February 19, 2018
Shop Talk

Worcester Wares growing into business adolescence

Brad Kane
Jessica Walsh, owner of Worcester Wares

Jessica Walsh, owner of Worcester Wares

Age: 35

Employees: 2 (including Walsh)

Founded: 2015

Residence: Worcester

Birthplace: Milford and grew up in Bellingham

Education: Bachelor in biology, Northeastern University

In less than three years, Jessica Walsh has gone from selling "I Love Worcester" pins at area stores and festivals to running a retail store out of the DCU Center, feeding off the passion residents and visitors have for the city.

Are you still in the startup phase?

Not until recently did I feel things changed. We are in an adolescence.

Like, before I was silk-screening on someone else's equipment and always doing it at weird times – like 3 a.m. or on weekends. Now, that doesn't work anymore, so I have to buy my own equipment, which is great but I have to spend $12,000. When you are in year three of your business, you are playing this juggling act where you are taking from one place to give to another. To get more work, I need more money; but to make more money, I need to get more work.

Is the store staying busy?

Worcester Wares is doing well, but that is the chase I am in right now. We need to get an online store going; there are a lot of things like that.

You need to grow up. You need to decide which things are worth your time; I'm a little better at that now. Like I used to get a table at a lot of events, and now I know which events to choose: where people are buying stuff.

Your store seems built on this intense pride people have for the city. Would it have been successful 10 year ago?

Nope. I've been in Worcester for 11 years, and when Worcester Wares started two-and-a-half years ago, it was the right time for a business like this. There really wasn't much Worcester stuff, and of what there was, I thought it was strange no one putting all the random Worcester items in one place.

When did that idea start to gel?

There was a festival at the DCU Center called Brew Woo, and Peter Dunn from the city's economic development office called me to let me know about the vendor opportunity. I had tote bags and post cards, but Peter said, "This is more of a T-shirt crowd."

So I order my first box of stock, plain T-shirts. It was $285 worth of T-shirts, which – to me – was astronomical. I remember flipping out about not being able to sell them. But at the event, people saw them and they were like, "Oh my god, Worcester T-shirts! I love this!"

Now, I buy a $2,000 shopping cart worth of T-shirts every other day.

So, your revenues have clearly gone up.

Revenue has gone up, but I've reached this weird plateau where I am spending more money: I'm buying new equipment, I have more items in the store, I am paying people more often. Everything I am spending money on, I am being smart so it will lead to money later. I would just love to buy all this cool stuff to fill my store with, but you can't do that.

The ideas I have now are bigger and more expensive. I'm trying to create a really well-designed snow globe, which requires paying money to artists and hoping people want to buy a Worcester snow globe.

To go to the next level, it feels like this huge pole-vaulting jump.

Like spending $12,000 on equipment?

It takes away everything you are saving in the kitty. You're like, "I really hope this works!"

Also – and this is weird – but I've always been proud of the fact I'm in this scary, dirty warehouse late at night, where I'm sweating in the summer and freezing in the winter. There was something very entrepreneurial about that.

Now, I got all this shiny new equipment. What if I'm like, "I hate this. I want the old crappy lint-covered, ink-covered press I learned on."

How do you fuel the city's passion?

I want to be part of the fight to move Worcester forward. It's cool to make a T-shirt for it, but I am very involved in Worcester and want to be here forever.

Now, I'm being asked to be on boards, like the Worcester Public Library. I hadn't seen that coming. I am so excited, but I'm also like, "Now, I have to spend time at these meetings!"

So, what's next for Worcester Wares?

Lots of new projects I haven't done before. So, Worcester, please show up, please be gentle, please send snacks.

Be honest with input, but please know we are still finding our way.

This interview was conducted and edited for clarity by WBJ Editor Brad Kane.


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