A Gift Shop With A Tender Touch

A set of floral inspired glassware. Photo by Theo Kent Photography.

If you are looking for a unique, local gift store that offers a wide variety of hand-painted items and other gift-giving essentials, look no further than Tess' Tender Touch.

Its owner and founder, Theresa Ferline-Carr, a life-long Lakewood resident and part-time Lakewood Hospital employee, knowing how much customers love hand-made items, developed an interest in starting a gift shop.

“A unique thing about the store is the hand-painted bottles from recycled glass,” said Theresa. The store also offers painted wine bottles and the increasingly popular plant feeders, which provide plant lovers a colorful and decorative way to care for their plants. Additionally, Tess’ Tender Touch supplies other gift-giving essentials, like candles and candleholders, as well as cards and jewelry. 

“I have a jeweler, Denise Gill, who uses semi-precious stones, sterling silver and Swarovski crystals,” said Theresa about her efforts to make her store a one-stop shop, adding that all items leave the store in a gift bag. “I also have a card-maker, Beth Taylor, who does greeting cards, gift tags, notepads, gift boxes, and CD clocks. Pat Loose also makes walker bags.”

Theresa also offers custom designing. Her most recent example was a full set of toasting glasses for a wedding, along with favors and centerpieces that were designed to the couple’s wishes to match the invitation. 

“I would like to try to reach the bridal audience,” said Theresa about her customer base. “I just did an anniversary party and I do birthday parties as well. [The client] can custom design something. I’ll do whatever anyone asks me to do.”

She also offers gift baskets for a variety of occasions, but makes it clear that everything in her store is reasonably priced and very affordable. Her inventory boasts wine and martini glasses, beer mugs, tea cups, vases and tea toppers, just to name a few. She can even paint furniture, ornaments, interior walls, or kids' rooms. 

Theresa is currently promoting her hostess program, inspired by her days selling Mary Kay and Party Light products. She offers customers the chance to host an event at her store, and for every person that attends, the hostess gets $1 store credit, as well as 10% of the sales. If anyone from that party books a subsequent event, the host recieves $5 store credit.

“Potentially somebody has an opportunity to earn $50 to spend,” said Theresa. “They can bring their own hors d’oeuvres and do their shopping.”

All of the glassware at Tess’ Tender Touch goes through a baking process, making it not only dishwasher safe, but allowing the designs to last much longer. Theresa also uses Libbey glassware to increase the quality of the products so that they are durable as well as beautiful and can be used, not just displayed.  

Some of her glassware is donated, such as the Sunday cups contributed when Theresa was moving. 

“I like painting the wine bottles and jars the best,” Theresa said. “That to me is just fun because they can become anything. But there is always something to look at. Everything I do will have a “TTT” on it and something painted on base of the [wine]glass."

Theresa uses the Donna Dewberry one-stroke technique, which is a double-paint-loaded brush that adds dimension to the image on the glass. “The first thing I even did I just winged it,” said Theresa about her early painting style, “with Donna Dewberry’s technique, it makes it so things just flow onto the glass a little bit better.”

Theresa creates her own designs and enjoys painting flowers and animals the most. When she first dabbled in painting glassware while making hostess’ gifts for her mother’s party, she found herself painting every empty bit of glass in the house. 

“It was fun to be creative,” she said. “I had a couple of weeks off work for the holidays and I just went crazy and started painting all this stuff. My grandmother and sister even brought over stuff they weren’t using. I had this table full of [painted glassware] and my mother was asking me what I was gonna do with it.”

She took her wares to the St. Mary’s craft show and came home with only four pieces. Now that people were aware of her talents, Theresa was getting requests for her work. After more craft shows, she built up a steady clientele and decided to start a business. 

“We went looking for storefronts,” said Theresa. “We happened to be walking down Madison and saw a sign and found out how much it was. We decided to bite the bullet and just do it. It wasn’t really planned and it was one of those things I thought ‘just give it a try’.”

Tess’ Tender Touch moved from their Madison Avenue location to their current location on Detroit at the end of June. “The reason was foot traffic,” said Theresa of the switch. “I was surviving but just on existing customers.” Since her move she has seen a 300% increase in business in just the first month.

“Every person that comes in is thrilled that there is local, handmade stuff like this,” she said. “People are excited I think and everyone who comes in here is happy to have a [gift shop to go to]. This is a locally handmade [product], which I think sets us apart. I do the work here in the store.”

With a successful relocation celebration in July that featured a viola player from the Lakewood Project, Theresa promises lots of special events in the future to bring people into her store. 

Theresa has been surprised by the amount of support from people in her relocation. “I have a lot of support from Theo, my right-hand man,” she said. “My family is very supportive. It’s amazing how many people just kinda want to help you move, do things, or even volunteer to help run the store. It’s so nice, the amount of people out there who want to see a small business owner succeed, even the people that just walk through the doors.”

Tess’ Tender Touch is located at 14419 Detroit Avenue and at www.tesstendertouch.com

Read More on Lakewood Renaissance
Volume 6, Issue 17, Posted 8:21 AM, 08.25.2010