Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Handcrafted brooms, cookie cutters, reproduction tin cans, and other home goods
As artisans who make functional handcrafted historical products, Karen and Sam Morrison have made a name for themselves in Colorado, Hollywood, and beyond.
Traditionally handcrafted brooms and intricately fabricated cookie cutters, authentically reproduced period-specific tin cans and delicately fused glass, letterpress prints and beeswax candles -- the list goes on and on. One visit to the Morrisons' shop in the small town of Victor and it's easy to believe that this couple is more than capable of excelling at any crafty pursuit to which they turn their hands.
"Sam grew up in a greenhouse in Wheat Ridge, where his family grew carnations," Karen explains. "He had to learn to be handy. I have always loved doing little crafty things, too. We really click because we like to make things and work well together. Not everybody can live and work 24/7 with the same person and still get along. But we do."
The couple got their start in craft manufacturing in the mid-1980s after teaching themselves traditional broom-making techniques and purchasing and refurbishing an antique kicker winder to attach the broomcorn to the handle. They spent several years traveling to craft shows with their equipment and materials, and would assemble product on the spot as attendees watched.
"Most vendors at craft shows are carrying in pillows or little boxes of jewelry," laughs Karen. "Here we were hauling in this kicker winder with a stitching vise, broomcorn, and brooms. Yeah, it was a lot of fun."
They settled in Victor in 1990 after buying the building that houses their current shop. "We live upstairs and work downstairs," Karen says. "The main floor is about 1,750 square feet and half of that is our work area. Then we have a customer area that we call our working museum. We have our historical broom collection on the walls and a bunch of old tinware. There's a lot to look at, as well as the things that we sell."
Customers who visit the shop, which Karen says is generally open seven days a week, may find the couple making brooms, bending and soldering tin cookie cutters, or making letterpress prints. "We're always working on something," she adds.
Though the sturdy, durable brooms remain the Morrisons' best-selling product -- Karen estimates they've sold at least 25,000 of them over the past 30 years -- they've recently become known in Hollywood for their period-specific reproduction tin cans.
"A Civil War reenactor asked us if we could make a hole-and-cap style tin can for him," Karen recalls. "We have the equipment to do it, and we had some reproduction labels from the 1880s to the 1920s. Then the movie people started calling."
The couple's cans have been used as props and set dressing in TV series The Son, films The Missing and The Greatest Showman, and the yet-to-be-released movies, The Kid and The Lighthouse. "It can be frustrating because they always need cans shipped overnight even though they've been planning their movies for three years," Karen chuckles. "But it's rewarding that they found us and want to buy from us."
Challenges: Karen says that the company's sales volume fluctuates dramatically with the seasons, making it challenging to afford necessary supplies at times. "Summer is pretty good and Aspen season is great," she adds. "But then it really drops off in the winter and spring when the weather isn't as nice."
Additionally, it's getting harder for the couple to find broomcorn. "Right now, we're getting it out of Texas, but most of it is grown in Mexico," she explains. "There aren't many broom factories in the U.S. anymore so they're not importing much. For us small broom makers to get a few 100-pound bales a year can be kind of tough sometimes."
Opportunities: Though many of the customers who come through the shop are tourists from neighboring states, Karen says that more Coloradans are exploring Victor and visiting Victor Trading Company as a result. "People are starting to do things here," she adds. "I think Victor is right on the verge of being discovered, and that can only help us."
She also notes that visitors to the shop are always pleased by what they find. "I had a couple in yesterday who just moved to Colorado Springs from Arizona," she continues. "They spent about an hour in here looking around and bought all kinds of stuff. It's always rewarding to hear how neat people think our place is. And we really are unique. Because we make a lot of the stuff we sell, you can only get it here."
Needs: "Taxes and insurance really take their toll," Karen says. "We're a very small business, but we're paying the same for our insurance policy as a large business would. I suppose our needs are the same as for any small retail business. It can be tough out there."