At the start of 2019, Ray and Tristen Price were a thriving 20-something married couple living in Little Rock, both pursuing graduate degrees to further their careers.
Ray was attending the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to earn his MBA, while Tristen went to Harding University to get her master’s degree in speech language pathology.
When COVID-19 struck, Tristen lost her part-time home health aide job. Looking for a way to make money, Tristen turned to her love of thrifting.
“When COVID hit, I needed to figure out a way to contribute to our household,” Tristen said. “I already loved vintage buying and selling things online. I realized I was pretty good at it. It’s slowly ramped up over the years. It’s a great experience because we get to meet a lot of people, do something we enjoy, and be successful.”
Having both earned their graduate degrees in the past two years, the Prices run their own business, The Collecting Co., while also working full-time jobs as a mechanical engineer and speech language pathologist. They estimate they spend about 30 hours a week running their business, an online thrift store where they primarily sell women’s clothing.
“I can tell you that my background in engineering did not prepare me to sell women’s clothing,” Ray said. “We wanted to have a way that we could spend time together that is fun and productive. We were already going to a lot of estate sales to fill up our own home. Eventually, we made it an official business rather than a hobby. We connect with a lot of great people that share our style and our vision for sustainable clothing around the area.”
While Ray was attending UA Little Rock, he visited the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, whose lead center is based in the university’s School of Business, to get some advice on growing the family business, which the Prices called Little Rock Thrifts at the time.
“We have a national reach at this point, so we wanted a name that could reach and connect with more people,” Ray said. “We realized that someone shopping from Guam, for example, probably wouldn’t realize that Little Rock Thrifts is in Arkansas.”
The Prices rebranded their business as The Collecting Co. With the help of ASBTDC training led by Dmitri Scott and Nicolas Mayerhoeffer, they started a limited liability corporation.
“The ASBTDC also suggested we expand from women’s clothing into men’s clothing,” Tristen said. “We took that advice and started offering more men’s pieces, and they’ve done well.”
The Prices shared their small business success story with UA Little Rock students on April 28 as a part of the ASBTDC’s Build Your Own Business program, which teaches students how to start their own businesses.
“We have gained knowledge through the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center,” Ray said. “We are excited about giving some knowledge back to students trying to get started with their own small business.”
The Collecting Co. has grown immensely in the past year, having received orders from all 50 states and U.S. territories.
“We even just received our first order from Puerto Rico!” Tristen said, adding that she now makes her own T-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags that they sell through The Collecting Co.
The couple has plans to continue to grow the business. Once the school year ends, Tristen will be off for the summer from her job as a speech language pathologist. She plans to devote her entire summer break to building the business, including creating a website, making more of her own merchandise to sell, and attending more popup events. The couple will be reserving some of Ray’s vacation time so they can take trips to out-of-state markets and estate sales to gain an even greater variety of quality merchandise for their customers.
While running their own business can be a lot of work, the Prices say that they are happy doing something they love with the person they love the most.
“She’s my best friend, and I think I’m her best friend,” Ray said. “You are working with your best friend. It doesn’t make it less hard, but it does make it easier to say that it doesn’t quite feel like work. It’s our business, and we are hanging out with our favorite people.”