Teresa Olson worked in a few different fields before starting her business, Olson House. She spent a decade working as an interior designer at an architecture firm, then had her hands in several large-scale government and educational projects. But she always missed the one-on-one connections she’d forged working in retail. She realized she had a deep desire to bring sustainable, well-made home décor products and artwork to her community – and thus, Olson House was born. Today the Shorewood, Wisconsin-based entrepreneur’s brick-and-mortar store features pieces made by Milwaukee artisans and creators, all with a Nordic and Scandinavian flare. While the pandemic presented hurdles to growing an in-person operation, Olson found ways to adapt – including launching an e-commerce site that expanded her store’s reach nationwide.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
Our mission is to uplift thoughtful makers who are working to make the world a more equitable, beautiful and sustainable place. For example, one of our favorite textile partners, Lapuan Kankurit, has created the Aallokko linen towel from traceable materials and quality fabrication techniques. They have partnered with the John Nurminen Foundation’s Clean Baltic Sea Project to advance the protection of the unique Baltic marine environment. A percentage of every Aallokko linen towel sale is donated to their foundation.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
Watching interns who have worked with me grow and thrive in their own careers.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Since 2020, the world of retail has been a rollercoaster. Running a brick-and-mortar during a pandemic, coupled with ever-increasing costs, has been a struggle. All of our partners have had to raise their prices due to the skyrocketing costs of raw materials, labor and transportation. I’ve had to re-think some of the merchandise, get creative with marketing, and offer curbside pick-up of local sales for Covid-conscious customers.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and it is forcing me to analyze all of my business decisions for long-term viability. I’m so fortunate to have an amazing staff who have taken on extra hours to help out when I need to be away.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Pay constant attention to your finances, and invest some of that money – as well as some effort – in marketing as soon as you are able.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I have an amazing support network of family, friends and employees who remind me that humans can be the most amazing beings.
What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?
“Good Day Today” by David Lynch.
Who is your most important role model?
I have several: My father, model Grace Jones, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and singer Bjork. ◼