Interview with CeCe Caldwell Herself!
If you are a regular around here, it is no secret how much I adore CeCe Caldwell’s paints AND the company. I have had the privilege to get to know some of the people that make up the CeCe Caldwell family through blogging and in person. Today, I am so honored to share with you my one on one interview with CeCe Caldwell herself. So without further Adieu…..
GTC: Where did the “paint” all begin. Did you paint as a child, were you always a repurposer?
CECE: I wasn’t necessarily “creative” in the art sense. I was introduced to the kitchen very early in life. Cooking and sharing good food was an important part of my upbringing. At 8 or 9 years old, I could cook an entire a meal. I did do some sewing from time time, but I have always had a good eye for color, I have spent a great deal of time gardening, it has long been a passion of mine. One thing I have enjoyed with color is in my garden, putting together blooming plants, greenery, etc. that come together to make a very pleasing color pallet. For much of my life, cooking and gardening were my creative outlets. Only about 10 years ago did I begin painting furniture. I have always been a junker, I have always loved the idea of “upcycling” and was raised with the belief that things can have many purposes before then are thrown out. Painted furniture began to be popular, so I decided to try my hand at painting my junking finds. I rented a little Antique booth. I began fixing things up, painting them, and suddenly my things were selling!
GTC: There is a big jump from being a hobby furniture painter to embarking on and founding an entire paint business! What did you do in your professional life before “CeCe Caldwell’s Chalk and Clay Based Paints” came along?
CECE: In my professional life, I was a a technical product line manager for an industrial textiles company. I essentially helped develop new products. Development of products was always my favorite thing to do. I was also the go to person when a customer had a problem. I loved analyzing the problem, (a customer needed a textile for some sort of industrial use) and then coming up with a solution (designing textile) that would help the customer overcome their problem. I learned that when a customer had a problem and needed a new product to solve the issue, you have to be a very good listener, and enquirer, you have to dig and find out what the problem really is. Then you have to investigate the problem/conflict itself. This formula gave our customers the solutions they needed. In 2007, I suffered some very serious health issues that landed me in the hospital for some time. When I was well enough to be home, I began thinking of all the chemicals I and my family are exposed to in our daily lives. Both of my parents had sustained workplace related cancers. This deeply affected the way I began seeing everything we are exposed to in our daily lives, what we are putting into the environment. Then I had became a grandparent. I began thinking about what my contribution to the environment would leave for my grandchildren. I decided I wanted to limit my exposure to toxins in my home, in my business, in my food. I was still enjoying painting furniture and selling it as a hobby, but I knew the paints that were available on the market were full of chemicals and toxins. I did some research, found a company that could provide a completely green chalk and clay based “base” . (All paints have a base and color is added). I would then use natural pigments to tint the paints. Between my job as a production manager, being creative in kitchen with cooking, my love of gardening and mixing colors in my plants, these were all a springboard into developing the paint. GTC: Did you come up with the paint with the idea of developing a line of paint, or was it just something you were going to use yourself?
CECE: I thought I would just sell it where I put my furniture, but mostly it was just for my personal use. This lasted about 1 week. The paint completely sold out. I had several friends who had some experience in the paint industry and they believed in my product. We got together to form CeCe Caldwell’s and decided we would try our hand at selling it on a national level.
GTC: This all happened so fast! Did you think it would take off as quickly as it did?
CECE: Two months after I started the company, I tried to resign, but was asked to stay on for several more months. This was a very busy time for me!! CeCe Caldwell’s had begun selling nationally in January of 2012. By June, we could barely make enough!
GTC: Was this instant growth easy to deal with? Sometimes this can be the death of a company!
CECE: Instant growth is wonderful, but it can be very difficult for a company. Going from a Mom and Pop to a business that is growing nationwide. There are things you never anticipate you would face in a business. A company growing this fast, with production, you have to be ready to face every imaginable scenario.
GTC: Once you set up shop with the paints, and they started taking off, what did you think? When did you decide to go “all in”. Did your career as a production Manager help you guide CeCe Caldwell’s through the growing pains?
CECE: When the paint really took off, my professional skill set really kicked in. I had been in an up and down manufacturing business for years. I had really learned how to juggle cash flow, and suddenly needing raw materials. The last two years where I had worked, I was in the supply chain, they were having bad financial strain. I learned how to juggle those start up challenges. I had already fought that battle and knew how to win it. Still, the hardest thing about rapid growth is forecasting what you will need in 6 months from now. We are growing so fast still. We are constantly on the watch for what we will need. This truly was just an extension of an average day at my former job.
GTC: You started at a plant in South Carolina, but soon relocated to Arizona. Was this a plan from the beginning?
CECE: We outgrew the plant in South Carolina in just about 6 months. It wasn’t our plan to stay permanently in South Carolina though. My husband, Eric and I had been looking for a place to retire to prior to our launching CeCe Caldwell’s. We knew we were not staying in SC. When we began looking at a place to retire to, 75% of our choice to where relocate was based on climate. We eventually decided on Prescott, Arizona. In Prescott, we get four seasons, with no extremes. We fell in love with the spirit of the community. There is a beautiful Artist community here, and a wonderful small town feel. Moving ourselves and our company to Prescott was probably one of our easiest choices.
