Sisters win Durham ‘Smoffice’ contest

CorrespondentMay 20, 2012 

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Sarah Rose Nordgren is getting used to passersby stopping beside her work desk and staring.

After all, her office is crammed into a 30-square-foot space in the corner of Beyu Caffe’s storefront on West Main Street.

“You do feel like you’re in a bit of a fishbowl,” Nordgren said.

But being on display has its advantages, too. The people read the sign for her business, The Makery. Some have walked into the cafe to find out more.

That’s part of the idea behind the Smoffice, or the “World’s Smallest Office,” as it is touted by its sponsors, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Durham, Inc.

Sarah Rose, 30, and her sisters Krista Anne Nordgren, 22, and Brita Nordgren, 28, won a contest to find a start-up business that would win six months of free office and condo space. They moved into the Smoffice May 1.

The women, Durham County natives, are building a business that will use a flash-sale site to offer deals on handmade work by North Carolina artists. Each week several artists will be featured, and a limited number of their items will be available for a few days. Customers will pay less than at a craft fair or on an Etsy site.

“It’s a combination of e-commerce and buying local,” Sarah Rose said. “It could be anything from a $30 pair of earrings to a $300 woven blanket.”

The sisters also will curate art, metalwork, clothing, ceramics, woodwork and more.

“We use the word curate because we’ll evaluate the items and make sure they meet certain standards,” Brita said.

They are big supporters of the arts, being part of that community themselves. Brita is an artist in Asheville, and Sarah Rose is a creative writer. Krista Anne is graduating this month from Knox College in Illinois with a creative writing degree.

“We have so many friends who are artists who have struggled to get publicity,” Krista Anne said.

She pitched the idea of The Makery to her sisters this winter.

The sisters found out about the contest two days before the deadline, and they were exhausted from their Kickstarter campaign, through which they raised $4,500 to build their initial web platform.

“We had just had success, but we were really tired,” Sarah Rose said.

Being in three different states at the time, they communicated through three-way Skype to pull together their business plan and video submission.

Krista Anne may be the youngest, but she has the most business savvy after some internships and taking part in a business immersion program in college. She’ll move back to Durham this summer.

Three people can’t fit comfortably in the Smoffice, but that won’t be an issue, because Brita will work from her Asheville home.

The women expect that after their six months are up, they’ll all work from home.

As for now, they’re working in a hotspot for entrepreneurs, they said. Beyu Caffe is a popular gathering spot for entrepreneurs. Recently a business consultant whose meeting got cancelled at the last minute gave the women an impromptu session, free of charge.

The chamber and Downtown Durham Inc. are connecting the women with local business leaders and fellow entrepreneurs. The sisters are gathering financial, legal and website advice. They’re also consulting with artists to work out contract details.

The sisters said The Makery would have happened eventually without The Smoffice, but it would have been a slower and more scattered process.

They’ve begun signing up members and hope to launch the business in June.

Krista Anne envisions that someday The Makery as a way people in other states can support their artists.

“I really hope that it grows beyond North Carolina, that it’s a place where people could get to know the artists wherever they are.”

For information go to or or call 919-695-3143.

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