Hello Monday! I am so happy to share with you the story, and the creative entrepreneurs, behind the Scottsdale, Arizona, furniture and home accessories store Tierra Del Lagarto. On social media, and thanks to all the algorithms the various platforms have in place, you stumble upon pictures and accounts that are a match made for you. Travel. Adventure. Treasure hunting. Artisanal. Markets, bazaars and souks. Boho-chic and exquisite layering. Storytelling using objects and textiles. Add entrepreneurial spirit and the algorithms are jumping wildly and huge neon signs light up! And that’s how I stumbled upon Tierra Del Lagarto (TDL). I want to introduce you to Meg Van Lith whose family runs TDL. She shares the story of how she came to be part of Tierra Del Lagarto and on being a creative entrepreneur. It’s always a privilege to hear someone’s journey and Meg is such a good storyteller that you will want to brew a pot of chai and settle down. And the pics? Wanderlust, here we come! Plus there are so many lovely pictures that I am splitting the post into two parts. In this post, read about how Meg got started on this path and her journey as a creative entrepreneur.
Tierra Del Lagarto
“Tierra Del Lagarto is a furniture and home accessories store – the old-fashioned, brick and mortar kind! We are located in Scottsdale, AZ, and our primary customers live in the foothills of the lovely Sonoran desert that surrounds us, although we ship quite a bit out-of-state as well. We travel throughout the year to hand-pick pieces that we send back to the store by ocean container. Each year we visit India, Indonesia, Morocco, Turkey and Mexico, and receive about 15 containers each year. We keep no warehouse, so our 12,000 square feet of showroom is often so crowded it can be tricky to even navigate the aisles. It does, however, create a souk-like experience that our customers seem to enjoy – although it is hard to really “take it all in” in one visit! I am hoping to open a small online shop this summer since more and more people have been asking for it. We really just started out on Instagram not too long ago, and it’s been a delight to find interested people further afield. It is so rewarding to interact with people who have never even been in the store, but that are pulled in by our images and story. Such fun!”
How It All Began
“Hard to believe – but our little family business turns 25 this year. My parents started TDL when I was still in high school. It was 1991; tired of the corporate world where they’d both worked most of their lives, my folks moved back to AZ. The previous decade had seen us relocate nearly a dozen times for their jobs in finance and technology. The one thing that really resonated with my mom, Linda, after all those moves, was home design. With each relocation she remodeled, redesigned, and resold each of our houses pretty darn successfully, and she knew she had acquired enough of a “magazine education” (ie: know-how gleaned from obsessing over design magazines for decades – ha!) to start a furniture store.”
“I entered the picture a few years later – 1995, when I was 19 and not terribly inspired in college. The first few years of the store my parents bought solely from US-based vendors – wholesale buyers that sourced their goods internationally. Basically, from my point of view, they were having all the fun – not my folks! After going to countless trade shows and meeting the vendors face to face that were going on these buying trips, we decided it was time to venture out and start doing it ourselves. My parents were all set to go to Indonesia for the first time in the fall, but because of staffing concerns, had to cancel – there was no way they could both leave at the same time for a few weeks as the busy season was starting up. Enter the eager 19-year-old! I talked my way into taking my dad’s place, and before we knew it, my mom and I started off on our first international buying trip.”
Traveling The World
“It ended up being a perfect fit. We pushed each other to explore, to buy things we were passionate about, and to keep organized so it looked like we knew what we were doing. It was a steep learning curve, but we were doing it together, and after that first trip we were hungry for more. We still go on most of the trips together, but now I get to bring my own kids along. My ten-year old gets his numbers and niceties in Bahasa Indonesian mixed up with Turkish – terima kashih vs. tessekur ederim for example (both ‘thank you’ respectively.) When I can’t bring them along, I am so lucky to have my mom here to help out my husband while I am away. With six-year-old twins and a ten-year old, things are so much easier now, but when they were all younger, it was a real challenge to just pick up and set off for Marrakech for a week or more.”
“It has been 21 years of travel for me – and I like nothing better than finding that unusual item out in the world that we can bring back and translate into a wonderful treasure for someone’s home. While it is rewarding to help people find practical things for every room of the house, I really thrill at finding uses for old doors, carved beams, re-purposed antique wedding beds, strands of vintage bells, giant hand-tooled brass lanterns, soaring triple archways, and all the funky, crusty, stranger things that we unearth on our trips. It becomes a history lesson, an atlas of discovery, an often ridiculous story that we can then pass on to a customer with the piece they are buying. I truly believe, in our often conflicted world, that the more one learns about cultures and people different from our own, the more peace can be cultivated. Our clients are often travelers themselves, but even those that can’t go on the trips can take home a piece of another world and have a glimpse of another life on the opposite side of the globe.”
