The Nickel Tour
We’re coming up on two years since the I Heart Costa Mesa project launched, and since that time we’ve connected with a lot of Costa Mesans (and the lovely people who work in, play in or otherwise love this town.)
Along the way, a pattern has emerged in the stories we’ve collected. While people like Costa Mesa for her weather, her beach-close affordability, her big-city-with-a-small-town feel – they fall in love with her details. The details show up in lots of ways: the poignancy of a Segerstrom performance, the vibe of a particular neighborhood, the swings at Tewinkle Park, the warmth of a favorite coffee shop.
If anyone can embody an appreciation for the little details of life – like the whimsy of a welcome mat, the dazzle of a druzy or the chuckle from a really cheeky tee – it’s today’s featured Costa Mesan: Nicole Jones.
She’s the designer / buyer / owner behind Nickel Designs (aka: the Etsy shop) and Nickel + Birch (aka: the truck) – and responsible for adding fun, color and youthful aesthetic to front porches around the world.
Gifts Of Inspiration: Jones Sources Fun + Thoughtful Trinkets That Are Easy To Give (Or Keep)
Like all good stories, Jones’ journey starts with an accidental discovery that lead to a life path she never envisioned.
“My husband and I bought our house here in Costa Mesa a couple years ago,” Jones began. “We saved and saved and were so excited to finally have our own home. We got really lucky with the neighborhood – we’re right by the fairgrounds – and it’s just the best; we love it.
“So we’re moving into this house and I’m looking for a doormat, right? But everything I found was cats or flowers or boring. We’re a younger couple and I wanted something funny or clever. I couldn’t find one so I decided to just make it myself.”
“Friends were messaging me, like, ‘That’s so cool! Where’d you get it? Want,'” said Jones. “I think that was my first realization that, ‘Whoa. This could be a thing.’
“So I enlisted the help of my best friend, Kelly, and we spent the whole next weekend freehand-cutting and stenciling doormats. The first few were super simple: an anchor, a red heart, things like that. We put them up on Etsy and within three hours we had a sale. It freaked us out! The order came in and we were like, ‘Oh no! Now what do we do?’ We didn’t know anything about packaging and shipping doormats. We were making it up as we went.”
The orders kept rolling in and Jones quickly had a thriving Etsy shop on her hands. As it grew, she expanded her mat selection – and her messaging – to include seasonal doormats, funny doormats, “his + hers” doormats, pet-centric doormats and more.
“Even so, the simple ones like the heart and the anchor are still some of my best-sellers,” said Jones. “I never really know what people will like, so if I get an idea or something makes me laugh, I make it into a doormat and just see how it goes.”
Whimsical Welcome Home: A Modern Take On The Classic Doormat, By Nickel Designs
Nickel Designs eventually took off to the point that Jones had to quit her day job to keep up with orders. With more free time on her hands to focus on the startup, she decided to take her retail game to the next level: the Nickel + Birch mobile boutique.
“It started as casual conversation with my best friend over a couple glasses of wine, “said Jones. “We were saying how great it would be to get a truck, like a food truck, but turn it into a mobile shop. So because we’re completely crazy, we took ourselves seriously and started obsessively looking for trucks.”
The universe soon answered with a retired firefighting fleet truck from the Morning Start Fire Department.
“It was red with a little star on the side,” said Jones. “I guess it was the truck they used to carry ladders and hoses and gear – stuff like that. She was in great shape, low mileage, and she was a beast! We had to drive her home down the 5 Freeway and we were freaking out. We’d never driven a truck like that and didn’t realize until halfway home we had her in first gear instead of drive – so it was slow going.”
Once home, they gutted the truck and rebuilt her interior with wood flooring, racks, displays – and wrapped the exterior in copper and white.
“It took a lot of cleaning, elbow grease and love,” said Jones. “And now when I roll up, people love it. I call her, ‘Big Red’ because she’s still a red fire truck underneath it all. She’s a big hit.”
Mobile Makeover: From Fire Truck To Portable Boutique (Nickel + Birch, Costa Mesa)
With the truck, Jones was able to expand her offerings beyond doormats. She thought long and hard about the kinds of items she’d feel good about selling, and the idea of “Thoughtfully Sourced Goods” was born.
“Everything we carry is either handmade, or produced by a small business and made in the USA,” said Jones. “That was really important to me and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from it.
“When you shop a small business, it’s more direct support for your local economy. Most small-business owners are pouring their heart and soul into their products and their business is an expression of themselves as a person. It’s putting a face on the products you buy and seeing the human being behind the transaction. It may sound cheesy, but it’s also really important.”
While the inventory within the mobile boutique is always changing, shoppers can expect Nickel + Birch to consistently offer the kinds of items that make excellent gifts for the women in your life: Fun tee-shirts, beautifully-crafted jewelry, home accents and other forms of artisanal handiwork.
“There’s a live calendar on the website so people can track the truck and figure out where it’s going to be,” said Jones. “We do a lot of festivals, fairs and farmers’ markets. People can also book the truck for their own parties and a portion of the sales goes back to the host.”
Jones is quick to point out that she’s really open to connecting with other Costa Mesa makers.
“We rotate through different items in our shop, so we’re perpetually on the lookout,” said Jones. “If anyone thinks they’re a good fit, they should shoot us an email. We love connecting with our local community and meeting other creative people. If you want us to pop up in your part of town for an event you’re having, we’d love to hear about that, too.”
Those feelings of connectedness and community aren’t just good business for Jones, they’re fundamental reasons for buying a house in College Park, plus living in – and loving – Costa Mesa.
“Let’s be honest, in some parts of Orange County, it’s dead,” said Jones. “We looked at some areas and it was like, ‘My gosh! We’re going to be 95-year-old 30-year-olds if we live here.’ But in Costa Mesa, there’s always something fun to do. There’s variety and diversity here.
“There’s a sense of community, too. In our neighborhood, we have a healthy mix of older people and younger families. When we were working on transforming the truck in our front yard, we’d see the same neighbors out for their walk, each day. They’d stop by and check on our progress, give us their opinion. They’d watch us with the blowtorch and either give advice or say things like, ‘Don’t burn the neighborhood down.’
“But the cool thing is my neighbors were with me through that whole transition. So now when they see the truck parked out front, they know we’re loading her up to take her to a show. So they’ll stop by and say, ‘Where you headed? Got a show this weekend?’
“They’re invested, you know? And it’s pretty cool having neighbors who take an interest in your life and what’s going on. Costa Mesa’s good like that.” ♥
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