheck. After having such a steady income working at Hallmark, this was the sense of freedom I had always longed for. One of the freelance graphic design jobs I took, led me to meeting Jon who was the art director at the company. We eventually got married and moved to Atlanta as he had a dream of going to motorcycle mechanic school. He eventually did go to school in Arizona, but decided to remain in the design industry for awhile instead. The skills he learned in mechanic school have come in handy and he has rebuilt several vintage cars. During that time, I had various product development jobs at puzzle, game, and stationary companies as well as several years as a graphic designer. Each job helped me learn bits and pieces to becoming my own boss. Throughout my many jobs, I was blessed with the gift of travel and got to experience so many amazing trips within the US and abroad to Europe and China. I saw factories, trade shows, book festivals and many other things which were eye opening and enriching. Among all the wonderful experiences I had working for others, I think the biggest lesson I learned is that job security is not like it was in my grandparent’s day or even my parent’s time. A company can fold as so many did during the recession and so many are experiencing now with the pandemic. If you have your own company, you make your own destiny. It can be terrifying, but also you have so much more control over pivoting directions to keep yourself afloat financially and mentally. We have tried creating multiple brands over the years and have failed miserably at some, and gotten really lucky with others. We’ve met amazing people including famous musicians and actors, other artists and interesting small business owners. Our business doesn’t define us. We are creators. We will change and morph and grow and continue to move forward. Of course we are concerned with making a living, but I am also propelled by pushing myself to try new things just because of the experience. I suppose we could be far more profitable if we stuck with one thing that we know would sell really well, and perhaps someday we will do that, but until then we continue to experiment and push ourselves forward. Isn’t that what life’s about. Learning and growing?
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Though Tucson is not a big place, it’s packed with interesting things and of course great food! I would encourage any visitors planning a trip to come during the gem and mineral show. I love going to the African village with all the colorful recycled vintage glass beads. All up and down Frontage road there are unique treasures. You could spend several days just visiting the show! My other favorite places are the Tucson Botanical Gardens, Miniature Museum, Biosphere and Sonora Desert Museum. There’s also the beautiful Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson where they often have drumming performances. We’d most certainly take a day to visit the Tucson Museum of Art then head over to visit the quaint shops at Old Town Artisans and have lunch out on the patio at La Cocina where hopefully there would be a local musician playing. After that, we’d head over to the Barrio for more shopping, then over to 4th ave to pop in at Pop Cycle. We’d have happy hour nachos at El Charro Café then walk around downtown and get ice cream at the Hub and maybe stop in to see some music at Hotel Congress or a concert at the Fox. We’d catch one of the many farmer’s markets or vintage markets, perhaps at Mercado San Agustin. We could then have lunch at Sais Mexican cafe out on the patio. After lunch we could wander down and look at the cute little shops in the Annex which is made from containers. At some point I would have to take my guest to visit Monsoon chocolates where I’m sure they would want to buy some of their amazing edible works of art to take home and share. A few day trips would be in order to visit Tombstone, Patagonia, Benson and Bisbee and a day of hiking in the beautiful desert. One more of our favorite restaurants is Dante’s Fire.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to give a shout out to my parents who emotionally and financially helped us out during the rough times. My father has since passed since we started, but my mom, in particular, has continued to be our biggest fan always encouraging us, going to all our art shows and showing everyone she knows what we are working on. She’s listened patiently to all of our struggles, given hope when we were down and rejoiced in our successes. We’re very lucky and blessed to have her support.
Other: All of our businesses: The Metal Gardener www.TheMetalGardener / FB: themetalgardener WATTO Distinctive Metal Wear www.wattoonline.com www.wattoonline.etsy.com Outlaw Kritters www.outlawkritters.com / FB: outlawkritters IG: Outlawkritters MaryMSpencerDesign www.MaryMSpencerDesign.etsy.com / https://www.zazzle.com/mbr/238002576242463933