The Hidden Hand Society is an example of the scrappy spirit that embodies Savannah and the Starland District. Owned and operated by Holly L’Oiseau and Chris Smith, Hidden Hand is nestled in comfortably in the front window of Sulfur Studios, located in the Starland District. Holly is a stationery addict, who turned her love of paper goods into her business, Holly Oddly, which then expanded to the brick and mortar store Hidden hand Society, which carries 20+ local artists, writers, and makers, as well as products from all over the U.S. and from Holly’s creative friends around the globe. Her husband, Chris Smith, also serves as the book curator and founder of Quarter Press, housed inside Hidden Hand, in addition to being a published comic artist who teaches writing at Georgia Southern University.
Creative Coast: What made y’all choose Savannah as a place to open your business in?
Holly L’Oiseau: We have set our roots down here. Our son goes to school here, Chris is a teacher at Georgia Southern, so we knew that Savannah was where we’re gonna be. I’ve been here for five years and I’m not gonna go anywhere anytime soon.
CC: As a local business owner and entrepreneur, what was the greatest thing about opening your own business in Savannah versus the hardest thing?
Holly: The greatest thing was the overwhelming response from the community. Every shop owner here is lovely and amazing, helpful and just so kind. Every person that walks in is excited and just so supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better place to open a business because the community is just so great. I think the business part … I owned an online business for a couple years, but not a brick and mortar. So I think just all the planning of getting the business license from the city and getting the custom furniture put in, just the logistics of starting it up is probably the hardest.
CC: What about being in Starland for y’all is really vital ? Feasibly, you could’ve gone anywhere right?
Holly: I think it’s the local vibe. The tourists that come here are tourists that want to shop for the local shops, so they’re just really fun, cool people. Then the locals, they come back time and time again and I love getting to know them. They’re not just people that just cycle in and out of Savannah, these are the people who make Savannah thrive. For the Starland district it was a no brainer because I love just seeing their faces over and over again. Again, the shop owners … Cheryl from Back in the Day comes in and supports me. Clinton Edminster from Starlandia is always coming by to say hi. Then being in Sulfur Studios, their support by letting us have this shop in the front here, because it was their lobby. Again, it is that support.
CC: There’s so much out there that really says local business is the thing that brings vitality to your city or your town or whatever. If someone’s reading this out there and they’re like do I move to Savannah, should I start a small business in Savannah, what would be sort of the thing that you would tell them?
Chris Smith: I would tell them absolutely. Most people here are transplants. This city welcomes transplants with open arms.I think that Savannah needs that so I think we all welcome, it just needs something new that no one’s done before.
CC: What would you tell someone who would be I want to start my own store? What are the things that … Or just start anything that’s a little bit I want to go out on my own and do something. What would be sort of your sage wisdom?
Holly: If you can do it debt free, do it debt free. It’s harder, but if something were to go wrong in the long run, you’re gonna be okay. Don’t put so much on the line that your ass is on the line.If you can do it debt free, I think that’s a great way to go. It’s been a good business model for us and it’s made us really happy and we can sleep at night.
Also, just go with your gut. I had a lot of just gut feelings that I sort of ignored early on and made a couple of small mistakes here and there. Even from small things like buying products that are the right fit for the store, just going with that gut feeling is so important. You know yourself and your intuition, trust it. Also, learn from other people. I went around and talked to all the other businesses here and asked them questions. Ask questions from people who have been in the business that you’re getting into because most likely, they have been in it for a long time and are smarter than you.
CS: Something we’ve notice that works too is also just not being afraid of the change and adapting. Because this shop has changed a lot since it was initially opened from what Holly’s initial vision was versus what was really working for the store and then also just finding what people were really responding to. Answering that when they really liked certain products or things we kind of leaned more that way. Just don’t be afraid that if you have to get rid of something and it doesn’t fully fit your initial vision, it’s okay because your customers will guide you along with your intuition.
Visit Hidden Hand Society at: https://www.thehiddenhandsociety.com