GTC: You mentioned you and your husband were looking for a place to retire to. Launching a successful, and rapidly growing all natural paint company doesn’t sound like retirement!
CECE: I see retirement in four stages. Starting CeCe Caldwell’s was the first part of retirement.
1st stage, you can leave the job that you had to have to raise a family and you can to go a profession you really enjoy. We are in the 1st stage or retirement
2nd stage, when we will step back from our day to day involvement, and begin doing more things we have always wanted to do. The company is growing in a way that we no longer have to be so involved with the growth. We are slowly getting to stage two. Stage two is travel and having experiences together you didn’t have time for when you were raising a family and then tied to a career/business.
3rd stage, You can be even less involved with your company at this point. You have the right people in place to continue its growth and your vision. At the 3rd stage, you are mostly spending time doing things you love. We will be spending time giving back to our community through volunteering. Giving back to our community and society is very important to me. When you are at a stage where you have time to give back. I love being able to pay it forward.
4th stage. This is when you become old. Physical limitations prevent you from doing things you once were so active in. At the 4th stage, you can enjoy your memories and a life well lived. I want to be able to look back and feel like I made a positive foot print on the world.
GTC: I love the stages of retirement! I hope I just jump to stage two! When I am done, I am done!
GTC: What is the true mission/purpose of CeCe Caldwell’s paints and products.
CECE: Making green, earth friendly, affordable paint and paint products for the public, is very important to me. We are creating a paint that is affordable, and available to everyone that has some form of disposable income. I believe all of us that have some disposable income have an obligation to think about how we can bring the cost down of all products that we use, that earth friendly products can be for everyone. Supply and demand, this drives the market. When we as consumers choose to spend our dollars on more responsible products, we can help bring about a better change for everyone.
There is a lot of paint here ready to go!
GTC: It’s no secret I love junking/upcycling furniture and home decor. However, I compete with an ever growing market of cheap imports and mass produced furniture. How do I and people with like minds make a difference in changing the tide?
CECE: We can teach our children we do not live in a disposable world. We are so used to disposing of things when they no longer serve their purpose, or we need to upgrade to the latest thing. Sometimes, it is necessary to purchase new/upgrade etc., but 50 years ago, there were repair men for all kinds of daily appliances we use. Now half the the time, if something stops working, we simply throw things out.
GTC: How can we instill the need for upcycling using paint?
CECE: When you use our paints to give new life to an item that was discarded, or had fallen out of fashion, etc. You show your children you can take something that is an ugly duckling, and show them it still has value. You can teach them it isn’t worthless. There are lessons here on many levels. Not only with our paints and repurposing, but how we see the world and people around us.
This United States cut out was made using old shipping pallets at the CeCe Caldwell’s factory.
CECE: Only two months ago, I bought my first new sofa, EVER. From before the time my girls were born, I shopped consignment and 2nd hand stores. It was ingrained in me, you just don’t throw things out, you reupholster, repurpose, etc.
GTC: Spoiler alert! Your real name is not CeCe Caldwell……How did you get your nickname?
CECE: My dad’s name was Cecil, my middle name is Cecila. This where the “CeCe” comes from. The Caldwell comes from Eric’s military career. (He believes you take care of your troops/employees 1st) He had a troop when he was in in the Korean war that was in need of supplies. They weren’t able to get them through the normal channels. Eric discovered he could invent another officer, same rank and grade
GTC: (this was back in Korea, things were done differently, think MASH, they actually did this in episodes!)
CECE: The alter ego of the person he created was “R.T. Caldwell”. He even had name tags made up! Eric was a pilot, therefore his name tag was not sewn onto his suit. He could put on “R.T. Caldwell”, and get his troops the things they needed. It was always a funny family story, R.T. would make an appearance from time to time in our family antics. After Eric and I decided to form an actual paint company and begin distributing it nationwide, we needed to come up with a name. One Sunday we had gone to lunch, we were trying to decide on a name for the company. I had settled with Cece Connor, Connor was a family name. Eric said it was time R.T. got married, he married CeCe, and Cece Caldwell’s was born. It represents both of us. Eric was there for 50% of the business, engineering and production, etc.
This is Eric, the other half of CeCe Caldwell’s paints. He is pretty awesome as well.
GTC: I love this story. It isn’t just a name you pulled out of hat!
GTC: I am sure there have been countless surprises on the success/feedback of your paint line. What has surprised you the most about the feedback/success.
CECE: The instant celebrity aspect of this business has been challenging. I always wanted to stay in the back ground and just do the best I could. My personal satisfaction comes from my performance on the job and the product I make. When people suddenly wanted to meet me, that was a challenge for me. I don’t necessarily like to be the one in the spot light. There is a reason the company name is not my personal name. It is important to have a separation of my public personae and name, and be a private person. I still like to be able to go junking/Antique stores and be anonymous. I don’t want everyone to know CeCe Caldwell is at their garage sale!
GTC: What makes you feel special about your company?
