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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Pine and Paint marks memories with hand-crafted wood signs by Ft. Mitchell entrepreneur

By Vicki Prichard

NKyTribune reporter
Michelle Westfall's creations are increasingly in demand for weddings.

As a young mother of two children, Michelle Westfall knew she needed something for herself.

“I needed something where I could just sit down at night and have a creative outlet,” says Westfall.

That “something” turned into Pine and Paint, a business that now has Westfall selling her custom wood designs not only locally, but shipping them to customers across the country. To date, she has sold 1,357 signs through her Etsy Pine and Paint shop, and hundreds locally through craft shows and individual orders.

“Weekly, I’m getting about fifteen orders, and that’s just Etsy orders,” says Westfall. “People who know me will just message me with an order.”

Westfall at The Prickel Barn
Crafting the business
Pine and Paint evolved as Westfall, who lives in Fort Mitchell, sought balance between being a business owner and a mom. She began by building and painting furniture, but quickly found that that was too time consuming and difficult to do with two small children.

 “I needed something that I could do upstairs – do at the dining room table – with them,” she says.

So, she took her love for hand-painted wood signs and set out to learn how to design them herself.

“At first, I was so bad at it,” says Westfall. “I had to do so much research to figure out how to do it.”

Once she had the design part down, the rest was easy. A self-professed “daddy’s girl,” Westfall learned to master power tools from her father, Bob Zerhusen, also of Fort Mitchell, who builds decks, and now houses, through his own business, B Zerhusen Home Improvement.

When she was a student at Beechwood High School, Westfall earned money to pay for her car by cleaning and sweeping her father’s work sites.

“When I first started doing furniture, dad taught me how to use a miter saw. I was terrified at first because it was so big,” says Westfall. “My dad jokes that he thinks he lost so many tools when I started doing woodwork.”

Now, with kids in tow, Westfall is a regular customer at Home Depot where she says the workers chat with her children. She purchases four by eight sheets of plywood then cuts the wood down herself to the various sizes she needs for her signs.

Next steps involve painting or staining the wood as the backdrop to the lettering and messaging. Westfall initially created stencils through a Cricut, an electronic cutting machine which cuts letters, shapes, and phrases, on products such as vellum, paper, cardstock, or vinyl, but has now uses a commercial grade vinyl cutting machine, which has increased efficiency.

On average, Westfall receives 30 to 35 orders per week.

Westfall says creating signs that her customers hang in their homes makes her feel like a special part of family memories.
Small businesses, big sense of community
Westfall says she’s found the small business community to be supportive in that other businesses refer clients to her.

“Kelly Burns [Kelly Burns Woodworks] always refers people to me,” says Westfall. “He does laser engraving.”
The camaraderie between business owners is something Westfall appreciates.

 “I really do get a lot of referrals from people who do similar things,” she says. “And it’s been neat to meet new people, too, because as a stay-at-home, I don’t get to get out and talk to a lot of people, so I connect with people through the business.”

Westfall says she makes a point to use local businesses for her products as well.

“I go to Boone-Kenton Lumber for my frames. I call in my order – I love the owner, he’s so sweet – and they cut the frames for me, then I take them home and cut them to the actual size of the frame that I need,” she says.

Initially, making her mark on the broader, global marketplace of Etsy, which focuses on handmade or vintage items, was a challenge.

“I do my business on Etsy, where wooden crafters are a dime a dozen, so it’s hard to get your stuff out there and get noticed,” says Westfall. “There are people with thousands and thousands of sales on Etsy, and the more sales you have, the more you show up in searches. When I first started it was hard to get going.”

Some of her work is going to clients as far as England.

“It’s funny, I thought it was Cleveland, Ohio, but it was in England,” says Westfall.

“The shipping was $75, and I thought, ‘why would it be $75 to Cleveland, Ohio? Then I realized it was going to England.”

She says many of her clients are in California and Texas.

“Those are my two biggest states,” she says.

Westfall's growing small business in Fort Mitchell is finding customers across as far as England.
Nuptials and memories
Westfall’s signs have increasingly become an in-demand item for weddings.

“The big thing now for weddings are large wood guest books for guests to sign for couples to hang on their walls instead of traditional guest books, so that’s been huge, and also my ‘welcome’ signs for weddings,” says Westfall.

Westfall has shown her hand-crafted signs at The Prickel Barn, a new privately-owned wedding and event venue in Verona, situated on a 200-acre farm, which she describes as “gorgeous.” Her custom wedding guest books are among her hottest commodities, she says.

For brides and wedding planners, Westfall’s small business allows for a quick turnaround on her product, and that can translate into peace of mind for clients.

“I think the biggest thing is that, because I’m still so little, my processing time is seven to ten days, and a lot of shops are six to seven weeks,” says Westfall. “Most people don’t want to wait that long when they order something.”

Westfall says she finds a particular satisfaction in creating signs with family names. The signs feature a family name along with significant dates.

“I love seeing all the names with the dates, and it’s all generations that I make them for,” says Westfall. “They’re my favorite because I feel like I’m involved in a special moment for them. And then they hang it in their house and see it every day. It feels special.”

Westfall says she draws creative inspiration from designers like HGTV’s Joanna Gaines.

“From a creative standpoint, I love Joanna Gaines, and farmhouse style,” says Westfall. “My mom and I love to go to the Burlington Antique Show. I love to find things that look old and are distressed and worn. I think they look cozier.”

Westfall says she’s begun creating 10 to 15 signs each day – the number contingent upon the how long her children nap. She says she’ll soon begin making signs for 2018 holiday craft shows at Ryle High School and Cooper High School.

“I hope to do more this coming season, but I just don’t know how busy I’ll be,” she says. “It’s a fine line between balancing the kids and the business.

One of the learning curves as a small business owner is setting boundaries. Westfall says she’s learned the importance of knowing when she needs to say ‘no.’
She still finds that her best work time is after her children are in bed for the evening.

“At night, I stay up way too late, but it’s my time,” says Westfall. “You pay for it in the morning, but it’s worth it. After a long day, the kids are down, and you can sit down and do something that you love, and that you’re contributing financially to the family. And the kids see their mom is doing something productive.”

Westfall's learned the craft of woodworking from her father.

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