The Boss Series
Name: Julia Leenig
Business: Future Ancestor
Sector: Home Goods
Location: St Louis, MO (Brick & Mortar Store)
^ This one… I mean, if this isn’t what life is all about… I think I have it all wrong. ^
Okay, so your shop is GORGEOUS!! I want to know all the fun details about your entrepreneurial journey, so let’s start with a trip down memory lane:
Q: Tell me about yourself! Where did you grow up? Take me through your first job and your educational background.
A: I grew up in a small college town in Southern Illinois. My friends and I used to joke that it was a playground; a safe space to run and play and make believe and not really deal with any consequences. I stayed there to go to college and try to make sense of what I wanted out of the world. I worked at my brother’s restaurant and partied (a lot), spending night after night with friends trying to find ourselves. In fact, that’s how I met my husband. He was another local, five years older, that I met in a bar on a Tuesday night. I ended up with an English degree, pursued mostly because I liked reading about people living fancier lives than the one I knew. My husband also had this “taste,” if you will, and I think that’s what drew us together.
After I graduated with my bachelors, we moved to Chicago for me to go to French pastry school. Again, stabbing in the dark for a career, really just accumulating experience that would give me that sense of worldliness that I didn’t get growing up. I ended up working in the corporate food world while my husband worked in corporate retail. It was fine, but my real passion (as silly as it sounds) was creating a stylish life and living space. We moved a lot over the next few years, Chicago > North Carolina > Washington, DC > Chicago (again) > (finally) St Louis.
Q: What were you doing right before you started Future Ancestor?
A: I remember the moment we opened our etsy shop. We had just stopped at a thrift store and picked up what appeared to be a legitimate Eames ottoman. We put up a white sheet backdrop in our living room, took a picture on my bad camera phone, and had it listed for sale in about an hour. We didn’t take it seriously at all, but figured someone would want it and we could make some money. It sold the next day! We caught the buzz and started using our free time to hunt out vintage home decor and sell it for some extra money. There weren’t any rules to it, just like today. We bought what we liked, regardless of designer name (although it is fun when something fancy rolls through), and figured other people would be into it, too. We were right.
Q:How long did the idea of Future Ancestor sit in your head before you started it?
A: The hobby version of our shop floated for about two years before I really realized how much potential it had. I’d constantly try to convince my husband that we should take the plunge into full time. I’d “run numbers,” something I know nothing about, and wax poetic about the beauty of owning your own business, of working together, living our lives on our own terms. Finally, after our first son was born, he caved. Time became too precious, as any parent knows.
Q: Did you start it with anyone? Are you the sole owner?
A: My husband, Brian!
Q: Tell me about your first vision for Future Ancestor. Was it always a Brick & Mortar store?
A: Once we decided to turn our hobby business into our life plan, we tried to just sell online for awhile. It worked pretty well and allowed for a lot of flexibility. We spent all of our time lugging our infant around hunting for furniture, staging product photos in our living room, and learning the ugly beast that is freight shipping.
About 6 months in, I saw a post on Craigslist for a space in an artsy district. We checked it out with plans to have a pop-up for the holidays and left with a year lease. Our little shop opened 3 weeks later. How that happened, I still don’t know.
Q: Tell me about the name “Future Ancestor”. It’s beautiful! How did you come up with it?
A: Our name nods to the past and to the future, allowing our product to fit anywhere in between. Our own style is so fluid that we didn’t want to pin down just one era or genre. It allows for us to grow, but it also allows for our customer to take it as they wish. Our pieces fit with all walks of design and watching that fluidity is one of the most rewarding parts of owning our shop.
Q: Walk me through your emotions starting the business. Was there a moment that you were like “Oh sh–, this is for real!”
A: Oh, so many. BOTH of us leaving steady jobs while we had a BABY was actually flat-out dumb. We didn’t know what we were going to do about insurance, retirement planning, etc. We just got crazy and fed up enough one day and just dang did it! If I would have known then what I know now, I don’t know if I would have had the guts to drag through the mud that we’ve been through the past 3 years. Thank god I didn’t because it’s all been worth it, but damn- it’s been hard sometimes.
On running the business:
Q: Who all is involved in the business? Do you have employees?
A: Before I had Archie (baby #2), we hired a shop girl and it’s made our lives so much better. Brian and I used to just take turns running things at the shop, which worked until it didn’t. Now we can actually do things like have a birthday party for our son on a Saturday and both be there. She’s worth every penny.
Q: Tell me about your gorgeous furniture and handmade goods. Where do they come from?
A: The vintage comes from estate sales, yard sales, junk piles, flea markets, friends, people off the street- you name it! It really is a constant hustle. As for our other goods, we source them from makers that we feel good about supporting. We don’t care about big names (in fact, the opposite) and prefer to work with people who are like us- just starting out, passionate about what they do, and have a great eye for design.
