This is the first in a series of entries about student entrepreneurs on the Harding University campus.
Looking into the wide-set eyes and broad, open smile of Meredith Palmer, it is apparent that although she doesn’t yet have a fully-developed idea where her interests and talents will lead her, she does understand she needs to make them pay. She’s already had a fair measure of success. Is art profitable? Palmer smiled, “I worked three jobs this summer if you count selling art. I earned more from my art than doing either of the other jobs.” So she’s optimistic.
Although she’s not an art major, both of her grandmothers painted. She grew up around art, painted some as a child, and took entry-level art classes in high school. One day while in high school, she impulsively purchased a pair of white canvas shoes at Walmart. She decorated them lavishly with permanent marker and wore them to a volleyball game, where people immediately began asking if they could buy a pair. Before long she had filled 200 orders, mostly via Instagram. Palmer donated a 10 percent of her proceeds to a Geita, Tanzania, mission.
She participated in the student business club DECA, entering a 30-page business plan for Palmer’s Designs’ “Shoes for the Sole” in state competition. She was nominated by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) as Student Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014. Writing a business plan gave her a framework for understanding that if she wanted to continue to create, she needed to be strategic about monetizing her work.
Because she’s an advertising major, the importance of building her brand comes naturally. First, she rolled out a Facebook page and Instagram account for Palmer’s Designs. She now has business cards, stickers and Palmer’s Designs t-shirts. The newest addition to her branding campaign is her website. It introduces who she is, explains the kinds of custom work available, and includes a gallery.
Art is one way Palmer experiences the world, as evidenced by a sketchbook filled with casual scenes from her semester abroad. She often works in oils with bold distinctive strokes, but she also paints in watercolor or a combination of ink and watercolor. You may have seen her work outdoors at Midnight Oil. She’s done a fair amount of commissioned work, including charming watercolor renderings of pets. She enjoys getting to know customers so she can better predict what will please them most. “I like to think I am taking the ordinary and helping people see the beauty in it,” she said.
As with every artist, occasionally her inspiration is blessed by happenstance. While in a car en route from Virginia to Searcy, suffering with a distressing case of poison ivy, Palmer completed a series of pen and ink sketches of bunnies. She tinted her drawings with the only available medium — calamine lotion. The bunnies later sold to a pharmacist who was intrigued by the medicinal medium that gave them their soft, rosy glow.
While Palmer is creating a brand and a network of social channels through which to share her work, she‘s also exploring her talent for the distinctive style that might match a market niche. As we browsed her digital portfolio, she mused about possibilities such as greeting cards, different types of children’s books and the home decor market. She’s doing her homework, asking questions and investigating potential outlets for her work.
The Waldron Center emphasizes that the best business plans are not one and done — they are iterative. The entrepreneur researches, plans, implements a test, tweaks the plan and tests again — successively closing in on the business model that’s most profitable and best suited to the market. Often, the final business model, or even the product, is not at all what she might have expected when she began.
We’ll be following to see where Meredith Palmer’s journey takes her.
If you are a Harding student who runs a business or know someone who is, email Patti Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d like to talk with you about your experience.