Olivia Berg, Owner of BlankSpace
Describe the Company: BlankSpace in Kennewick is an urban gathering place designed to cultivate and inspire community and culture. Essentially, BlankSpace provides infrastructure for people to enjoy each other and the uniqueness of our region, from pop-up shops, to the Karma Juice bar, to high-end event space and creative workshops — all in a venue that is as beautiful as it is purposeful.
How long have you lived in the Tri-Cities? I have lived in the Tri-Cities the majority of my life, as has my husband. We spent a year traveling the U.S in a little vintage Airstream, and a short stint living in Colorado, but aside from that, we’ve been here for the better part of the last 27 years.
Do you have any family? Pets? Yes! I have been married to my husband, Tanner, for a little over five years, and we have one daughter, Oakley, who just started kindergarten. They are the lights of my life! We just finished building a home in the country, so we just have two labradors right now, but plan to fill our little funny farm up with lots of critters. (Alpacas are on my short list!)
Tell us about your business and how you got started in it: At the very foundation, BlankSpace exists because I saw a need for a high-end, intimate event space, and I thought that filling that need could be profitable. Before I opened BlankSpace I noticed that there weren’t really any “cute” places that I could throw a party at — and I’m of the age where I’m throwing a baby shower or a bridal shower every other weekend it seems. I figured that if I opened a space, I knew enough people wanting that sort of thing that I could probably keep it afloat. Turns out I was on to something, and we’ve held more than 300 private events at BlankSpace since we opened less than a year ago.
When we were designing our space, I tried to think about how we could be “more” than an event venue, and how we might be able to further differentiate ourselves in the market. So, I decided to try to help solve the problem of “there’s nothing to do in the Tri-Cities” by offering dozens of cool, relevant, workshops (most in the creative realm) … so we have “The Workshop.” This is where it kind of becomes, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie,” because I figured no one would want to come take a class if they didn’t have something to wet their whistle with. So, then came the juice bar.
I was fortunate enough to meet Kati Gessner, who owned a juice delivery company called Karma Juice. Karma Juice now operates out of BlankSpace six days a week. I have a small equity ownership in the company, but the juice bar is Kati’s brain child. She has an amazing product and such a heart for customers. It’s been rewarding to get to see her business grow. I think almost every person that walks through our doors becomes a “regular” because Kati has provided them with an excellent product, service and experience. She definitely brings a community aspect to our space, and it’s been an awesome relationship.
Tell us about your business philosophy: My business is first and foremost built on servanthood. You can find me scrubbing toilets and mopping floors almost as often as posting to social media and meeting with clients. I firmly believe that when you start a business, you need to know how to do everything (cleaning, running a till, customer service, marketing, etc.). I have always found that if you put yourself last, and put others (employees and customers) first, then you will have some measure of success in your business.
The other cornerstone of my business philosophy is integrity. To me, this just means doing what you say you’ll do, and being someone who clients can trust and rely on. It doesn’t mean not failing, but it does mean saying you’re sorry and making it right if you do fail.
How do you stay competitive? Our business is so unique that we haven’t had to worry too much about “competition,” but we do try to stay ahead of the curve by being super active on social media (we’ve built an Instagram/Facebook follower base of 10K in less than a year) and constantly working on the design/aesthetic of our facility. One thing that draws people in is the look of our space. We frequently hear the comment, “This place looks like it belongs in Seattle,” which I take as a compliment, not because I love Seattle, but because it makes me feel like we are succeeding in bringing some fresh design and culture to our area.
We also work tirelessly to improve the client experience. I can’t be at every event we book, but I try to at least stop in and tell the host/hostess thank you for choosing our space. Small business is a very personal thing to me; I want people to feel my genuine appreciation for supporting BlankSpace. To me, great customer service is the No. 1 way to stay competitive.
That being said, one of my mottos is “community over competition.” I love finding ways to work with other area businesses, and share any knowledge that I have, rather than being closed off and worried about being “competitive.”
What are your future career goals? Well, I have an entrepreneur’s brain, so once I get one business to profitability, I am immediately looking for the next problem to solve or business to start. Right now, we are doing preliminary market research to gauge the feasibility of opening “The Studio” (venue portion of BlankSpace) in several other cities. We’ve found that there is a huge market gap in the event venue industry. There are lots of wedding venues, community spaces (like a grange hall) and restaurants with party rooms, but not many venues like ours.
Providing a high-end space at an attainable price-point, as an alternative to hosting an event in your home or at one of the aforementioned spaces has proven very profitable, and we hope to find a way to scale that in the next year.