Q: How different does Future Ancestor look today than how you envisioned it? Have you had to adapt at all along the way?
A: I can be incredibly impatient. I constantly envision our shop in a bigger space with much more inventory, with a staff, with bustling online sales, and me just spending the day styling, taking pictures, and hunting for treasure. I like to think that every day we are getting closer and closer to that scenario.
Q: What comes the most natural to you in running the business?
A: The aesthetics is what drives me most about our shop. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in styling our product or buying beautiful things that we forget to think about everything else that goes into a business. Luckily, there are people in the world to help you and I’m enjoying learning it all myself, too. Making those baby steps, but there’s still so much to learn.
Q: What’s the most difficult for you, and how do you address it?
A: I think patience is the hardest part for me. We’ve essentially built our whole business off of that first sale, slowly growing and building our brand one piece of merchandise at a time. Our sales continue to increase, which is really all we can hope for, and we keep getting better, but it can feel very slow.
Q: Tell me about that feeling right after the first sale.
A: That “woah, this could actually be something” feeling can fuel you like nothing else. It is still what keeps me going!
Q: Give me an idea (percentage-wise) of how your time is allocated towards the business.
A: This is a hard question since there are so many small minutes that just add up to my time spent on F/A, especially with a baby currently in the picture. It feels as if I’m constantly answering an email, sending an invoice, looking for fresh inventory or inspiration, brainstorming with my husband about next steps, or editing pictures. One of the main reasons we jumped into this way of life is because it would allow me to take that time to be with our kids while they were young and to do it all on our own terms. Some weeks, the kids cooperate or we have more help and I get to pour a lot of time into the shop, other times they need me to be be their nurse, their teacher, their playmate. Luckily, there’s usually room for most of those things to happen, but finding that balance is something I struggle with daily.
(Side note- thank you, Julia, for your answer on this. Your response resonated with me on every level!!)
Q: Your go-to system for your business?
A: We should be way more sophisticated, but we use the GoDaddy bookkeeping software and just track our sales through square.
On balancing family:
Q: Tell me a little bit about your beautiful babies ☺
A: Oh, my babies… the grounding force behind it all. Henry is 3 and Archer is 4 months. I didn’t ever really imagine myself to be a boy mom, but now that they’re here and they’re mine, I can’t imagine anything else. Both so sweet, so silly, and so much like their father I could die. I can’t wait to see what they become. They already surprise me every day.
(Side note- I cried reading your answer on this one. Seeing your tone change from business owner, to a mother so incredibly in love with her children, in just a few sentences. It reminds me of how many hats we all wear 🙂 )
Q: Let’s not forget your husband, haha. How long have you been married?
A: We’ve been together for 10 years and married almost 4! We truly grew up together.
Q: Does your oldest get involved at all in the business?
A: Henry likes to sit at the counter with a calculator and punch numbers occasionally. When we were first opening and spending late nights at the shop, he’d sleep in the bathroom in his pack-n-play. Now that he’s bigger, he likes moving chairs or side tables around, just like he sees us do. He’s sat patiently through magazine shoots and also been taken out of the shop in toddler tears. It truly is our other home, for better or for worse.
Q: What, if anything, do you want to show your children about entrepreneurship?
A: I hope they see that it is HARD. I think there’s a lot of glory that gets projected onto entrepreneurship stories and it’s very easy from the outside to just see the fun stuff. I think our kids will definitely have a more realistic picture of what owning a business looks like than I did.
Q: It takes a village, right? Who are your biggest supporters?
A: Our families, even the ones who don’t totally get it, have all been supportive and proud of us, which means a lot. Our biggest supporters, though- the ones that keep us going- are our customers, big or small. Their enthusiasm is what keeps our morality high.
Q: What does a successful day look like for you between being a business owner, wife, and mother? How often does it happen?
A: Ooof. I’d say a successful day includes hitting all the markers- making some money, spending time with the kids, and getting a second where Brian and I can laugh together and connect. We don’t always hit that trifecta, but we try.
Q: Sigh… sometimes I feel like I can never escape my to-do lists between everything that needs to be done. Tell me about how you unwind with everything you have going on.
A: I take a bath almost every night to just stop the day and quiet the noise. Most days, it’s the only 20 minutes I get alone and man, it’s nice.
On advice for the creative dreamers:
Q: Your one piece of advice to someone just starting out?
A: Stay true to yourself and your brand. Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Pick your thing and do it well.
How many of you just found a new virtual best friend?! How can you not just adore someone as level-headed as this?!
If you’re in the St. Louis area, please be sure to stop by Julia and Brian’s beautiful shop! You can follow along and support them with the website and social links below 🙂 If there’s something you love from the store and you’re not in the area, ping Julia as shipping may be arranged.
Huge THANKS to you, Julia. I am SO so so very lucky to have met you 🙂
All my love to you and your beautiful family,