Nashville, home of the creatives. Musicians are the most obvious, and while this next business owner does sing (Nashville Symphony Chorus), his medium of choice is wood.
Meet Christopher Thompson, founder of CRT Creative.
… Wait, before we get too far into Christopher’s story, we want to let you know that we’ll be giving away a piece of his work. For a chance to win, head on over to his Instagram.
Okay, back to Christopher.
So, Christopher, tell us how you came to Nashville?
I’m originally from Amarillo, TX and went to college at Baylor. After I graduated, I was wanting to do something internationally. I wanted to travel. So, I moved to Uganda for 5 months. As my time there was ending, I decided I wasn’t going to do this long term — but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to live.
My best friend lived in Nashville at that time. We had been talking while I was in Uganda and he was semi-jokingly urging me to move to here. The more we talked about it, the creative environment and the music world, it felt like I place I could really thrive. The more I thought about it, the more it sounded great — so I went.
Tell me about CRT Creative and how it got started?
When I moved to Nashville, it was to try something new. I didn’t have anything lined up for work. I moved and thought I would just figure it out.
I had been doing woodworking stuff on the side, just as a hobby. It was a way to make extra money while I was waiting to go to Uganda, in the limbo period after graduating. When I got back, and still in limbo, it seemed like a great way to make some extra cash.
As time went on, I worked other smaller jobs, then I got an opportunity to work for a woodworking company. Long story short, it fell through, and I thought “You know what, I have enough saved up, I’m going to do my woodworking full time and just see what happens.”
It kind of exploded.
I started online, mainly through Etsy. My friends convinced me to start an Instagram for my business. It helped me to establish a brand for myself. I think the quality of pictures and the overall look of the feed helped draw people to it.
I started crafting Tennessee themed products soon after moving here. It was clear that the people here have a ton of pride in their state. Which is awesome. The Tennessee flag is really cool, it has that tristar on it, and people are drawn to it — I was as well. So I started making more items that featured it.
Then a Tennessee account with 50k plus followers featured me. I gained 1,000 followers in one day. From that point forward my business really took off, thanks to that extra exposure.
A lot of my larger items you see are my local commission pieces. It’s fun because I get to collaborate with people, help them make the project that they want. That’s my hope — that my business grows to involve more of those larger custom pieces. They’re just so fun to make.
Having done this for 2 years, what would you say is the hardest part of running a small business?
Oh gosh. One of the hardest things for me has been developing the systems that work. I didn’t really begin the business thinking this is what I want to do, or have a 5-year plan. I didn’t start with goals. It started as fun: do it for a year and see what happens.
In my first year, I was doing a lot of things that were made-to-order. All items I had made before, but I would be making it again as soon as someone ordered it. I had a regular flow of orders so I was essentially always playing catch up.
My second year I changed my system. I knew which products were going to sell, so I started making the most popular ones in bulk. Well, as much “in bulk” as you can with handcrafted items, but making 5 or 6 of the same items at a time.
What is the most rewarding part of your business?
The whole reason that I do this is that it’s awesome to know that people want to buy your artwork. It’s stuff you’re creating. Something you create that someone else values and wants. It’s amazing.
I’ve also always loved working with my hands, and I’ve explored a lot of forms of art. I would draw and paint as a kid. Make random things. But there is something about woodworking that’s always appealed to me. Getting to explore that for a living is incredible.
Not to make the conversation, weird… but we saw that you had cut off part of your finger? Do you mind if we ask about that story?
Hah, yes — I did. It was the craziest time. It was in December, so the height of all my Christmas orders. I think I had 70 that I had to complete and ship out. And, yea, I cut the tip off with my table saw. It was a really careless thing. I think that when you get really comfortable with your tools you let some of the safety precautions slip. So that stopped all of my production for sure, but I’m okay now. It took about a month to heal and was sensitive for much longer. Now I don’t even notice.
Don’t try that at home, readers. So, moving right along. What is the best financial advice you’ve been given?
It’s not so much advice I was given, as the way I was raised. We never spent money on things that weren’t needs. If we really wanted something we had to work for it, earn it. We were taught the value of money and knowing the difference between a need and a want. I’ve always been on the frugal side of things, so I’m not a big spender. Which is great for starting a business.
Final question. What do you love most about Nashville?
The creative environment. There are so many opportunities for people to create in different ways. I love that.
Also, there is always something going on in Nashville. Always some event going on. People always say its a big city with a small-town feel, and it’s true. I love it. I’m not really a big city person, but Nashville has so much to offer without feeling like a big city.
Remember, we’re giving away one of Christopher’s items. To enter, and read the complete competition rules, head on over to his Instagram.