As the world shuts itself in to wait out a pandemic, people are investing in their homes – and their art. Stellar Villa has found success with its hand-drawn custom art, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Here’s how Patrick and Laura Connelly are facing an uncertain world with a personal touch.
Do aesthetics and business have an important place during a pandemic? Patrick Connelly believes so. Mere months ago, he and his wife Laura founded Stellar Villa, a wall art company located in Brooklyn, New York, that’s best known for its custom pet portraits. Patrick runs the company while Laura creates the decorative images.
“We actually started the business at the onset of COVID-19,” says Connelly. “It was a frightening time with much uncertainty, as little was known about this new virus that was circulating – and with the quarantine orders, many people were losing their jobs. Laura and I both wanted to create our own business that could provide us with freedom and financial security, but we also questioned if it was the right time. We wondered if people would be willing to purchase artwork at such a time, as it hardly qualifies as a necessity.”
After some debate, the couple decided to proceed full steam ahead, and they have no regrets.
“I believe the city-wide lockdowns actually spurred people to invest in their homes, and therefore artwork, since everyone was spending so much time indoors,” says Connelly.
Their goal is to help others decorate their homes with unique and custom artwork and to create spaces they love to live in. This is how they’re doing it, with a little help from a couple of credit cards.
This is a tough time to start a business – any financial challenges you’ve had to overcome?
One concern we had was startup costs. We didn’t want to withdraw any money from our savings at the time, in case our other streams of income dried up due to the pandemic. For our peace of mind, we wanted to retain any and all personal cash on hand.
That’s where credit cards came into play and provided us the opportunity to charge our initial costs, without laying out our own money up front, giving us time to start generating revenue.
Since Stellar Villa isn’t the first e-commerce business I’ve started, I’ve come to know the costs associated with running this type of business pretty well.
See related: Should you apply for PPP forgiveness now or later?
And you’ve been charging at least some of the things you need?
Yes. In fact, we used credit cards to fund the initial costs of launching our business. Our major startup costs included accountant and lawyer fees to establish the business and development costs for our website.
With roughly 30 days to pay the credit card bill, this bought us some breathing room, allowing us to generate some revenue to pay off these costs instead of putting our personal money into the business. I find it challenging and rewarding to create a lean business with very little personal funds invested and seeing how large I can scale it.
Which credit cards do you have now and why did you choose them?
My first and go-to card is the Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card. It offers a $500 sign-up bonus (after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening) which I took advantage of and 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with no annual fee. I consider this card an all-around winner for everyday purchases. This card can be used as a catch-all in combination with other business cards that offer higher cash back on specific categories, in order to maximize rewards.
I’ve also had the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, along with the business version of this card. With them, I’ve obtained enough points to qualify for the coveted Southwest Companion Pass, allowing me to have a companion accompany me on flights free of charge for an entire year.
Using credit cards for my business is a strategy, and since card terms are always changing and new cards are being released, I check CreditCards.com often to make sure I’m using the best card for my business purchases.
Points can be used for many things. One great idea is to redeem them for gift cards at the end of the year and send them out to your best customers as a thank you.
What types of expenses do you typically charge?
As long as there isn’t a fee for using a credit card that cancels out any benefit of doing so, I use credit cards for every expense I can.
I always pay for our office-related expenses, such as the internet and electricity, with our credit cards. I have even used services that allow you to pay rent with a credit card (typically for a fee) in the early days.
Paying for inventory with a card is a no-brainer for me, as it allows me to hold on to my money longer, so I can use it to grow the business. I also like to work with my suppliers to establish terms when possible. Instead of paying suppliers the same day I make a purchase, I try to establish terms with them such as NET 30 (when a payment is due in full 30 days after the completed transaction) or NET 60. So, for suppliers I have NET 30 terms with, I will wait until my payment due date and then use a credit card to pay – essentially giving me about two months to pay for a purchase.
I also use credit cards to pay for marketing and advertising. If your credit card earns any kind of points or rewards, it just makes more sense as opposed to using a debit card, check or cash.
Are you usually leveraged or do you remain debt-free?
Being a part of the “student loan debt” generation, I tend to try and remain debt-free. While debt can be a good tool to grow a business, I have been conditioned to hate the feeling of owing money. I do use credit cards, but I also always pay them off in full.
What are the future plans for the business?
Eventually, we’d like to be a one-stop shop for wall art and home décor. However, we have a long way to go in expanding our product lines. Since art is Laura’s passion and lifelong dream, I think we will spend our lives working to make Stellar Villa a household name and a major player in the industry.
What is your advice to hopeful entrepreneurs?
The hardest part is starting. I’ve had so many great ideas but have acted on very few over the years. I tend to spend too much time trying to have everything perfect, but the truth is a business is, and always will be, a work in progress.
There will always be room for improvement. So, instead of trying to make things perfect from the get-go, just jump in and get started. You will learn so much more through doing than endlessly contemplating all the minute details along the way.
Last, but not least, surround yourself with like-minded successful business people. You can learn so much from others that you can then take and apply to your own business, saving you so much time and helping you avoid costly mistakes.
Any tips about credit and money?
Borrowing money is OK and a necessity in some situations. Always be smart and do your due diligence to make sure you are getting the best deal. If you borrow money, be sure you can pay it back – and always have a backup plan if things don’t go the way you expect them to.
When it comes to using credit cards for your business, use them wisely. Always have a plan in place to pay them off and track your spending. Don’t use credit cards as a blank check. They are a great tool to have in your arsenal, however they must be used responsibly.