CECE: Family. Family is very important. Both of my girls are working with us now. When people come to work with us, we kid them that they just inherited a new family. It is not just work, we celebrate important things and times in each other’s lives together. One of our employees came to work with us when he was barely 18 and had not finished high school. He has now earned his GED and is attending a Junior College. His success was very important to all of us. They also believe in having fun!
Giving back to the community is very important to us. Wherever we are represented, we encourage our retailers to give back. We love to support our retailers from small things to supporting individuals that use our products. We encourage our retailers to hold fundraisers. We love to help out on very personal levels too. It is very important to us to give back in large and small ways.
CeCe and Susan Goodman – Distributor for California
GTC: This was one of the first reasons I fell in love with CeCe Caldwell’s paints (just after I fell in love with the paint!)
GTC: I have been to two fundraisers with you now, and look forward to our next one at Paris Flea Market May 3rd!
CECE: It is very soul satisfying that we really try to supply a product that is better than other products, for our bodies and for our earth. We don’t charge you a premium for it. We try to be as green as we can in our office. It isn’t just the paint, it is our mantra and way of things we do here. We tend to hire like minded people. This is more important to me, what we contribute to the world, than the money we make with it.
GTC: When you are not working, what do you enjoy doing with any spare free time? I am guessing cooking, what do you like to cook?
CECE: I love to cook things from my garden, when I have time, I just love to create in my kitchen. I have passed this onto my girls. (One of CeCe’s daughters won a prestigious Chili cook off last summer, beating out chefs and die hard chili cooks!) Cooking is very much an enjoyable source of creativity.
GTC: What are your own creative goals for working with your paints and products.
CECE: There are two more metallic wax colors coming out. (If I get my way, 3 more). We will hopefully have a new product that many people who upcycle will use to change the look of their furniture, but it isn’t paint……That should launch this year.
GTC: What are your favorite CeCe Caldwell’s colors?
GTC: Do you have a favorite finishing tip?
CECE: I love to burnish with just a piece of a brown paper bag. Inexpensive for the consumer, very green. Produces a beautiful finish. It can be very relaxing and will create less dust. I just get into a “Zen” mode when I burnish. (GTC: Check HERE for my video where I show how this is done).
GTC: I know for many of us who paint and craft, it can be very relaxing.
CECE: Yes, medical studies show that doing something that engages both the mind and the hand, reduces stress and has shown to help with depression. Painting can be very centering, very grounding. (GTC: Ha! GROUNDED, check out my WORD for 2014!)
GTC: Do you have a favorite finish?
CECE: I like to paint with a lot of texture. A lot of layers of color. I can’t just put one color on something. I like imperfection in a piece. I don’t do pieces that are perfect, symmetrical, I prefer a more relaxed finish. I like pieces that step outside the comfort zone. If I could challenge our customers, always try to step outside the box and produce a piece that may sit for a while. Choose a piece sometimes that challenges you creatively. Don’t always play it safe. Sometimes when a piece is not coming together the way you wanted it to, step away from it, and go with the characters of the piece and try to work with a color. Some pieces will have attitude, try to work with it.
GTC: What is your favorite thing to go junking for?
CECE: I love to collect Chrystal bowls, which is funny because I am not a flashy person. I like measuring devices. All types of measuring devices, rulers, scales. I recently went to an auction, and brought home a scale I had had my eye on. Cooking, making paint, I am always using measuring devices (in my former career I used them often). Then I started collecting them and made the connection they have always been a big part of my life.
GTC: What are your goals for the future of CeCe Caldwell’s Paints and Products?
CECE: Currently we are focusing on growing the right company. We would rather have slower growth and find the right fit in retailers. We are looking for people who are passionate about the company.
GTC: What is a day in the life of CeCe like?
CECE: It actually varies greatly. There is no such thing as a typical day. There are always business calls, product development, and often traveling to see retailers and suppliers. The wonderful part of our growth is that I no longer have any delegated daily tasks. This keeps things really interesting.
GTC: How do you determine new colors?
CECE: We use a lot of feed back from customers. We look at design trends. I love to look Architectural Digest, you can see the colors that are coming that will be popular with the public. We are still working on the pallet so there are colors represented in all areas. This year our goal is to tweak the pallet in such a way that the consumer will either have the color, or will be able to make any color from our existing colors.
GTC: With rapid success must come difficult decisions as well. Every company has to cross these difficult roads. Have you had to face this?
CECE: Absolutely. There have been decisions I have had to make and choices that were not my personal wishes, but were needed in order for the company to continue to grow. There are difficult choices that have to be made for the greater good of what we believe in at CeCe Caldwell’s. Making a Green, affordable paint available to everyone, and to better the lives of those who use our products.
GTC: I can say with complete conviction using your paints has bettered my life in countless ways. I have seen the opportunities it has opened for others who previously thought they had no natural artistic talent. I know it has created opportunities for income for people who previously thought they lacked a talent in furniture painting. I know several people whose health has been spared and improved from switching from chemical based paints to a completely natural paint. Thank you for taking the step forward, creating the paint, building a company to share it with the public, and continue to better the world and environment around us.