I’m really jazzed about this week’s Monday Muse - Mercedes Austin, Founder and Owner of Mercury Mosaics. Not Familiar with Mercury Mosaics? I’m sure you are, you just might not know it. Mercury Mosaics is a hand made ceramic tile company based in Minneapolis. Been to the Bachelor Farmer Cafe ? You’ve seen Mercury Mosaics. Follow Morgan of Construction 2 Style? Her kitchen backsplash is Mercury Mosaics. Stayed at (or dream of staying at!) Eichler Palms in Palm Springs? Yep. Mercury Mosaics. I could go on. They create art with tile. Truly. And Mercedes is the woman in charge. That’s what I love about my Monday Muse series. I continue to be amazed at the number of women owned/founded businesses that are kicking ass and doing cool things here in MN! Just reading her bio on LinkedIn makes you want to join the team: “Mercedes Austin is the CEO and Chief Mover/Shaker of Mercury Mosaics, a hand-made Minnesota based mosaic tile company. The shop started as a one-woman show and is now thirty humans and two canines strong, telling stories through hand-crafted tile, bringing joy and beauty to spaces all over the world.” I mean who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Create art? Dogs are welcome! Make spaces beautiful? Chief Mover/Shaker? Sounds like a fun time to me. So let’s get to know Mercedes more and see how she grew her company to the 30 strong it is today.
Let's start at the beginning - did you always want to be an artist and is that what you went to school for?
I’ve been an artist all my life, it’s all I know. I did go to some school for it. Did I set out to turn being an artist into an entrepreneur having this deep care of manufacturing? No, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
How did you get started in Tile?
I started in tile when a local mom & pop hired me for pay in tile – taking on a role paid for barter to learn the trade.
And when did you know it was time to venture out on your own?
I knew it was time to venture out on my own when my ideas to improve their business were not able to come to life – it was time to forge my own path and get some skin in the game. I needed to show myself what it would be like to create something and take a risk in this vision I had for handmade tile. This was 17 years ago. :0)
Your space in NE Mpls is what dreams are made of and I'm sure it's taken blood, sweat, and tears to get here - how did you navigate your growth and know when to add to your team to build what you have today?
This is a very big question! Yes, blood sweat and tears, for sure. To keep it simple, you need to “start where you are”. I cannot emphasize this enough. You navigate growth by having really simple metrics to measure your performance over time and manage by statistics. If I sell $100 in tile per week and to hire a new person I need to sell $200 in tile per week, this is my goal. I work toward it, sustain it (put in some sweat and extra hours while I’m one person) and as I have that consistent $200 in tile per week, I hire the next person. This is put very simply, but I do best with simple. You can stay really busy with little to no results if you do not focus your efforts. I don’t spend time on Facebook and mindlessly surfing the web. *wink – the world is filled with distractions. With each new goal, you work toward it. For example, the goal I’m working toward now: phasing out of day-to-day sales and starting a second factory. You’re always working toward the next goal. The actual answer to this question could be a book.
What has been the biggest hurdle you've had to overcome and how did you do it?
Overcoming myself and the barriers I used to impose on what I could accomplish. I’ve invested my time in self-improvement, education & physical well-being, aggressively, over the last 15 years. Each year I reflect on the next thing I can do to get out of my own way and build this into a better company that will employ and take care of its people and its clients, impacting what is possible with great design accomplished in handmade tile and mosaic patterns.
What's your favorite project to date and why?
I have too many favorites, it’s true. My current favorite is a project I gifted myself and our studio-recently. In getting our space, I committed to investing in personalizing the space with our tile. Recently we commissioned Adam Turman to illustrate a great quote in the backdrop: “Make Something Together” – it’s significant because, indeed, with everything we do at Mercury Mosaics – we’re making something together. We’re bringing back products made with passion, integrity & the care of craftspeople in the US.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Invest in your imagination and keep dreaming, there are no limits.
Early Riser or Burn the midnight oil: Burn the midnight oil
Coffee or Tea: Coffee
Three words to describe you: Dreamer + Dedicated + Creative
Go to restaurant: French Meadow
Favorite way to unwind/relax: get into Pjs and recline & read
Thanks again Mercedes! You can check out all the great tile designs Mercedes and her team create at www.mercurymosaics.com