“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

BABE #285: KATY KEENE - Founder, Keene Lane Co.

BABE #285: KATY KEENE - Founder, Keene Lane Co.

Katy is the owner, designer and maker at Keene Lane Co, a Florida-based custom furniture and home decor business offering original, one-of-kind pieces for any space. She recently left her corporate gig to run the biz full-time, giving her the freedom to fully immerse herself in a role that feeds her passion and nourishes her creativity through designing, woodworking and sewing. She’s crushing a male-dominated field despite the naysayers, and working toward her dreams with a whole lot of grit and determination.

The Basics:

Hometown: Panama City, Florida
Current city: Atlantic Beach, Florida
Alma mater: Florida State University
Degree: B.S., Business Management; B.S., Marketing
Very first job: Fazoli’s
Hustle: Owner, Designer + Maker, Keene Lane Co.

The Interests:

Babe you admire and why?
My mom. She was the absolute kindest person on the planet. She was a lifelong learner whose passion was to better herself and help inspire others. She enjoyed sharing all of her knowledge; anything new she learned she’d be happy to talk about and she could talk for days (so you’d better pull up a chair). Her motto was “love and gratitude.”

How do you spend your free time?
Designing and creating, traveling, spending time with family and working out.

Favorite fictional female character? Why?
I feel like Wonder Woman is everyone’s favorite heroine right now. She’s strong, determined, humble and fights for what’s right even when it means taking the harder road, and she has internal superpowers that help her prevail.

What’s something you want to learn or master?
Speaking Spanish fluently.

The Hustle:

Tell us about your hustle.
As of earlier this year, my only hustle is my business, Keene Lane Co. I am the owner, designer and maker. I create original designs for furniture and home decor to make my branded products. I design, build and sew, so I have the ability to create my products from start to finish. I can create anything, from tables to shelves to wine racks, to cushions, pillows and ottomans. Most of my work is custom, for clients who need specific pieces that are certain dimensions or colors, to match their space or to incorporate multiple ideas into one piece. Many times I’m a problem-solver. I also collaborate with my twin sister, Keri Keene, who’s an artist. We combine our talents to create truly unique, one-of-a-kind designs and products. We’re currently working on developing more standard products and plan to sell online. I also currently have space at The Atlantic Beach Arts Market where I showcase my furniture and some of our collaborative pieces.

What does your typical workday look like?
This has been interesting, to say the least. The exciting part for me is that each day can be different. I’ve found that weekly time blocking at the beginning of each week works best for me, otherwise I get overwhelmed with everything I want to accomplish (if you can’t tell already, I’m a busybody). I schedule and block time throughout the week for shop time, sewing studio time, office time, appointments and errands. These consist of all kinds of hats: CEO, CFO, marketer, designer, consultant, manufacturer and coffee girl. In a single day I can dress up to visit a client, take measurements and review fabric at their home for a custom project, then swing by the hardware store to pick up supplies and end at the coffee shop for a cup of Joe and some time online to create a project estimate. Then, some days I’m home all day in the shop or sewing studio working on projects. I always squeeze in workout time throughout the week, too.

What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a project, and how do you measure its success?
It all starts initially with what the goal is; from there you can determine measurables for success. Sometimes a goal could simply be to increase engagement; from there you’d identify how engagement is defined and how to track for success. Other goals could be cost-savings-based, and that would be pulled from historical reporting based on what’s in place or what needs to be put in place to track for success. Some questions I’d start with: What programs are already in place? What resources do you have available to you? What’s your budget (or is there a budget)? Who are the key players and decision makers?

What are some of your favorite furniture pieces you’ve created through Keene Lane Co.?
I loved collaborating with my sister, Keri, to create the “Outta This World”-themed kids room furniture. It was for a little girl who wanted a space-themed room in pink and purple, but there were only blues and dark colors on the market. Keri created the constellation illustrations, we printed them to fabric and I built a chair with cushions and a rocketship bookcase to match. Keri even did unicorn and mermaid constellations. I definitely hope to do more collaborations in the future with Keri. More kids furniture would be fun.

How do you stay organized while managing your various responsibilities?
Weekly time blocking has been a huge help for managing my schedule and the variety of projects, tasks and timelines I have as part of my job. A few tools I found helpful are the Business Model Canvas to outline a simple, high-level view of your business; a Gantt chart to help manage multiple projects and their timelines; and Canva has been another amazing tool to easily create marketing material for free.

How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
Professionally, I can’t say enough about how valuable the corporate world was to my business today. (1) Communication: developing effective communication skills to work with a variety of people and personality types to get the job done. (2) Resources: seeing and leveraging the tools and resources around you. (3) Simple work basics: effective email, online tools, scheduling, managing calendars, timelines, etc. Academically, I excelled in sales (it was an emphasis in my marketing degree). I don’t care what you do—at some point you’re listening to a need and then selling something, whether it’s a product to a customer, a solution for a problem or an idea to your team. Basic sales skills are a must, in my book. Also necessary: the tenacity for research and understanding. I love digging in deep to get all the details to a product, design or idea, which has helped me be dangerous enough on a subject to move forward. As far as life lessons, I’ve always worked and my work ethic is what has propelled me many times and is what I try to remember in the tough times. I know I have the determination and ability to follow through.

What’s your biggest career milestone?
I’m not sure it’s a specific milestone—maybe more of a realization of my early inspiration and skills being applied within my business Keene Lane Co. I love that I get to live my passion in my business while honoring the people who inspired and taught me to do what I do. My mother was an artist and gave me an eye for design and creativity. My father was a hardworking, independent entrepreneur who showed me confidence and determination. My Granny taught me to sew, which started my path to physically making products.

How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
The furniture-building side of my business is a unique one for women. Professionally, I’ve had to “overcome” this time and time again, where people (mostly men) do not believe I do what I do. Being a woman in this industry is new to many, and that’s OK, but I hope to make it more of a “norm” and encourage other women to use tools and become resourceful in their homes, or consider different career paths within woodworking. The plus side of being a woman in this industry is that many of my clients are women, and they feel comfortable with me and know I’m listening, paying attention to detail, considering their environment for their family when I’m making their products, etc.

What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Mostly males in my industry, as far as the furniture designing and building. I definitely see it evolving. I follow a lot of different woodworking women on social media, so I feel it’s becoming more “normal.” Although I have to explain what I do time and time again, as I do people start getting the picture. Now, the hardware stores know me, ask to see my project pictures, etc. I know the other women I follow are having the same impact. In addition, there are so many HGTV shows that include women.

Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Ana White, Shanty 2 Chic (sister builders) and various local female interior designers for inspiration.

What does your approach to work-life balance look like?
This can be a tough one sometimes since I work from home, but I make sure to only work in certain places in my home in order to keep other areas as relaxing environments. Working out definitely gives me an outlet to burn some energy when my mind is racing with ideas. I enjoy running to the beach or relaxing outside on my back deck with a book. I also like to get away to visit my sisters out of town and be in nature.

Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Listen to your internal self [telling you] what makes you happy, and don’t force it to happen—things come in time. Be open, flexible and willing to shift when necessary. Plan as you go and pay attention to your finances; don’t add unnecessary financial stress to your hustle. The biggest thing I’ve learned recently is to be vulnerable. It’s OK to not know everything all the time. Lean on others and allow them the blessing to help you when needed. Celebrate success, even when it seems small, and allow your tribe to celebrate you.

Connect with Katy:

Facebook / Instagram / Website / Email

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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