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Building furniture led Welch to Salt Creek Mercantile - Wahoo Newspaper

Posted on 14 March, 2017 by Stephen R. Greenwood
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Building furniture led Welch to Salt Creek Mercantile - Wahoo Newspaper

ASHLAND – A shortage of coconut wax nearly caused Ashley Welch to panic.

The holiday shopping season was right around the corner, and she couldn’t make more of the candles that have become a favorite at her new store, Salt Creek Mercantile.

“It was at the worst timing ever,” said Welch.

Luckily a fresh batch of wax, which is made from organic coconuts and is cleaner burning than paraffin (a byproduct of oil) and soy, arrived on Monday. Before the 600 pounds came to her door, Welch had already lined up dozens of amber jars with wicks placed in the center, ready to be filled with scented wax.

Candles are just one of the items Welch sells at her new downtown Ashland store, located in an historic building on the corner of 15th and Silver streets that was sold furniture long ago.

Welch opened the store in August and it has quickly become a sought-out spot in this destination town.

“It’s been awesome ever since we opened,” she said.

Initially Welch launched the store as a way to stage and sell the furniture she designs and has made in a shop on her rural Greenwood farm.

“I thought having a store would be nice,” she said. “I could treat it as a showroom.”

As Welch envisioned her furniture in the new space, she had to come up with ways to make the items enticing to customers. Her love of design made the task easy, but as she picked out objects to dress up the tables, she started looking beyond the furniture.

“I thought there’s no reason I can’t fill in the empty spaces,” she said.

A couple of years before she opened the store, Welch had begun researching home décor and furniture trends online. She also saw the merchandise in person at trade shows in Dallas. Until now, though, she had only been a looker, not a buyer.

“The last time I actually got to go and buy things because I had a store,” she said.

The home décor extends from throws and pillows made from natural fibers to service ware to kitchen accessories to decorative bowls and vases. She also added indulgent bath items and then brought in her handmade candles.

She carefully sources manufacturers and tries to buy as locally as possible.

“I just wanted a nice rounded-out offering of items that paired well with the furniture we made, because that’s still first and foremost,” she said.

The candles are among the bestsellers at Salt Creek Mercantile. Customers love the fragrance Welch initially named “October,” a combination of sweet butterscotch and caramel with bit of a masculine, cologne scent.

Welch comes up with the fragrance combinations herself. The No. 2 seller is “Humidor,” which it scented with tobacco leaf.

“I knew I wanted to sell candles, because they go well with a home décor store,” she said.

Originally Welch planned to buy candles, but did not find a local manufacturer that really clicked.

The candles are contained in amber colored jars that emote an apothecary feel. That works well with Welch’s overall vision for the store.

“I wanted that old style general store feel but still a little fancier,” she said. “Upscale, but not fussy.”

In preparation for the store’s opening, Welch built a wall along the south windows to create more display space on the inside of the building. On the other side it provides a window display area where she can indulge another of her talents by creating big, eye-catching presentations.

“I have this dream of becoming a beautiful window display artist,” she said.

Welch has many creative talents. For just over two years, she operated a bakery in downtown Ashland, which she initially named Bittersweet Bakery but later changed to Wallflour Bakery. There she sold mouthwatering pastries and breads.

But the time needed to raise her young family and build a new farmhouse was not compatible with running a bakery, so Welch closed the shop. Later, her creativity turned towards furniture, which eventually led to the new store.

Welch has been designing furniture for the past four years. She began selling it on her Etsy.com site, Salt Creek Farmhouse, in October 2015. Etsy.com is a website where independent makers can sell handcrafted, vintage or custom items.

The furniture-making began when Welch and her husband, Nolan, built a spacious farmhouse for their young family on an acreage on Little Salt Road.

“It all came about now that we had a bigger house than before and didn’t have enough furniture to fill it,” she said.

Piecing together ideas and design concepts from pictures of furniture she’d seen, Welch came up with her first coffee table.

With a little guidance from her husband, who is an electrician and an all-around handy guy, Welch built the table herself.

“It came out awesome,” she said. “I got the itch to design another.”

Welch made more furniture for their home and soon word got out. She started selling a few pieces around the community, which eventually led to Salt Creek Farmhouse, her furniture business.

Welch used every spare minute she had to build the furniture. But it was becoming harder and harder for her to carve out the time needed.

“I still did most of it myself,” she said.

After about a year, Welch reluctantly advertised for help. She contracted with four carpenters who made the furniture in their own shops or homes.

“I brought materials to them, and I still did all the finishing,” she said.

Orders continued to increase until Welch no longer had time to paint or stain her creations. She farmed that work out to her carpenters, too.

Eventually, they could not keep up with the number of orders Welch was receiving.

“That’s when I bit the bullet and took a loan and built a workshop on my property,” she said.

Only one of the original carpenters was able to continue working in the new shop, so Welch hired three new guys.

Things have continued to grow for the furniture end of Welch’s entrepreneurial ventures. She’s added another carpenter, making a total of three full-time and two part-time employees who crank out coffee tables, console tables and dining room tables, along with large wooden wall clocks, which amount to about one-third of the total orders.

“On average we ship about 10 to 12 tables a week,” said Welch.

Now they are outgrowing the shop on Little Salt Road. Online furniture orders are up and the Mercantile is bringing in even more customers. The carpenters are also building small pieces for the new store, including cutting boards and candle sticks.

“Our order for wood doubled what it was last year, but the shop is the same size,” said Welch.

As a result, Welch is looking to build a new shop in the next few months.

“It will be three times the size of the current one, in town somewhere,” she said.

Welch plans keep her carpenters busy with the designs she continues to dream up.

“I have a sketch book full of new designs for furniture, clocks and other home décor items,” she said.

The harvest coffee table, her first design, continues to be the best seller in their furniture line.

“It goes well with the farmhouse look that’s so popular with a lot of different styles,” Welch said.

The bulk of the furniture sales are through Etsy, Welch said. They’ve shipped all over the country and even overseas.

“We sent a living room set to Germany earlier in the year,” she said.

Salt Creek Mercantile is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Welch has purposely kept her store open a bit longer than most downtown shops to allow people the chance to pop in after work or as they’re on their way out for a weekend night on the town.

Welch loves being in the downtown area with all of the other shops and eateries.

“I wanted to be downtown, on the brick,” she said. “I wanted to be where the foot traffic is.”

Welch also loves it when her oldest daughters, Lucy and Olive, can walk to the store after school on the days she works. They are there until Nolan picks them up before getting their youngest daughter, Winnie, from day care.

“That’s kind of adorable,” she said.

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