Corporate woman succeeds in home-based business

NEIGHBORS

September 22, 1994|By MICHELLE HOFFMAN

"I've given up trying to be the perfect woman," said Middleburg resident Sharon Coleman. She has traded her suits and heels for shorts and sneakers.

Mrs. Coleman is one of many women who have chosen to leave corporate America -- she worked for Taneytown Bank and Trust Co. -- to operate a home-based business while tackling the everyday demands of family life.

She apologized for her tidy, toy-filled living room and craft-cluttered kitchen as she fixed a drink for her 18-month-old son, Zachary, brewed coffee, cut stencils and mixed paints.

What would have been a series of distractions for other people seemed not to bother her. Her constant movement did not disturb her concentration one bit.

"I don't like the way this heart looks," she muttered, shaving a little more off the plastic with tightly gripped scissors. "That's better," she said with a satisfied smile.

A little over a year ago, she and sister-in-law Tracey Livesay and friend Teresa Farley wanted to create a unique item that expressed their artistic talents and was marketable in a high volume.

As they discussed their options around the picnic table in the kitchen that is part of Mrs. Coleman's renovated hotel home, the women decided to produce stenciled baskets.

Mrs. Coleman knew there were only two other people producing similar hand-cut stencils because she used to work for the other artists. The idea couldn't miss, she decided; the market was almost untouched.

The home-based business, Middle Bridge Baskets, was formed.

A year later, due to creative production and constant marketing, the women are successful, home-based entrepreneurs.

Stenciling baskets sounds easy enough; hold a piece of carved plastic over the wooden side of a basket and dab some paint inside the cutout to form the design.

But their skill and their one-of-a-kind masterpieces give the women their competitive edge.

What made their stencils different than those of other artists was their originality. Mrs. Coleman cuts all the stencils by hand, using scissors rather than a stencil carving tool or X-Acto knife.

She says using scissors gives her more control to cut a design perfectly.

She not only stencils traditional patterns such as hearts, but she also has created her own line of designs. An avid bird watcher, Mrs. Coleman has cut cardinals and chickadees from memory. Targeting the nature trend, she has also expanded her line to include flowers and plants.

By special order, she will even create a copy of a home and landscape from a picture. She and her partners then transfer the stencil by hand onto a basket of choice.

Mrs. Coleman said some designs may take a half-hour to complete; others take days or weeks, depending on their complexity.

Then comes the painting, in which all three women participate.

Depending on the design, a stencil may have one to six, or more, pieces to form the complete pattern. Lined up properly, the segments form an exquisite Middle Bridge Baskets original.

The women sell their items at craft shows around the area and have drawn a following. "Basket groupies" map out the shows where the women appear so they can buy baskets with one of every design, like gathering collectors' items.

Others follow them so they can pick up gifts for weddings and holidays. Still others will buy a basket because it is unique. The women can rattle off about 1,000 ways to use a basket.

Now, that's marketing.

How much would you pay for a thousand-use basket? Prices range from $7 for a small basket to $30 for a larger, more ornately decorated piece. Average cost is around $10.

When not on the road, the three work frantically to keep up with orders and home shows. Mrs. Coleman said that even though LTC there is a great deal of work to be completed, she and her partners find time to have fun.

"We get kind of punchy late at night," she said. "Sometimes, that's when we have the most laughs."

She and Mrs. Livesay said their husbands are extremely supportive of their decision. They help the women as needed to finish their items and transport the finished products to shows.

A goal for the Middle Bridge Baskets partners is to offer their product in National Wildlife Magazine, which is a sales catalog for handmade items. If all goes according to plan, the home-based entrepreneurs may hold the key to another successful marketing niche.

Regardless, though, the women are currently using their baskets to hold the profits from their prosperous home-based business venture. Use number 1,001!

*

If you love to sing, arrive at Grace United Church of Christ at 1:30 p.m. Sunday to sign up as a member of the Taneytown Community Chorus.

The ensemble will begin its rehearsals Sunday for its Christmas concert.

Subsequent rehearsals will be Oct. 16, 23, 30; Nov. 6, 13, 20 and 27.

The concert will be held Sunday, Dec. 4.

Grace United Church of Christ is at 49 W. Baltimore St. in Taneytown.

*

Sunday, stop by the entrance to the Taneytown Memorial Park for the Concerts in the Park finale.

The Strawbridge Chorus will perform choral selections beginning at 6 p.m. Each person will need to bring a lawn chair or a blanket.

In case of inclement weather, the concert will be presented in the Grace United Church of Christ Parish Hall, 49 W. Baltimore St.

Admission to the concert is free.

*

Monday, the Taneytown Heritage Committee will meet at 7:30 p.m. at the Taneytown Lutheran Church.

Speaker Donald Unger will discuss local photographer Edward Zepp and his extensive photograph collection of the Taneytown area around the turn of the century. Mr. Unger will bring some of these photographs to the meeting, along with several of his paintings.

Light refreshments will be served at the conclusion of the meeting. It is open to everyone.

The next meeting will be held Oct. 24. The subject will be duck decoys.

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