Watson & Lou – On Business, Partnership, and “Creative Health”

Peterborough is a beautiful city. And it is beautiful for many reasons. It is Nogojiwanong first, the place at the end of the rapids. It is Quaker Oats and the Liftlocks. Peterborough is a bicycle ride through the Ecology Park in Beavermead mid-summer and hearing the buzz of the bees. It is the Canoe Museum on Monaghan Road in an old factory… someone move that thing to the water! Peterborough is a Folk Festival t-shirt, Multicultural Canada Day, the pop-up libraries on front lawns, the technicolour fountain coming out of Little Lake, and Mike Watt at Flavour Fashion. You know: beautiful fixtures in our town.

It is also the way that we show kindness. Peterborough is the community-spirit response to the hundred-year flood of 2002, and then two years later in 2004. Peterborough is the support of the Petes, the Lakers, and so many of our other sports team. Peterborough is the response to the Syrian refugee crisis where hundreds of volunteers either engaged in private sponsorships of families or connected with the New Canadians Centre to welcome government assisted refugees. Peterborough is, amidst an opioid crisis, the meal teams at One Roof and the overnight volunteers at the Warming Room. Peterborough is leaning in, supporting each other, and “how can I help?”. Peterborough is raw, organic, passionate, and full of spirit. When I see beauty, something really unique, I am inspired to share those beautiful parts of Peterborough with others. This interview is a result.

Erin Watson & Anna Eidt, of Watson & Lou, represent something real about Peterborough. Are they “hipster-granola-edgy” as a friend of mine described them?  Although having never thought of that specific description, they certainly came to think so. What is the creative health they promote by connecting people together to make and share beauty? Are they unique and eclectic? Determined and supportive? Hardworking and really nice? This sounds like some of the best of Peterborough to me, so I reached out to them to learn more.

Michael: What is your relationship with each other? When and where did you meet?

Erin: We met as competitors during Win This Space. Throughout the process we leaned on each other, and noticed our common goals. At the end of the competition, when we didn’t win (top five! So close!), we realized that this was something that we didn’t want to do alone. We saw how our business plans complimented each other; where I was weak, she was strong, and vice versa. We went out for a coffee together, not necessarily looking for a partnership, but more of a debrief after the competition, and that’s when it all started.

Anna: At the end of the competition I was exhausted. It was so demanding, we were both still working, and we had built a business plan from scratch. I thought, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and then chill out for a while. But by the end of that coffee date, we were already having a blast and brainstorming our new name.

Erin: We recognized a pretty intense drive in each other. We both wanted to celebrate local artisans and make more room for creativity in our lives, so it was a no brainer to team up.

M: What is the origin of the business name?

Erin: Watson is my last name and Lou is Anna’s Mom’s nickname for her [also the origin of the name Lou Brown Vintage, Anna’s other artistic business of turning old china into sassy wall decor]. We wanted a combination of our names that was professional but fun, timeless, and something that rolls off the tongue. It’s hard to pin our vision down to one thing, so the name had to encompass it all…. Like, what are you guys? Oh, we’re Watson & Lou. Combining a local boutique with studios and workshops is certainly not an original idea, but it’s a first for Peterborough, and we’re still working on the elevator pitch. Anna’s nailed it down pretty well…

Anna: What was it? Something like… Providing space to encourage everyone to be more creative in their life. Whether that’s through art appreciation, learning new skills, decorating, or checking out a First Friday event, we hope there’s something for everyone here.

M: Why did each of you decide to go into business?

Anna: I was already making and selling my plates at local markets in Peterborough. I had met Kathryn Bahun of Keetarella and Jeff Macklin of Jackson Creek Press and I was getting really excited about all the incredible things being made here, lamenting the fact that there wasn’t a store for local artisans. I also missed teaching high school, and was eager to keep teaching and trying new things. Our business model allows us to showcase this awesome local work, and constantly explore new skills and projects.

Erin: I was inspired when I saw so many wonderful and talented makers while attending local fairs and markets in the Summer months. Having lived in Peterborough for a couple years, unaware of this existing creative community, I felt I had been deprived and that something or someone needed to provide year around access to all these creative people. Now,having established a First Friday Committee, we are reaching a wider audience and I feel humbled to be surrounded by so many talented people that bring so much to our community.

M: And how did you get into business?

Erin: I’d been all over the map working in hotels but it wasn’t conducive to having a family, so I moved to Peterborough and worked in advertising. It wasn’t my passion. I loved working with my hands and being creative, and wanted to teach and work for myself. I actually entered Win This Space on a dare. Since it was the first Win This Space competition, I was totally oblivious to what was about to happen. The top ten was announced and my video was all over Facebook, my face was in the newspaper, I had to rush into work and tell my boss, “I did this thing. I don’t know what it means. I’m not quitting.” But I’ve always known I have wanted to work for myself.

M: What was your vision for the store? How do you make it eclectic and trendy?

Erin: My vision was just bright and colourful but also with a level of simplicity. Just a very clean, bright shop that was very welcoming. I wanted a well curated space to showcase creative talent without overcrowding shelves with ‘stuff’.  Anna’s vision was a bit smaller scale and we met halfway.

M: How would you define your style?

Erin: I definitely think that we don’t take ourselves very seriously and we like to push the envelope. I remember when I first saw Anna’s plates. I was like, Yes, everyone should have these in their house. By now, I think 80% of Peterborough has one. We also aim to provide sustainable items and to be as inclusive as possible, providing a safe and fun space for all.  

