Alicia Helm founded Spruce in 2008 as a lifestyle boutique offering home decor, furniture, art, jewelry, women’s clothing and gifts. With memories of helping her grandmother style and stage storefront windows in her back pocket, Alicia set out to open a store that would bring a variety of unique items to the Brentwood area. Welcome today’s FACE of Williamson County, Alicia Helm.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Spruce.
My grandmother had an apparel boutique for many years in West Tennessee called The Fashion Corner. I loved helping stage the windows and wrap gifts. I was very young, but the creative and social aspects of that little shop were very appealing to me. Her store was a happy place for women to gather, and there was more than just shopping happening … it was fellowship.
How would you describe Spruce?
Spruce is unique in that we are truly a combination of gift, home decor and fashion. You can easily pop in for a piece of art and find a chic top to wear for date night. I also strive to have a variety of price points, making the store accessible for any budget and a great place to buy gifts. Lastly, we take pride in being super welcoming. At Spruce, we always want our customers to feel comfortable and enjoy their experience with us.
Does Spruce offer client design services?
We do offer design services. We specialize in “design direction,” meaning we help customers with specific needs, such as furniture selection, color choices and staging. I love that so many people, even the most refined, are now seeking professional advice. I have many clients who have a wonderful design sense, but they appreciate a second opinion and guidance. Ultimately, it helps them stay on track and invest in design that has longevity.
When did you first discover your love of home decor?
At the age of 8, I was obsessed with adding to my Fisher-Price dollhouse collection. I saved my allowance for the patio furniture and baby grand piano. Of course, I had to add an addition to accommodate the piano!
What is your favorite item in your home?
My most treasured item is an antique Swedish Biedermeier secretary. You would be shocked at how much I can neatly store in that piece!
Describe the home and town you grew up in.
I grew up in Franklin in a quaint 1970s colonial home. I have wonderful memories of a well-decorated, comfortable home. My mother taught me to appreciate antiques and approachable design. Franklin certainly looks very different than the small town in which I was raised. All of Cool Springs was farmland, and even Main Street was not the destination it is today. We loved the charming shops and eateries, like Pigg & Peach and Hunan’s, but we were still a bedroom community and the downtown area was not nearly the bustling tourist attraction it is today.
If you were not running your own business, what would you be doing?
I would really love to create a Brentwood association, whether it be for merchants or all businesses, that would advocate to have a long-term development plan for the retail area of the city. There are many changes happening in Brentwood, and I would really like to see the community working with business owners and developers so that the “new” Brentwood is unique and offers something different than Cool Springs. Customers frequently voice their desire for more locally owned retail and restaurants and fewer chains. Five years ago, I attempted to start a merchants’ association. That effort lead to the Town Center Saturday events that we had for a couple of years. But, unfortunately, they were huge endeavors, and it was too difficult to juggle with my business and family.
How did you choose the location for Spruce?
Brentwood was the place of choice because of research. In the beginning, I had a savvy business partner who helped study demographics and market trends. Brentwood was not as saturated by retail as Franklin or Nashville. We lucked upon our location, which is a bit quirky. We are technically part of Town Center, which is still defining itself. Many buildings have been placed at odd places and odd angles over the years, making for a bit of a mismatched layout. I continue to be optimistic and gratified with the offbeat character of this area, and we continue to see new retail pop up frequently. From Southern Vintage Market to my new neighbor, Royal Flair, retailers are seeking out this little quirky Town Center, and maybe one day, we will have that merchants’ association I imagined.
What is the best piece of advice you received when starting your business?
It is all about people management. The difficult part is not seeking out pretty things to sell; it is more about managing relationships and expectations. Out of the gate, management was not my best skill. Time and experience have helped immensely.
What would you recommend to an ambitious young woman who is interested in opening up her own store?
Be prepared to work hard. From unpacking boxes and moving furniture to inventory management, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do. But, no doubt, it is very rewarding. I have gained many friendships over the years and been allowed the opportunity to be involved in the Brentwood community, despite a few muscle strains.
What is the best last meal you’ve had in town?
Adele’s salmon sandwich. Please open a second location in Brentwood!
If money wasn’t an option, where would you love to travel?
Japan. I am fascinated by their rich, ancient culture, and I love how they are also technologically ultra-modern.
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
As the mother of three lively, school-age boys (13, 10 and 8), I spend a lot of time at ballfields. Luckily, I am surrounded by great people in those stands.
As a mother and business owner, what piece of advice would you give on balancing the two?
For me, I am able to balance the two because I have a husband who has flexible hours. As two business owners, I don’t know how we would balance our lives with a 9-to-5 schedule. Secondly, I have wonderful women who work for me. Having reliable, savvy and caring employees means I can focus on other responsibilities when I am not at the store.
What books are currently found on your nightstand or e-reader?
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Magazines, tweezers and my drill
Today’s interview and images are both by Heather Sisemore, who runs a full-time photography business. Find out more at her website, blog.heathersisemore.com.