Interview with Lynn Provost, founder of The Spirit Haüs.
A story about how your passion can turn into a business and items, which start conversations.
Tell us about yourself and your business
My name is Lynn Provost and I grew up in Connecticut, a small state in the USA next to New York. As a teenager, my mother made it a priority to have her kids explore new cultures and travel. I was very lucky to travel to Europe a few times on “cultural field trips” where I found a deep appreciation for the arts, wandering through some of the best museums in the world. I translated these experiences into a career in the theatre that literally took me all over the world, touring with shows throughout North America, Europe and Asia. About nine years ago I settled in Macau and worked for Cirque du Soleil’s Zaia for almost three years, which allowed me to explore Southeast Asia more in-depth. I fell in love with Thailand, prompting a move there to learn to be a professional scuba diver and eventually an instructor. A return back to a “real job” landed me back in Macau at The House of Dancing Water where I worked for almost five years in the electrics and aquatics departments. I moved to Hong Kong almost a year ago, got married, and decided to turn my love of exploring into a business. That is how The Spirit Haüs was born.
Tell us more about your business
The main goal of The Spirit Haüs is to find new and interesting items that start a conversation. I want to find things that aren’t necessarily a new idea, but that is maybe a new idea for Hong Kong. Things, which get people excited. I source a lot of my goods from India and Nepal, and really try to work with the direct sources when I can. I’ve been very lucky to meet some amazing people who help me find products, help create new designs or make amazing suggestions on items that are common where they are but cannot be found in Hong Kong. Another really important thing for me is to make sure the items are affordable. There seems to be a big gap in Hong Kong where things are either insanely expensive or cheap. I think it’s important to provide quality goods at a reasonable price
How the idea was born and what were your first steps?
The idea of a shop like this began a few years ago when I was living in Macau, after a trip to Thailand. The first inkling of the idea began with a set of cushions! I bought some triangle shaped cushions for my house in Thailand. Over there they are in almost every house, restaurant and hotel so they are very affordable, but amazing quality with all natural stuffing and cotton covers. I think I ended up buying two for maybe $300 HKD! On returning home, friends fell in love with the cushions so we looked for them in stores and couldn’t find them. And when we did, they were well over $1000 HKD each. So I got a little angry and thought to myself, why? It seems ridiculous that something can be marked up so much just for profit. Why not find these cool things and share them at a fair price? What else is out there that people have been looking for?
What was your biggest motivation and inspiration when you decided to start your business?
I think a lot of my motivation came from trying to find things that I would want in my home or for myself. I don’t want my house to look like everyone else’s, and after spending many years in the area, I found a lot of my friends felt the same. There’s a disconnect sometimes between what people get for their home and what they really want because of availability, price and language barriers. I’ve spent many years with Ikea furniture because it was affordable and can be quite good, however seeing the same accessories in other expat’s homes can get a bit vanilla. Why shouldn’t we spice it up a little and treat ourselves without breaking the bank!
I also like the idea or products that have a benefit to your environment or well being. I carry a few items that have been touted to have “miraculous” benefits, but I believe that if the item brings you joy that should be enough. A great example is the copper bottles that I sell, which are handmade in India. I’ve seen claims that they will help you lose weight, cure cancer, grant you three wishes and make you live forever! I always tell my customers there are a lot of discussion as to the actual benefits, so feel free to research and make your own decisions. However, the bottles look amazing, and if that is enough to elevate your mood and encourage you to drink more water, use that as a proven benefit.
What was the most challenging part of starting your business?
Just how much time it took! I was really surprised how intensive it was to launch our website and how many hours I stared at my computer. Since a lot of our items have unique variations, the time it takes to write copy for the website, take and edit photos and upload and organize everything was very surprising! We worked with a great developer and team to build the structure of our website, however, the content came down to me and I wanted it to be easy to understand and comprehensive.
Tell us about your first client.