My husband and I also enjoy design and construction (we just finished our first “general contractor” experience, converting a barn in to a home on our property) and we have dabbled in flipping and rentals in the past. Designing BlankSpace was so fun for me, and one of our goals as a couple is to continue building and designing together in some capacity.
Who are your mentors and what did they teach you? I draw a lot of inspiration from Lauran Wang (Mustang Signs) and Gretl Crawford (Gretl Crawford Homes). I think it is super important to have female business owners to look up to and learn from, and those two women have always been so encouraging to me. I really admire the creativity and integrity they infuse in to their companies.
Probably the greatest influence on me as a business owner has been my grandfather. He was a serial entrepreneur, and I got to learn many life lessons from him, growing up on his farm. While he would likely be lauded “on paper” for starting a potato farm from nothing, and turning it in to a multi-million dollar operation, what I loved watching most was his work ethic, and his prioritization of family.
My grandpa would wholesale us kids potatoes (yes, wholesale, not give) and we would sell them on the side of the road, like a lemonade stand, but more redneck (and more profitable!). Those were some of my earliest lessons in entrepreneurship. Both him and my dad worked really hard, and some days the hours were very, very long, but they always had time to break for a backyard baseball game, a tractor ride, picking cherries or playing cards. They had great marriages (which was also a testament to my mom and grandma) and kids who adored them. To me, business is nothing without relationships and family. I grew up witnessing that firsthand and am eternally grateful to be able to look back on that when I get too caught up in myself and my work.
What was the toughest business/career decision? I think the toughest decision we’ve had to make so far was actually just deciding to go for it and open BlankSpace. I was 25 at the time, and no bank would finance us because of our unique business model and lack of experience owning a company of that scale. My husband is probably one of the most risk-aversive guys you will ever meet, and extremely responsible with our finances…so to decide to spend what essentially amounted to our life’s savings to start a business that most people didn’t understand and didn’t think would work.
What do you like most about what you do? I most love interacting with clients and customers. In fact, if it were up to me, I would just work the register at the Karma Juice bar inside BlankSpace every day! I genuinely enjoy talking to people…I think that it’s great when you can make someone feel important and that you care about how their day is going, when their baby is due, where they went for vacation last weekend, etc.
My other favorite part is marketing. I can spend ridiculous amounts of time “geeking-out” on SEO, Facebook ads, web design and all those things!
What do you dislike most about your job? I am a creative entrepreneur with a psychology degree, so you can imagine how my math skills are. Ha! I have really had to work hard at understanding cash flow, AP/AR, balance sheets, projections and all of those things that are super important in a business. Fortunately, my better half is a numbers guy, so he covers for me a lot!
Tell us about your community involvement/community service: I love getting out into our community and volunteering. Our first year in business has been crazy, so I haven’t had as many hours to dedicate to volunteer work as I used to, but some of my involvement past and present has included working with women in crisis pregnancies at You Medical (formerly Tri-Cities Pregnancy Network), and volunteering/financially partnering with Rascal Rodeo (an amazing organization that puts on faux rodeos for individuals with special needs). I also coached high school track for a number of years and really enjoy working with youth.
What word describes you? Charismatic
What is your biggest flaw? I think my biggest flaw is my anxiety. I worry way too much; I let little things bother me a lot; and I get worked up pretty easily (you wouldn’t ever know it outside, but ask my husband!). I am a super passionate, Type-A personality, which can really be a doozy when paired with anxiety. As an entrepreneur, I am trying to learn to roll with the punches and really take things in stride.
What is your biggest pet peeve? Complacency
What do you do to relieve stress? Scream into a pillow or bang my head against a wall. Just kidding! I like being outdoors and being around animals. My husband kind of teases me because I used to spend way more time just talking to my horse than I did riding her…there is something really therapeutic about being around animals. I also spend a lot of time in prayer when I am stressed; it helps me take my eyes off myself and my problems.
Dream vacation? Western Montana or Iceland
Favorite book? “People Over Profit,” by Dale Partridge
Favorite movie? “Pure Country”
Favorite band? George Strait
Favorite gadget? Wireless headphones
Favorite website? Magnolia Market
Favorite thing to do in the Tri-Cities? My favorite thing to do in the Tri-Cities is be on the water. And eat. We have a lot of restaurants here, and I love food.
What thing would people be most surprised to learn about you? People might be surprised to learn that I am a former D1 college athlete, and that I love big game hunting. I think this surprises people because BlankSpace is kind of a ritzy, design-forward space and a business that is very much built on the high-end aesthetic. But really, I am just a hillbilly with decent taste! I think people might also be surprised to know that I live without cable, internet or reliable cell reception; in fact, we don’t even own a television.