Startup: Sea & Soul Nautical Chart Art, a custom nautical chart art online retailer.
Year founded: 2018
Founders: Anna Ursini was a schoolteacher when her kids were in school. When they graduated she shifted her focus to graphic art, eventually taking a position with a gallery owner in Sarasota. That's where she met business partner, co-founder and manufacturer Bob Stremcha.
Between the time they met and Sea & Soul was founded, Ursini and Stremcha worked with a number of other partners. Ursini was always the artist, Stremcha always the manufacturer and then they typically went in with someone who owned a storefront. When the last venture closed down in 2017, “we talked about it and (decided) instead of someone else being the face, why don’t we create our own brand?” Ursini says. “And that’s how Sea & Soul was started.”
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While the company is based out of Sarasota, Stremcha and his wife, Kathy, are in Wisconsin. Ursini handles day-to-day operations, renders all the art and takes care of customer service, while the Stremchas run a wood shop to build the products.
Investment: The company was built solely through about $10,000 from Ursini and the Stremchas, which paid for the website and marketing. “We both contributed a minimal amount to begin with,” Ursini says.
With no storefront, the biggest investment ended up being learning how to keep the books, SEO and how to get products out into the market. They’ve since invested in a handful of 1099-contracted employees as well as employ five people at the woodshop.
Sea & Soul is mostly an online business, with the bathymetric art products appearing in small shops across the U.S. and a presence in one national retail chain. The products, ranging from ornaments and clocks to cribbage boards and wall art, depict coastlines, islands and lakes.
“My background is in art,” she says, “To enter the business world feeling like I had no business in the business world and then watch this company take off as a result of passion, determination and drive — it’s been amazing.”
During the first year in business, Ursini remembers being at a buyers market in Atlanta. It turned out to be a great opportunity for Sea & Soul, after picking up several small retailers that agreed to sell its products.
That was also where Ursini picked up the first order with HomeGoods, a national home furnishing chain and sister brand to TJ Maxx and Marshalls. That order has continued to be placed every year since. Sea & Soul’s products are part of Home Goods’ Treasured Collection, ordered once a year right around Father’s Day.
“It's been an opportunity for us to get our product out to a larger market,” she says. “We always see a flurry of activity and I can tell when it’s landing in different stores based on where I’m getting inquiries from on our website.”
Ursini’s art is now featured in 70 shops nationwide and one shop in Scotland. She also runs an Etsy shop alongside the Sea & Soul website and Amazon. Combined the company made over $500,000 in annual revenue in 2021.
Ursini, who grew up in Connecticut, is an on-the-water type of person with some of her fondest memories being visits to see her grandfather at a lake house. Understanding how much a body of water can mean to a person, she tries to incorporate landmarks and history into her art because “that’s going to invoke a lot of memories for people.”
An early mistake Ursini made was “thinking one thing was going to change our future,” she says.
When they secured a partnership with Home Goods, Ursini remembers thinking: “If we close this deal, we’re going to be all set. But I’ve realized since that’s not going to keep us busy all year round.”
Going to the first buyers market was a new experience for Ursini. “I didn't know what to expect,” she says. So she researched, and then she asked questions. A lot of questions. “I’m definitely one who isn’t afraid to ask questions.”
Sticking with vendors nearby, Ursini’s questions kept true to a singular point: What would an established business do differently?
“I took advantage of every opportunity to learn,” she says. “I soaked it in like a sponge.”