By the time any of us reach high school, we’ve been typecast. Steve is the jock. Allison is the brain. Carolyn is the Homecoming queen. While our identities can be given – or imposed – on us by our peers, sometimes we are the creators of them. Perhaps the hardest thing to do is not, as you might think, to step out of what a group expects us to be but to instead reject what we expect of ourselves. Kirstie Rickert, the founder of AmourPrints, a million-dollar company that sells unique, custom-canvas wall decor, was the shy girl in high school. It was an identity that worked for a while until one night when she wondered what life would be like if she simply decided to stop being shy.
“It was a pretty ordinary moment, really,” Kirstie says, remembering. “It was the first night of my new job, and I had to make balloon animals for the kids. That wasn’t too bad, but what was hanging over my head was my boss’ not-too-subtle threat that I had to be very friendly with the customers, or I would be fired. I was so nervous that I was about to throw up, truth be told.”
Every step to her first customers’ table was like walking to her executioner. “Why I picked a job where I would have to talk to people, I will never know,” Kirstie says, shaking her head. “But, there I was. After what felt like a million years, I got there, and then the craziest thing happened.”
She started talking.
“It wasn’t so bad!” Kirstie laughs. “I just started talking a mile a minute, and I made the balloon-animals. A dog, I think. The customers thanked me, I smiled, and I walked away. The whole encounter lasted two minutes, tops, but I went home that night thinking about it.”
Kirstie realized that there was a completely different way of living out there, and she only had to choose to experience it. “I didn’t have to be shy, and when I saw that I had been holding myself back, I really wondered what else I had been missing out on. I was determined to live life completely differently.”
It gave her a lot of confidence that would help her to eventually become an entrepreneur. “Picture this,” Kristie says, smiling at the memory. “It was 2012. I had no money to speak of, and I sure didn’t have the fancy business degree that so many other people had. Yet, hey, I was ready to start a business!”
Kirstie laughs, but it’s clear that while she lacked a few things people traditionally consider necessary for entrepreneurship, she had a few others: drive, ambition, and sheer guts. AmourPrints was started, and Kirstie got to work building what would become a multimillion-dollar business.
Kirstie reached two milestones when she started her Etsy shop in 2013 and then made her first sale. “Both were incredible,” says Kirstie. “I eventually dropped out of college to do this full time, and so did my fiance because it became our dream to run our own successful business. It was a real adventure for both of us.”
Etsy became troublesome, taking down their shop multiple times without basis following their first successful year. “After trying to contact Etsy about my shop takedown and getting nowhere, we decided to move to a different platform,” Kirstie says.
Shopify offered more potential for growth and was a lot less limiting. “We began automating each process and worked to understand what we were doing. It was not easy, but we finally felt that we were getting the hang of things. Shopify certainly was not easy like Etsy because you had to do everything from the ground up. While Etsy did most of the work for you as a seller, Shopify was simply your template. I had to learn web design dev, SEO, staff management, ads, and much more. Despite these obstacles, during our first year, we were able to make $50K. My fiance focused on the designs and production while I did everything from A to Z. Our second year, we brought in $100K,” Kirstie states.
Despite the hard work and sales, Kirstie and her fiance were still battling the opposing opinions and comments from those in their inner circle regarding their business endeavors. “Our families would often express their concern for our decision to drop out of college. They feared we were making a terrible choice and suggested many alternate occupations, which we refused to do,” she explained. Shortly after the two got married, they had a sign of good faith when their business had its first big month and they could miraculously live on their own. During their first months as a married couple, they put even more into their business. By the next year, they were able to buy their first home, and Kirstie and her husband had their daughter, who is now 4 years old.
During 2019, AmourPrints faced a do-or-die moment, and Kirstie and her husband were forced to make a life-changing decision. “We were losing thousands of dollars each month, but something was telling me not to give up, to instead push through. This later turned out to be one of our wisest decisions regarding our business,” Kirstie tearfully explained.
2020 dealt AmourPrints another blow when COVID hit, and businesses all around the world faced uncertainty. Kirstie and her husband didn’t know if their business would survive, but Kirstie determinedly pushed through once again. She began researching how to increase store visibility and implemented more effective business strategies. “I upgraded to Shopify Plus and took a risk and invested all of our money. Last year, in 2020, we somehow miraculously made $3.6 million, and this year we are on track to double our earnings,” Kirstie says, beaming. “I have worked so hard, and I give God the credit for helping me through this. Our families are proud of us and now understand why we didn’t give up.”
Staying the course would allow AmourPrints to reach $4 million in sales in only four years. “That has given us the ability to help other people,” Kirstie says. “My husband and I believe that as Christians, we must be good stewards of the money God gives us. After praying over how to use it, we decided to donate a percentage of our sales to World Vision. Global homelessness really weighs on our hearts, so by donating to World Vision, we can help to fight it.”
Today, Kirstie sometimes thinks about the boxes we all put ourselves in. “High school students don’t realize that they are limiting themselves by labeling themselves like they do,” Kirstie says. “What excuse can adults claim? We must all learn to be our authentic selves. I think that is when life truly gets amazing, when we’re free to live as we’re meant to live. That’s ultimately why AmourPrints happened – I let myself dare to believe I could live differently.”