Melanie & Justin Mckenney

Sarasota, Florida

Vegetabowls on Etsy
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Learn about Florida Entrepreneur Melanie & Justin Mckenney:

Melanie & Justin Mckenney, originally from Buffalo and Boston, respectively, first met at a glass blowing facility where Justin was teaching. After finding out they both went to the same college, Alfred University in upstate New York, and that they both earned degrees in Fine Arts, there was an instant connection. They also had something else in common: neither one of them ever dreamed of owning their own business. They both wanted to teach art, but as Melanie explained, it was a focus on art and ceramics, and not on trying to start a business, that ultimately led to the creation of Vegetabowls.

"The idea, to make bowls from molds of real fruits and vegetables, originally came to me in 2010 while teaching a ceramics class at a non-profit arts center in Boston," Melanie said. "I made a cereal bowl and brought it home to Justin. He loved it. He's the one that said we could turn it into a business. I laughed at first, but warmed up to the idea and started making more bowls. All of a sudden we had a product line."

In 2012, Melanie and Justin moved to Southern Illinois for Justin to attend graduate school. This is also around the time when they officially launched Vegetabowls. After graduate school, and after they had their daughter, they moved to Buffalo to be closer to family. For the next seven years, Melanie and Justin worked hard to build out their business. They opened an Etsy shop, launched their website and started doing art festivals around the country.

"Justin was doing most of the art shows," Melanie said. "In the summer-time, he'd be at shows in the north. In the winter-time, he'd be at shows in the south. Florida was a big destination for winter-time art shows. After a while, the idea of moving down to Florida started to make sense. We selected Sarasota because of its central location, easy access to many different art shows and beautiful sunsets."

The success of Vegetabowls is remarkable considering neither Melanie nor Justin had any prior business experience or training. It's also proof that by focusing on developing a unique product, made with passion, it's possible to hedge against any perceived shortcomings. Nevertheless, as Melanie shared, the journey has not been easy.

"We've learned pretty much everything on the go," she said. "We handle every aspect of the business on our own. We make the bowls, sell the bowls, do the photography, package & ship the bowls, run the website, handle the bookkeeping, manage expenses and are responsible for everything else that comes with running your own business. Juggling everything has not been easy, but being our own boss and being in a position to express our creativity on a daily basis is what we love most."

Looking ahead, Melanie and Justin have big plans for the future of Vegetabowls. While the husband and wife team is focused on growing organically and keeping all production in-house, they're also committed to being part of the community and remaining focused on retail. To that end, they've decided to open a store front this November on Tamiami Trail. According to Melanie, having a place where customers can come in and see where the work is being done is important to the further development of their brand. The store, gallery 41, will open November 1st, 2018 at 5900 S. Tamiami Trail. Melanie and Justin will also sell the work of other local & national artists.


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