Business

Candice Luter Designs builds up her home decor business, with help in a time of need

'I inherited a bunch of sisters'

Candice Luter's #x201c;Lyric#x201d; design with a wood accent knob hangs on a wall in her home on Saturday, March 7, 202
Candice Luter’s “Lyric” design with a wood accent knob hangs on a wall in her home on Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Photo by Liz Zabel)
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When Cedar Rapids entrepreneur Candice Luter opened her laptop to find an email from a buyer for a popular furniture and home decor retailer, she couldn’t believe it.

“At 35, I had my first hot flash,” Luter recalled, laughing.

Since 2014, Luter has been designing home decor pieces, previously under the name Remnant and now under Candice Luter Designs.

Her business began as an in-home, shabby-chic hobby, using remnant scraps of wood and fabric to create furniture, art and decor, which she primarily sold locally at farmers markets.

When she put her work on Etsy last year — at etsy.me/2QszQ8V — her business took off. Now she’s being featured in magazines, receiving large commission orders and selling her work through popular retailers.

“It’s been a crazy whirlwind,” Luter said. “It went from being this hobby to something real. It’s been an interesting — and frustrating — journey to find my lane.”

In the beginning, Luter found herself losing money and wasting energy trying to keep up.

She watched other people finding their niche and felt jealous. She was “spinning her wheels,” she said.

It wasn’t until she started making art for herself and her own home that she found her sweet spot, currently in trendy macramé — a knotted textile — designs. She began selling her work on Etsy and entered an Etsy design contest, of which she was a finalist.

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She also recently was featured as an “Etsy Maker to Support in Honor of Black History Month.”

With her designs gaining traction on the platform, Luter began receiving inquiries from art curators for hotels, Netflix producers, magazines such as Midwest Living.

“It’s funny how things work out,” Luter said. “When I started being more positive and praising other people’s success, I found my lane.”

But it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows.

As her business has taken off, so has the pressure. Business inquiries, unread emails, orders that needed to be packaged and shipped began to pile up. Luter struggled to balance her “side hustle” design business with her full-time job at interior design business Storey Kenworthy and single motherhood of a teenaged daughter.

“There’s the reality behind the scenes,” Luter said. “I have anxiety every day and feel like I can’t do this. Some days I work at my full-time job all day and then I’m in my warehouse (in Hiawatha) until midnight.

“There are a lot of days where it’s not fun and I really want to quit.”

In a moment of pure exhaustion and defeat, Luter turned to Facebook, where she shared a raw and vulnerable tear-filled video, admitting her fatigue and fears. Messages poured in from friends lifting her up and asking what they could do to help.

Some said they were coming to help right then, despite how late it might be.

“When I came out and said I needed help, people came out of the woodwork,” Luter said. “Cedar Rapids has such a tight community. People just wanted to help. They wanted to see me succeed.”

Knowing she couldn’t continue at this pace on her own, Luter decided to hire a crew of paid part-time staff. She’s since hired 15 women to her team, many who work full-time jobs of their own but wanted to “get behind another lady boss” or pursue their own purpose, Luter said.

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One of the first to reach out was Angie Toms, a former client turned friend. Toms works full-time at LimoLink as an office manager but, especially now that her children are grown up and “don’t need (her) as much,” she said she was “looking for (her) sense of purpose.”

Luter is “creative, fun and inspiring. She’s a real go-getter. And she really wants to empower us to do more, to push ourselves on the creative side. She’s creating a community and bringing women together to pursue their passions,” Toms said.

Another early addition to the team, Lindsey Mosley, has known Luter since elementary school.

“I wanted to be her one day,” Mosley said with a laugh, adding that she also runs her own home decor business, CraftBox by Lindsey. In addition to helping a friend, Mosley saw the opportunity to work with Luter as a way to learn other skills.

“It’s definitely a women helping women environment,” she said.

“I wanted to help fulfill someone’s dream,” agreed Andie Porazil, who works at the Daisy, a Cedar Rapids consignment store. “We like her vision and I can’t wait to see what she’s up to next.”

Since Luter hired her staff in January, she said she’s already feeling some relief — having more time to spend with her daughter, getting an occasional wink of sleep and shifting her business out of her home life — but she hasn’t completely eliminated the pressure.

“I’m so terrified I’m going to fail, but I know at the end of the day I’m standing in my own way,” she said. “I don’t want to mess this up and I don’t know what could happen from here.

“I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going, but every day I’m going somewhere. Underneath the fear I feel the winds changing. I feel the momentum building.”

“There’s a lot of ebb and flow to the business,” Toms said. “She’s relieved some of that stress so that she doesn’t have to be here 24/7 and spend more time with her daughter, but she still works late nights.

“It’s a grind. It takes a lot of hard work to get where she is.”

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One thing Luter does know is that she now has the opportunity to empower and support other women the same way they’ve supported her.

“It’s like I inherited a bunch of sisters. I tell them all the time, I’m not their fearless leader, and it’s not just about me. This is a ‘we’ thing,” she said.

“I want them to be excited about their own passions and to push them to improve on skill sets they’re interested in. I want to show them it’s OK to fail and fail hard. You’re never going to feel ready, but you just have to jump in.”

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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