Rural Missouri - July 2017 - 40
Signs are big business for
Ashley and Clinton Raetz
RiOak Western Design owners Clinton and Ashley Raetz of Cole Camp pose with daughters Oaklee, center, and Riley. The couple quit lucrative careers to take their sign company to the next level.
by Heather Berry | firstname.lastname@example.org
hen HGTV's "Fixer Upper" hit airwaves in 2013, nearly anything
show co-star Joanna Gaines touched became something decorators craved for their own home. Joanna always used a sign or two
as part of the updated decor. The TV star isn't the only one to catch
on to the sign trend. Ashley Raetz of Cole Camp already knew signs would be a
popular design style with people. Her business, RiOaks Western Design, offers
signs of any type and size for today's décor.
Afﬁrming quotes such as "Today is a good day for a good day," "Friends gather here," or simple sayings like "Simply blessed" or "I love our life" are examples
of the signs RiOak designs by hand for decorators.
"I started painting signs in 2012 to help pay for daycare for our daughters,"
recalls Ashley of what started as a hobby. "I was telling my mom and she came
up with the perfect name for the business - RiOak Western Design."
The name made perfect sense to Ashley and her husband, Clinton. Their
ﬁrst daughter is named Riley, and they knew the next baby on the way was a
girl they would name Oaklee (after sharpshooter Annie). The fact that Ashley
had barrel raced most of her life and that the business revolved around design
summed things up nicely, she says.
"At the time, I was working full-time as an activity director for a local nursing
home and originally thought I'd hand-stencil custom signs for weddings, homes
and businesses and do a few craft shows every year," says the Co-Mo Electric
Ashley says she and Clinton signed up for their ﬁrst festival that year in Versailles to see how things would go. "My work wasn't that great at the time and,
looking back, our display was horrible, but I went thinking, 'If we can make at
least $1,500 that would be great,' " recalls Ashley. "I think we cleared $162.
"But our booth was next to a lady we like to refer to as Martha Stewart," Ashley adds. "She'd been doing craft shows for about 20 years, and after I watched
her tap nails and fuss and hang things in her display, I told myself, 'It's either
get better at this or there's no need to continue.' "
After returning home from that show, Ashley began studying the history and
art of sign making and the process of tediously hand-lettering signs. She and
Clinton were still working full time but as Ashley's sign lettering improved, she
began creating her own designs for signs. Things began to quickly snowball.
By 2014, the hobby was taking over the Raetzes' life. The couple sat down,
seriously put pencil to paper and decided Ashley should take the leap of faith,
quit her full-time job and work on taking the business to the next level. She
started a Facebook business page and an online Etsy retail store to sell signs.
RURAL MISSOURI | JULY 2017
"Orders started rolling in and Clinton would come home after a long day at
work and help cut boards out for more signs," Ashley says of her high school
sweetheart. "He's always been supportive of me and he's a great woodworker."
Clinton smiles, adding, "I really knew this was something much bigger than a
hobby when I started staying up until 2 a.m. every morning, cutting and sanding boards so she could keep up with orders."
"After lots of prayer and discussion together, Clinton walked in one night and
handed me a copy of the resignation letter he wanted to turn in at work," says
Ashley. "Things were going well, and we felt this would be a great decision for
our family. We had a dream for the business and felt it was attainable. But we
knew it would take both of us working full time to pull it off."
Clinton added custom farmhouse-style furniture to their business plan, as
well as cutting and sanding 50 to 60 boards for Ashley every day. As he worked
on boards, Ashley would design stencils on the computer and paint more signs.
"In 2012, we made about $4,000, and $16,000 the next year. By the third,
I matched my salary I'd made when I'd quit my job," says Ashley, adding with
Clinton working full-time now, the couple has more than doubled their income.
After only ﬁve years, the couple now have three full-time employees - a
woodworker, painter and order processor - to help keep things going smoothly.
The extra hands give Ashley more time to create sign designs as well as continue building RiOak's presence on online sale sites Etsy and Amazon.
Ashley says between the two online stores, their company averages 100
orders a week. With walk-in shoppers, special orders and shows they attend
each year, the home-based company creates 600 to 700 signs per month.
"In May 2015, Amazon was searching for businesses who handmade items,"
Ashley recalls. "We were one of the ﬁrst 3,500 businesses they accepted. Today,
several of our signs have put us as a Top-100 seller on Amazon."
To balance Ashley's hand-painted sign making, Clinton now plasma cuts
designs from metal, a huge trend they see in decorating these days.
RiOak devotees have plenty of opportunities to meet the duo and shop at
shows throughout the year, with three of those held at their Cole Camp farm.
"We hold a Fall Market every September," Ashley says, noting this will be the
fourth year for the juried event. "No two vendors sell the same handmade item,
so it's a win-win for everyone."
Ashley says their goal is to have a store open in three years on their farm.
"I never thought this would turn into a full-time job for each of us," says
Ashley. "But I'm excited to think about the future."
You can reach RiOak Western Design via their Facebook page or by calling
660-553-0061. Mark your calendar for their Fall Market on Sept. 23 in Cole Camp.