Anna: I think “hipster-granola-edgy” is pretty close. I would add the word contemporary. Fresh designs, clean lines, meaningful creations, and fun is what the boutique is all about.

M: What are your favourite products in the store? What “sparks joy” in you here?

Anna: I think right at the top is Birchwood fine art. These are the faux taxidermy busts by Amber Johnson. She sculpts, embroiders, felts, and sews to create creatures with a ton of character that are really special, timeless keepsakes.

Erin: Agreed. Amber is the epitome of straight artistic raw talent. She embodies everything that we we want to be.

M: What projects or aspects of Watson and Lou do you most enjoy?

Erin: I love doing children’s workshops. We’re going to be launching a full summer schedule of workshops for children. I think it’s so important to allow our children to be creative, and that’s getting stinted in so many ways. I grew up being an athlete so I’m not opposed to getting outside and getting dirty and playing sports. But I think kids need more opportunities to use their hands and create something.

M: What does a great day look like for you here?

Erin: We’re so lucky, because our customers are so amazing. They’re so loyal to us. It is also people who have never been here before and having their first walk around the store and taking it in and laughing at some of the the items; particularly the cards. Just watching people explore and experience the store the way we intended is so satisfying. One woman in particular who pops into my mind. She comes in often to use the testers and one day she said to Anna, “You know, I’m saving up and I will buy something eventually, but just coming in your store just makes me happy.” I melted into a pile of jelly. It was the sweetest remark. It’s having that happy place for people that makes us happy.

M: How do you two resolve tough decisions together?

Erin: There are always so many moving pieces with the business, and with personal lives, so we stay in touch non-stop via text and email. It’s a good way to keep all thoughts and ideas on the table. Then we meet up to compile all the information and make bigger decisions.

Anna: Our primary goals are always to take care of ourselves and support each other and this has served us amazingly so far through some pretty challenging situations.

Erin: We are very different people who often have different perspectives, and this has always been a strength in finding great solutions.

M: How are you different?

Erin: Anna would certainly be a little bit more of the creative, witty side. She does a lot of the social media. Whereas I come from a business background. I have a business degree so I look at the numbers. We complement each other in so many ways.

M: Where do you see your business going in ten years?

Erin:We have lots of ideas! We would love to do some pop up shops to reach a wider audience, and explore some new product lines. In the short term, our main goal is to increase our e-commerce sales in Ontario, and help get the word out about the talent in Peterborough.

M: What would you tell yourself when you started in business two years ago?

Erin: Take it in stride. We opened in September of 2017 and jumped right into the craziness of Christmas. I was working another job and endless hours at Watson & Lou. I’d be here till 11 o’clock at night, sometimes just putting product in, ordering, and cleaning; because we wanted everything to be perfect. I think we we both overworked ourselves, just in the fear of failing. After our first Christmas, it was a huge relief. We saw the response from the community, and it kept going from there. So, my advice would be don’t burn yourself out at the beginning. Every penny we got, we were trying to put it against a loan. And we really wanted it to be a success. But we didn’t always do the self care that we needed.

Anna: Take care of yourself. That first year is really, really hard. Sometimes you feel like if you’re not burning the candle at both ends, everything’s gonna fall through, but that’s probably not true.

M: What does community mean to you?

Anna: That’s a really important question. To me, it means a genuine Mr. Rogers-esque approach to life, where you really care about your neighbors and the people you interact with and they care about you. You help each other and you learn from each other. I think we have that vibe here. And not because of us, but because of all the amazing people that are involved. We’re really lucky.

Erin: Community is people coming together for the common good, the acceptance of all. Peterborough has such an awesome community in comparison to places I’ve lived before, where I can walk into a shop, and I’ll likely find the owner there or someone connected to the owner. I love that small town feel. And it makes me feel like I’m a part of something opposed to that cold feeling you get in larger cities where you feel a little isolated. I find a lot of people go out of their way to make newcomers feel welcome. When we opened, the folks at By the Bridge brought us lunch from across the street. It’s that kind of generosity that Peterborough consistently provides us with.

M: How do you feel you make a difference in the world?

Anna: We help creative people to connect with each other by enjoying each other’s work, and hopefully getting to create more of their own work. I’ve never heard or thought of this term before, but I feel like we encourage creative health. If creativity is a part of our health, which I believe it is, we help support that.

M: Who are some other small businesses you support and who you would give a shout out to?

Erin: Hunter Street Books. I love what Michelle is doing for local artists. She was so supportive and helpful for us, even when we were starting up. We would go in there and ask her questions, even though our businesses are different. Sam from Sam’s Place, has also been super supportive. And we just love Bonnie from BE Catering. Her and I did the Woman’s Build for Habitat for Humanity four years ago, and she’s always just been fantastic. She kept me fed while I continued to work here with a brand new baby.

Anna: You’re Welcome. I think they’re an amazing addition to downtown. They’re running all of these fantastic, inclusive queer events and parties and celebrating body positivity. And they’re just lovely people.

M: Anything else to add?

Erin: We haven’t thought about these questions in a while, so thank you for asking them. This place enriches our lives, and it’s great to sit back and appreciate that sometimes.

Anna: The only thing I’ll add is just how amazing it is to have artists working in house. Getting to work next to and witness the daily life of a screen printer, illustrator, and herbalist-in-training is very, very cool. It’s the full Watson & Lou dream come true.

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