SCHERERVILLE | Tucked away in a quiet area of Schererville, yet not far from the hubbub of U.S. 41, is a shed filled with bird houses and accessories to make any garden its own tranquil paradise.
A secret to many because of its off-the-beaten path location, The Secret Shed is owned by Ron and Donnee Smith, whose business stemmed from their love of gardening and birds.
It was a problem they faced five years ago, however, that ultimately started this new chapter in their lives.
Squirrels and raccoons were invading the bird feeders in their yard. Using his carpentry skills, Ron designed a telescoping PVC pole that was squirrel and raccoon proof.
Because of the product's success, the couple decided to market the pole through a website. When online marketing didn't produce a high volume of sales, they began attending shows and farmers markets in the region, selling the telescoping poles and other bird products.
"After a year of shows, all the returning customers kept asking for our store," Donnee Smith said. "We didn't have a store, nor did we want to go to the expense of a regular store."
The couple, however, did have room on their Schererville property, which also houses their bookkeeping and construction businesses. They decided to open a showroom store in one of the property's garages.
"Because we have always had business in our home, this was just an extension of my business," she said. "The Secret Shed is a DBA (Doing Business As) of R&D Specialty Services, so when we do not have customers, I can either do books or garden."
Because the couple also operate a construction business, they used repurposed products from various projects they have completed over the years - making The Secret Shed a truly "green" store, Ron Smith said.
"All of the wall materials, doors and ceilings have come from different jobs done in the last 25 years," he said. "The wood shelving came from what we took out of the old ceiling to open half of the store to get more height for displays. The base trim is granite and came from a local casino that no longer wanted that product, as did a lighted acoustical ceiling."
They had help from various family members in the demo and reconstruction of the garage as well, another cost-saving measure.
In addition to bird products such as copper and glass feeders and seed, The Secret Shed also carries garden decorations and even T-shirts.
While the showroom offers visitors an opportunity buy on the spot, the Smiths also allow customers to order products not available onsite.
"We only have 600 square feet, so it's impossible to have everything that people want," Donnee Smith said. "But with the vendors that we have, we can usually get what they want within a week."
She says her favorite aspect of retail sales is helping customers pick the right feeder and seed for the right bird.
"When people start out feeding birds, they buy one feeder and then wonder why they are not getting the good birds," she said. "Helping them understand what each bird needs for perching and seed requirements, and then when they come back and say they got the birds they wanted, is a great feeling."