We were lucky to catch up with Barbara Hartsfield recently and have shared our conversation below.
Barbara, appreciate you joining us today. Coming up with the idea is so exciting, but then comes the hard part – executing. Too often the media ignores the execution part and goes from idea to success, skipping over the nitty, gritty details of executing in the early days. We think that’s a disservice both to the entrepreneurs who built something amazing as well as the public who isn’t getting a realistic picture of what it takes to succeed. So, we’d really appreciate if you could open up about your execution story – how did you go from idea to execution?
My goal was to expand a miniature chair museum, Collectible & Antique Chair Gallery, into a major tourist attraction.
The selected business location was historic Stone Mountain Village, near Stone Mountain Park. I wanted to capitalize off tourists visiting the park. Consideration was given to the fact that that the park operated as a seasonal business, with less traffic during the fall and winter months.
In 2006, I purchased a renovated house, constructed in 1850. I was very excited with investigating the history of the house. It survived the bombing of Stone Mountain Village by Sherman’s army, during the civil war. I am the fourth owner of the building. which is an investment
My employer offered a buy out package in 2007. the funds were utilized for renovation and to build display cabinets. for the three room museum. I was able to return to work there, with reduced working hours. The additional income helped with operating expenses.
I collected chairs, as a hobby for over thirty years. and established a Guinness World Record for 3,000 miniature chairs, (not doll furniture), in 2008.
I did not rush to open the business. that opened in 2009. Time was taken to organizing the collection into decorative exhibits.
The motto for the business is, “You Must See It To Believe It”
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I’m an Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse, employed fifty years with Grady Memorial Hospital, semi-retired for the past fifteen years. I also operate my weekend business, Collectible & Antique Chair Gallery, on Friday and Saturday. This miniature chair museum will celebrate its 13th anniversary in May, 2022
When I bought my first miniature chair, over thirty years ago. I had no idea that collecting would take me on this exciting journey. The initial chair was purchased to set the mood to write a nursing article about pregnant mothers with mental illness and their young children.
When shopping for this chair, I found a large selection of unique chairs. After the article was published in 1991, I continued shopping for miniature chairs, as a weekend hobby. In 2008, the collection expanded into a Guinness World Record for 3,000 miniature chairs. I decided to open the museum in 2009, to share the collection with others.
There are functional chair designs such as lamps, teapots, inkwells, cookie jars, salt/pepper shakers, clocks, bookends, globes, all major holidays, and much more. Multiple mini chair exhibits, with major themes, are displayed throughout the museum. There is also a chair display in the bathroom, a chair tub garden.
Visitors are amazed with the wide variety of functional chairs. My tagline is “Chairs with a different purpose: not for sitting.”
With being the only museum employee, I have multiple roles as the business owner, collector, and publisher, while also working my part-time nursing job. The business opened during the 2009 recession and the extra hospital income helped with the museum’s operating expenses.
The museum has received local, national, and international recognition. Multiple framed articles about the museum are displayed on several walls in the gift shop.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
Ongoing support from family, friends, co-workers, church member, antique merchants, and other collectors kept me motivated over the years, They were eager to add to the collection. For example, my chiropractor brought me a oyster shell chair from his vacation.
It was exciting to find unusual chairs and background theme material for each exhibits. Prior to opening the museum, I mapped out a weekend shopping adventure to purchase chairs. I looked forward to visiting monthly antique festivals and antique stores. I was known as the “Chair Lady” by vendors.
This unusual business needed branding efforts. The word chair is usually associated with full size chairs and miniatures with small doll furniture. In 2018, I obtained the trade name ”miniature chair museum” for the business. It helps with marketing purpose, to clarify what the gallery is about.
It has been a great experience to be contacted by other collectors, who designed chairs for the museum. They read about the museum from local newspapers and magazine articles.
Otis Brundage, a master craftsman, designed chairs from clothes pins, Karen Woods designed a 12″ chair from toothpicks, and I commissioned Keith Brown, a folk artist, to duplicate a chair inside a salt shaker. I had seen this shaker design on Pinterest. He created an engraved set with a chair inside both a salt and pepper shaker.
In 2022, the museum is featured for the month of December in an international calendar of quirky collectors, created by the Dull Men’s Club. There are five international and seven national collectors. The calendar is available on Amazon and from the museum.
Having fun with the business development is very important. My current effort is to use the chairs to create a series of preschool pictorial books. The first edition MY ABC “CHAIR” BOOK was published in 2020. Each alphabet is represented by two different chair designs.
My collection interest has come full circle. Thirty years ago, I was concern with pregnant mothers having mental illness and their young children. Today, I’m using my collection to publish preschool educational books. Still focus on the concerns of very young children.
Any insights you can share with us about how you built up your social media presence?
I followed every lead for free publicity. Starting in 2009, multiple neighborhood newspapers and magazines published free articles on my grand opening. In 2010, the Antique Trader magazine, with a readership of 40,000, published an article on the new museum. They also had an annual feature call “Favorite Find.” It allowed subscribers to submit a free article every year. I was able to publish five museum articles from 2012 – 2018. This feature no longer exist with the new managers. The magazine is available every two weeks on line or with paper editions. There are marketing opportunities with this magazine, such as publishing an annual trade directory. Merchant pay a fee to describe their business and services. In 2018, they created a national Road Attraction map for subscribers. My museum was listed on this map in the the southeastern region. .
Georgia State University published an article about the museum in their alumni magazine.
Having a Guinness World record also generated some publicity. In 2014, the collection was included in a Czech-Republic article about furniture. It featured 60 world record holders. The museum represented the alphabet “M” for miniatures on a 2016 YouTube channel, “Why do we collect,” by the New York Metro Museum of Arts. In 2021, I was interviewed on the YouTube channel, “Curious Collections,” for Guinness World Record holders.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution published two articles on the museum. The first article in July, 2013 featured the new museum. Later, the writer wanted to publish my full collecting journey. In September, 2013 I was featured in the “Personal Journey” section of the Sunday paper. The Georgia Magazine, with a readership of 1.5 million, published a museum article in August, 2021. The museum was featured in the December, 2021 newsletter of the Museum Association of Georgia.
It’s very important to have a business website. I received free help from my AT & T provider to develop my own website. www.museumofminiaturechairs.com. You can also pay to have the website developed.
I was really surprised to be contacted about my collection by staff from two major TV programs. I have had two radio interviews, one in Georgia and a public broadcasting station in Pennsylvania
I maintain active webpages with Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest. I only post on Facebook, which is also linked to my Instagram page. Facebook business ads are inexpensive.
Good response is available with having a Google Small Business page. I posted 49 museum pictures over the past two years. I recently received an email reporting that the pictures had 17,803 views during a month period.
Regional Small Business organizations have training and support with all phases of business development, including marketing with social media. During 2021, they provided multiple free online training for a year, during the pandemic. Now there is a fee for some training.
Publicity will help others find you. Using hashtags, with posting, increases your number of contacts. I have been surprised with contacts from others and how frequently I have been listed on Google searches.
- Website: www.museumofminiaturechairs.com
- Instagram: @minichairgallery
- Facebook: @collectibleandantiquechairgallery
- Linkedin: Barbara Hartsfield
- Twitter: @minichairmuseum
- Other: Google My Business Collectible & Antique Chair Gallery
Carolyn Richardson gives permission for author’s picture with chairs on the floor