Meet Aimée deSimone, Owner of Berte
In this month’s #realshopstories I’m excited to be featuring Aimée deSimone, the owner of an online shop called Berte. Aimée and I actually “met” via Instagram last holiday season and that’s when I started following along her journey as a shop owner. We finally got to chat last month as I interviewed her for this column and let me just say, Aimée is such a delight and so down to earth!
Her story inspired me for many reasons, one of which is that she built Berte while working her regular full-time day job! I know there are probably so many of you who are in a similar situation as Aimée, so I was excited for her to share some insight on what she’s learned and how she’s managed to juggle the two for so long.
This story is right up your alley if you:
Are currently running your shop alongside your day job
Wonder if it’s even possible to do both at the same time
Have or want to start off with an online shop
Are a fellow shop owner and just need some moral support!
Now for a little Q&A with Aimée!
Tell us a little about your background.
For the last 10 years I’ve been plugging away as a television and film producer. I’ve worked primarily in the documentary field, both for network television and independent filmmakers. I studied Marketing and Television, Radio, and Film at Syracuse University and was always drawn to a life behind the camera. Then, I think I blinked and a decade later I was burned out from the stress of constant travel and chasing down stories. A major change was needed, so I started to really examine how I wanted to spend my time as well as the kinds of things that brought me joy. I tested out a few different things (improv comedy, cooking, considering a move down South!) before realizing I wanted to launch a shop like Berte.
So, how did your shop journey begin?
Well, as I mentioned, I got burnt out to the max. I was just RACING through my own life, which I finally realized was unacceptable. I started to think about what made me happy, but also how I could live more presently. I kept coming back to this idea of running my own shop—something I hadn’t thought about since high school when I worked at Anthropologie. I also traveled a ton for work and loved getting to know cities through the local shops. I could spend hours touching all the things and talking to the shop owners. It really got me out of my head. In the process, I had also become a bit of a collector of handmade goods and clean beauty products. I’m such a homebody, so it made sense that I gravitated towards the kind of goods that brought me comfort and a sense of peace. This idea of slowing down through carefully made goods really struck me, so I just kept exploring that concept. And for me, “exploring” turned into an entire year full of research, a 60-hour entrepreneurship course, talking to other shop owners, talking to makers, figuring out who to collaborate with, figuring out how to run a business etc etc etc.
It can be so hard to juggle a full-time job while running your shop. How did you do it? Any tips, advice, or guidance you can share?
Honestly, some days I have no idea. You know that expression “like a dog with a bone” ? That’s basically me. I tend to not know when to stop sometimes, which as we all know isn’t the healthiest thing in the world! But after that first year of R&D and the first six months of running the shop—all while still producing TV during the day—my go go go nature helped lift Berte off the ground. Of course, then I realized I was getting burnt out running a shop that had this mission around slowing down. I was literally operating against the very ideals I was setting out to create. So again, I had to reset. I started to listen to my body more. If I felt like my brain couldn’t handle a night of work after my 9-5, then I didn’t do work. If I looked at my calendar and two weekends of pop ups in a month seemed like a lot, then I’d scale it back. I’m still flying by the seat of my pants, but I’m also actively trying to give myself more of a break. I think the best advice I can give is to not fall into the comparison trap. It’s easy to look at other shops or makers in your space and feel like you’re not doing enough. But honestly, if you’re juggling a full time job and a business, I’m sure you’re doing as much as you possibly can. You’re on your own adventure. Just own it. I’d also like to point out that advice is hard for me to take sometimes!
What would you say are the benefits of maintaining a job while you build your business?
A major benefit has been that I can take vacation days to work on Berte when I need to and still get paid, which is nice. But more importantly, I’ve been able to invest in aspects of my business—the website, photography, affording insurance—that I wouldn’t have been able to had I not been working. I’ve bootstrapped the entire business without any outside investors or loans, so when I’m ready to open a storefront I still have those options to tap into without the baggage of debt.
What has been the most rewarding part of owning your shop?
It’s been insanely rewarding to work tirelessly on something I’m actually passionate about. I’ve spent years working my buns off for other people/companies, so I surprised even myself with how much harder I worked—and how happy I was to do it—when it was my own baby. Of course it’s been even more incredible to see the positive response from the design and maker community, but most importantly from my customers. I cannot express the amount of joy I get when strangers buy some of my favorite pieces in the shop. It’s the best feeling.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Finding my audience in such a saturated space, but also being patient with the process. I am so used to a fast paced environment where I see an immediate response from my work. I would know pretty quickly if something is a success or if it’s missed the mark. So it’s been very difficult to shift that mindset in this more nuanced environment. I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to that. I have REALLY high expectations, so I’m trying to be a bit easier on myself and trust the process. But I’m not going to lie, I think the current landscape of social media has become quite toxic (influencers - barf) and isn’t exactly a friend of small businesses (Instagram algorithm woes - double barf). So I’m really trying to figure out how to get Berte enough exposure without fighting a battle I can’t win.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
When you’re just starting out, if you’re going to go above and beyond in some department, make it your customer service. During my first holiday season I had a couple snafu’s that couldn’t have been helped, but I really pushed myself to swiftly rectify the issue and be completely transparent with my customers. I just have to believe that handling situations like that and treating humans like humans makes a real imprint on people. It’s also the clearest way for your customers to see that the business is run by a real person.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
It’s time to move on once you’ve stopped learning. This is actually advice I received from a former colleague back when I worked in network news, but I think it’s excellent advice for any field. It’s the best way to reevaluate your current situation if you’re starting to feel a bit complacent. Your brain needs to be stimulated in order to grow. I’m no scientist, but doesn’t that just make sense?
What advice would you give your former self or your fellow shop owner who's just starting out?
If I could give myself any advice it would be to operate out of joy, not fear—and also to have more faith in myself. I sometimes get worried that decisions I make could cut the knees out from under my business, and it's just not helpful or true. And for my fellow shop owners just starting out, create a budget and stick to it. You'll thank yourself after your first year.
What are some of the most helpful tools, apps, or resources you've discovered that help you run your shop?
Ooo that’s a good one. Google Drive is my absolute jam (organization nerd alert!). Canva and Adobe Spark Post are great apps for creating polished graphic design elements . . . without the graphic design background. Enlight is a fab photo editing app. Displaypurposes.com is great for generating hashtags—although I feel like I’m rethinking how to use hashtags these days. In terms of resources, I’ve tapped into my local business community which I find incredibly helpful. Heyyyy, Hudson Valley Women in Business!
What does self care mean to you?
Massaging my dog’s velvety ears when I’m stressed. Warm baths, lighting incense, truly natural skincare, a cozy home, chatting with my girls on the group text, spending time outdoors, cheese, natural wine, getting squished by my husband, and sour beers. Oh and saying no, even to myself.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I hope anyone reading this feels a bit closer to me and Berte. Everything in the shop is like a little piece of me and it means the world when people shop and bring a little Berte into their world.
Thank you so much to Aimée for sharing your story with us. I’m excited to see what this next chapter has in store for you. To learn more and keep up with Berte and Aimée:
Want to tell your story?
I’d love to share it! Click the link below to get in touch.