On Being A Creative Entrepreneur
“I believe I am a creative entrepreneur. Running the daily operations of a business like ours, as well as organizing all of the trips and incoming containers makes for a full-time job – just keeping the place up and running is daunting enough – but the creative aspect of the shop is actually the more time-consuming and challenging part. It is the 24/7 part of owning your own business. Never are the gears turned off that churn the vision – what to buy, what to design, how to move forward and keep the spirit of the store alive. Thankfully, it is also the most rewarding and often fun part of the job – but it is certainly not always easy.Â Keeping things fresh and exciting for customers, finding new uses for age-old things, working the modern esthetic into the vintage, old world items that we source – these are the things that we have to continuously work on.”
Challenges And Triumphs
“Balance is always a challenge in our ever-changing business. We walk a fine line between warehouse piles, and fine furniture showroom. Keeping the store filled to brimming with choices is wonderful, but we also have to show people what to do with our off-the-beaten-track kind of goods in vignette form. In addition, figuring out when to buy what and to keep things moving internationally so that our containers arrive at the right time is always a challenge. We have a very defined busy season in AZ – October through April – when the weather here is so lovely. Catering to “snow birds” is always on our mind. Basically we don’t want to get a ton of things in the summer when it’s 110 degrees and no one is here! Of course, home balance is also a continuous focus – three kids at home, a house I am remodeling, a wonderful husband, two giant unruly dogs – kookoo crazy all of it!”
On Having A Dream Job
“We get a lot of people in the store and online asking us – ‘do you need someone to carry your bags – I’ll do it!’ Of course it is not all fun and fantasy! While there are definitely fun parts, we spend most of our days working in dusty warehouses, visiting the same rural towns again and again. While we do go to far-flung destinations each year, these are not the garden spots as seen in tourist magazine spreads. Largely, we visit the underbellies where commerce and trade live. We don’t stay in 5 star hotels, we aren’t visiting palaces and parks, and our meals tend to run to whatever is at hand while working long days. After a couple of decades of doing this, however, I do really appreciate squeezing in an afternoon of fun here and there. One of the best parts of traveling is meeting up with friends we’ve made over the years. Meeting up in Jaipur or Istanbul with a friend and having dinner, or visiting a favorite shop to buy things for ourselves is always a treat. We do try to pop into museums or squeeze in a site here and there on each trip too.”
“Now and then I can extend a trip with the kids into a real vacation – like last summer when we spent a few weeks in Bali. I did my work over the course of the trip , which was a very relaxing version of what is usually a week of non-stop scouring for benches, carved panels, and handicrafts. We got to do all the fun tourist stuff that I honestly, have never done in more than 20 years of going there. There are nice beaches on Bali – I hardly even knew – ha! The kids had a blast – although they could have done without waking at 5 AM to see the sunrise at Borobudor on Java. Personally I thought it was a highlight – but they like their sleep! This summer we are doing an extended Turkey trip – the twins haven’t been since they were two years old.Â My big, 10-year-old has been on the last few trips there with me solo – so he can show off all his travel tips to them.”
Plans, Plans, Plans
“In the future I would love to be able to take more time on each trip and do more exploring. We are always so rushed with getting back to the store to keep things running smoothly, and with me, getting back to care for my young family, that we don’t get to find the new things that are outside our comfort zone. If I could take a few more days each trip and see some new villages, craft centers, artisans, that could translate into new goods that would be fun and exciting. I would also like to be able to see some new countries, or revisit those we haven’t been to in a long while. I haven’t been back to Thailand in a million years, or the Philippines – and I have been trying to plan a Hungary buying trip for the last year. It is hard though with our regular schedule of 5 -6 major buying trips a years.”- Meg Van Lith, Tierra Del Lagarto
Stay tuned for more from Meg, including the amazing Instagram TDL feed and her styling tips ( lots more pics!) in the second post, Tierra Del Lagarto Part 2. You can visit Tierra Del Lagarto in person if you are in Scottsdale, Arizona or online right here.
All images are courtesy of Meg Van Lith/ Tierra Del Lagarto.