Not so much a client, but the first fair I did was last November at the Handmade Hong Kong Market in Discovery Bay. I love that market, and we try to have a table there every month, but it is very dependent on the weather as it is entirely outside in the Plaza. My first fair it rained all day, so all my items were covered in plastic and there were no customers, but I met some lovely vendors and had some great conversations. Finally, at the end of the day, the rain stopped and I made my first sale of two copper bottles! Not an amazing start to the business, but I’m very thankful for the experience because it let me know right from the beginning it may be difficult to do this. I think it was also great because it shaped the way I view doing markets and fairs. I’m pretty optimistic about them now and think “Well, at least it’s not raining!”
Which marketing tools you found to be the most successful? Which methods worked the best for you to acquire new clients?
For my products, a lot of it has to do with word of mouth and recommendations. Some of my items draw people over, or they see someone else with them and say “Where did you get that?”. I get a number of repeat customers or friends of customers who say “I bought … from you last month, do you have more?” or “What new items do you have?” I also like to partner with service-based businesses who have an established clientele. It’s great for both parties, as they get to have interesting items in their space without the time-consuming business of finding and buying unique goods. I get to share my brand with new potential customers.
For social media, I love Instagram because it’s quite easy for me to take photos and show people what’s new. Most of my items are very visually interesting, and the photos can be very striking.
What did you find to be the most difficult part about running your own business?
That there are only 24 hours in a day! Seriously, some days there are not enough hours to tackle everything on my plate and still be a good fur-parent to my two dogs.
What is that you love the most about what you are doing?
I love sharing with people what I find. I get excited about new items and I want my customers to feel the same joy I get from them. I like talking to people about where the items come from and the people who make them.
I also really enjoy building relationships with my vendors and especially working with them to develop new items or variations. The creative process has always excited me, and I love collaborating and bouncing new concepts off each other.
Which are the advantages and disadvantages of having your own business?
For me, it’s the same thing – total control and responsibility. I love being able to decide what The Spirit Haüs sells, participates in and presents to the world, however, it can be a bit overwhelming. There have been a few days when I think I’m not up to this today and I have to remind myself I have to be! I’ve had to spend the day at a fair with a sore throat or a migraine, but there’s no calling in sick when it’s your business!
As a woman, you most probably have something to tell about work-family balance. Please share your thoughts with us.
I think that especially with an online business it is very hard to get private time and personal space. Your shop is always open and customers may have questions any time of day or night. I feel that it is very important for women to make it a priority to take time for themselves, even if it is just a few minutes every day to meditate, exercise or pursue hobbies. Everyone is different, so the unwinding and disconnect process varies. For me, it is taking the time to spend time with my dogs and husband. I also really enjoy cooking, so the process of making dinner for my family helps me unwind, even if is something simple.
Another thing that has really helped is I turn my phone off at night. It not only discourages me from continuing projects into the night but also doesn’t wake me up for every status update, email or order.
What is your favourite part of the day?
Walking my dog! I love the time we get to spend together because it's just the two of us and it’s very peaceful. We have two dogs, and one has some mobility issues, so I’m not able to take her out as much. But my dog Sampson and I go out every morning and explore our little neighbourhood to say “Jou Son” to the elderly tai chi practitioners. It also gives me a good chance to clear my head before I head to my home office to start the day.
What helps you to keep going when the times get hard?
Smiling dogs go a long way to relieve stress. Both of our dogs are rescued, and when I am going through a difficult time, I play or cuddle with them. Both have had extremely hard lives, with abuse and abandonment by former owners, but they still love unconditionally. Seeing their optimism reminds me that any situation can get better!
Thank you for sharing your story and I am sure it empowered many inspiring female entrepreneurs to try harder to make their vision a reality.
Check out The Spirit Haüs treasures at:
From 22nd of March 2018 selected items will be presented at Melomist spa, pop by!
3/F, Cheung Hing Commercial Building,
No, 37-43 Cochrane Street, Central, Hong Kong
Learn more about upcoming
Learn more about the event