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Small Business Spotlight: Living Sage

Alerus | NOV 22, 2014

Downtown Grand Forks recently welcomed a new addition to its collection of businesses. The store is called Living Sage, and it is the place to go for home décor and gift ideas and for beautifully restored furniture pieces. You’ll also find artwork on display and for sale, all of it created by local artists.

About the Owner

Count Living Sage owner Lisa Johnson among those lucky enough to find a calling early in life. Lisa’s first job as a teenager was in retail, and she has pursued retail business ever since.  In 2013, after years spent looking for ways carve her own niche in the massive wall known as “the retail industry,” Lisa, along with her son Dalton, founded the company that would become Living Sage. The fact that the store’s niche is a blend of home décor, furniture, and art is unique in Grand Forks, but not surprising once you get to know Lisa’s story.

Ask Lisa what inspired her to try her hand at running her own business and the answer you receive will be a quintessentially American story, one that involves family as much as business.  One day Lisa and Dalton, mother and son, saw an old worn down picnic table for sale at one of the many garage sales that pop up around Grand Forks along with the spring’s first flowers.  Sharing a creative streak and an entrepreneurial spirit, Lisa and Dalton decided it would be fun to fix up the old table, bring it back to life, and try to sell it.  Working side-by-side and occasionally butting heads as parents and children do, they refinished the table and turned it into something worth selling.

Realizing how much they enjoyed that first experience, Lisa and Dalton decided to keep going.  They found more pieces to refurbish, and began taking those pieces to flea markets around the area.  As the compliments from flea market customers rolled in, their confidence grew.  The next step was renting space at a local consignment shop where their refurbished items would be featured prominently.
It so happened that the consignment shop itself was a fairly new business, and witnessing its success inspired Lisa and Dalton to think about striking out on their own. They retained a company called Brand Logic to explore the idea of a business plan for a retail store of their own. From there, the dream fell in to place and Living Sage became a reality.

Lisa suggests two things to anyone trying to start a business: “maintain a strong belief in yourself and your idea, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

About the Business

Refurbishing and painting furniture is what started Lisa and Dalton’s venture, and Living Sage stays true to those roots, selling pieces that have been revived after having been tossed aside.  The store also sells a variety of home décor, gifts and women’s accessories.  If someone on your list is hard to buy for, chances are you’ll find something here.

About the Business

What makes Living Sage different than other retail shops is art.  In a tip of the cap to fellow creative types, Lisa makes the store available as “a place for local and regional artists of all types to have a place to showcase and sell their work.”  Painting workshops are also offered, where people can learn to use the chalk-based paint that is used on Lisa’s own projects.

One of Lisa’s goals at Living Sage is to make customers feel like they are guests in her home.  People can freely ask for decorating advice or gift ideas, and bring friends by to see the local art and find the items that can’t be found elsewhere in town.

What’s In a Name?

Lisa says, “Sage has always been my favorite color.  One of the things I have always liked about the term Sage is that it has multiple meanings. Besides being a color, it means wisdom and good judgment (i.e.  sage advice). When trying to decide on a name, I knew I needed to include that. Also, part of what we try to do is live green by recycling furniture and using eco-friendly paint.  Hence the word ‘Living’, which created Living Sage.”

About the Alerus Relationship
Lisa met Alerus relationship manager Mike Helt at an event called One Million Cups, a program designed to connect and educate entrepreneurs.  Lisa was a presenter at the event, and told her story to the crowd. After the presentation, Mike approached and wanted to hear more about the company.  At the time, Lisa was looking for ways to expand and grow the business. She let Mike know that her long-time bank had declined to offer her the loan she needed to fund the growth and she was skeptical that Alerus would be different.

Mike promised to work diligently to come up with a solution.  After a short time and extensive communication, Alerus came through and was able to provide the loan Lisa needed to take the next step with her company.  “Alerus really came through for us and I am so grateful to Alerus and Mike for their help,” says Lisa.

Lisa is a big fan of Business Online, the online banking system for Alerus business customers.  She also cites the responsiveness of Mike and the entire team at Alerus, going so far as to say the service “makes me feel like we’re friends.  I couldn’t have asked for better service.”

Visit Living Sage

Next time you are in downtown Grand Forks, stop in and visit Lisa and Dalton and Living Sage at 416 Demers Avenue, next to Bonzer’s Sandwich Pub.  You can also visit them online  or give them a call at 701.757.2071.

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