The Firehouse is On Fire with Growth and Expansion
The business clearly offers something that Topeka wants—a DIY experience and a lovely work of art to take home. Owner Angel McGhee says that crafters from novice to advanced can make projects and walk away with a piece of décor to feel proud of. Whether it is something beautiful to warm their own home or a gift for someone special, you can make signs, shelves, photo boards and more. The best part? Crafters get hands-on guidance and materials are provided, making it an easy way to get started. If you’re always marking things on Pinterest, but don’t seem to get around to gathering the materials and making the project happen, The Firehouse could be just what you need.
Staff at the Firehouse have been busy serving customers outside of Topeka, too. A promo video for a welcome sign with interchangeable, seasonal pieces went viral, resulting in customers around the globe reaching out to have the product shipped to their homes. The video was a game changer for McGhee’s business.
“Posting on social media isn’t natural for me, but I’ve read that you should try to post at least once a day to build interest,” McGhee said. “I put together a quick video to show off this fun sign and then posted without thinking too much about it.”
By that night, a couple thousand people had watched the video. By the next morning, it had over 10,000 views, and now it’s up to almost 10 million total with more than 21,000 comments and 76,000 shares. McGhee realized as she began responding to comments on the video that the people asking for the product were not just from Topeka, but all over the U.S. and as far away as Germany and Japan.
“I got a little overwhelmed,” McGhee said, laughing. “I realized that I had to do something to take advantage of the opportunity in front of me, and I didn’t want to mess it up.”
SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY
McGhee decided to set up an Etsy shop. She figured out how much it would cost to ship the sign, posted it to the shop page, and began taking orders. The timing was perfect, because The Firehouse had just started work on remodeling their new store space. Selling over 400 signs on Etsy and shipping them out helped to raise a lot of much needed revenue to finance the work.
The video changed the way that McGhee does business. Before the video, The Firehouse page on Facebook had about 3400 page likes—now it has more than 29,000. That means that every time McGhee posts, she’s reaching thousands more people, each of whom can reach others in a lucrative ripple effect. When McGhee posts content now, she’s still thinking about the local, on-site experience—the opportunity for Topeka area folks to come in and make something with their hands, but she’s also thinking of her online customers. McGhee has expanded the offerings in her Etsy shop, and she now posts information on purchase and shipping for those outside the area who want to buy a ready-made craft.
CREATING A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
McGhee says that the mission of her on-site business is to help people get crafty and make something with their own hands—even if they don’t think that they are artists—and to bring people together to have enjoy themselves while they create.
“We help each person make something unique by creating or recreating a custom design for them,” McGhee said. “It’s a way for people to tell their story, because most people have a favorite quote or saying that is meaningful to them. We offer private events for birthday parties, team building, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, girls’ nights, etc., or you can come into an open studio with friends or alone and enjoy the company of new friends. I’ve realized the importance of having a place for women and men to just come in and have fun. Most come in thinking I can’t make anything and leave with something they are proud of making.”
FINDING THE PASSION
McGhee got into crafts as a teenager, inspired by a crafty grandmother who did crochet, needlepoint, and quilting. For McGhee’s grandmother, crafting was a way to stay busy and cope with the loss of both of her adult children. McGhee got hands-on herself after the birth of her daughter, when she wanted to decorate but didn’t have a lot of money.
“I would see things at a store and try to figure out a way I could make it for cheaper,” McGhee said. “I love to take something someone else is ready to throw away and give it new life. I will try to paint just about anything! I have been repurposing before Pinterest was a thing.”
McGhee says that her business began with her own passion for decorating, upcycling, and crafting with friends.
“My friends were coming over and hanging out in the basement and I would help them make a project,” she said. “Some of my friends weren’t very crafty but when we were done they would be so excited because they made something and they were proud.”
TAKING THE CHANCE
It was chance that led to the purchase of The Firehouse’s original location, an actual old firehouse. McGhee went to an estate sale, and saw that the building itself was up for grabs. McGhee’s husband saw an opportunity to recreate the space as a crafting spot for her and her friends, so they made the leap. After remodeling the space and opening up for business in April of 2018, The Firehouse took off and became a full-time job.
So just how does it work? The Firehouse offers classes, as well as open studio time. For those walking in for an open studio, over 100 ready to make projects are on hand. You can also go outside the templates and bring in something that you’d like to fix up, ask McGhee to help you find a certain piece of furniture to repurpose, or even bring in materials that you’d like to turn into something special. McGhee will help you conceptualize a project and make a plan.
“I’ve had people bring in wood that was from their Grandparents barn to make a porch sign,” McGhee said. “I always love a good challenge!”
McGhee notes that one of the best things about running a DIY workshop is seeing people connect with each other in her space.
“People do come in on their own, and see this as a place to meet other people, companionship while crafting,” McGhee said. “I see a lot of young women who feel like they don’t fit in with their peers, and their looking for a place to belong. Crafts connect people. There’s something about getting your hands busy that makes it easier to talk to others and make that connection.”
Check out The Firehouse website to find the class schedule, and to see color photographs of the many crafting opportunities on offer. The new location is at 3030 NW Topeka Blvd, and is open Monday-Friday from 9am-4 pm, Thursday and Friday evenings from 5-8 pm, and Saturday as posted on the calendar.