As a teenager at Sacred Hearts Academy, Cathy Lee was on the pep squad and cheered for high school sports. She’s still rallying as an adult, but not for football or basketball teams.
"Now I’m a cheerleader for people who want to learn how to create their own special place," Lee said from her office in Kahala.
Lee is the beauty and brains behind RSVPstyle.com, a home-decor website that offers teaching tools for do-it-yourselfers. As an evangelist for the interior-design challenged, she’s host in a series of how-to DVDs and YouTube videos, conducted "A Homestyle Workshop and Tradeshow" at the Hawai’i Convention Center and even has her own bedding line in the works.
Now the entrepreneur who balances all that with raising a daughter with her husband, a physician, has branched out with CathysMarketplace.com, an Internet-based store for gently used quality furnishings. "It’s been called a high-end Craigslist or eBay for home-related items," she said. With one distinction: Everything listed needs to pass her standards as resalable.
NEW USES FOR OLD THINGS
Vanilla extract as paint-odor masker: Disguise unpleasant fumes with this sweet-smelling pantry staple. Stir in a few drops of pure extract for each gallon of (nonwhite) paint.
Golf tees as food markers: Is that a blueberry or cranberry muffin? Eliminate speculation at your next brunch by using colorful tees to denote which is which. (Also handy when distinguishing medium-rare from medium patties at a cookout.)
Rubber doorstops as laptop risers: Help your computer keep its cool by propping it up on two sturdy nonskid wedges. The extra elevation allows air to circulate, which prevents problematic overheating.
"People who are familiar with RSVPstyle know that if they come to anything we do, it’s going to be first class, it’s going to be visual, it’s going to be fun," Lee said. "And they’re going to learn. That’s what makes (Marketplace) different; not only can they buy and sell, but they’ll learn how to put it all together by watching the videos (on the Website)."
The foundation for CathysMarketplace.com began taking shape after Lee received a few calls from Realtor friends looking for advice. Their clients had high-end furniture to sell and were reluctant to go down the Craigslist or yardsale road.
"You can buy anything on Craigslist or a garage sale, even broken things if you’re willing to put sweat into it, but they were talking about quality stuff," said Lee.
She realized then that a venue did not yet exist for those who are perhaps downsizing and have spent hard-earned money on furniture with lots of life left.
"You don’t want to let go of that koa cabinet that you spent thousands on for $100 in a garage sale."
CathysMarketplace.com soft-launched May 19 with no sellers fees. "And if and when we do start charging, the fees will be nominal," she said. Those on the neighbor islands also have access, and there are plans to add key cities on the mainland.
"Response has been phenomenal with more than 51,000 page views in its first month, and that’s without outside promotion," she said. Realtors who need to stage or empty homes they’re selling, and grown grandchildren with estates to relinquish have gravitated there, providing much of its inventory.
"Virally, it just took off. In this economy, everybody’s looking for a deal. Though we don’t have the eyeballs or numbers that Craigslist has, we do offer more of a niche clientele."
|Cathy’s Marketplace: Make it pop!
So while you won’t find sunglasses or watches here, if you need to buy or sell something for your home, this is the place. Some of her recent picks include a Eurocave wine cellar, originally bought for $9,000, selling at $1,500; art deco armchairs, once $500, now $200; a baby grand piano, $10,000, now $5,000; a cherry wood television cabinet, $1,200, now $250.
Fine arts, antiques and collectibles dealers have taken notice, submitting items priced at $18,000 to $20,000. "We weren’t prepared for that. Someone sent in a Ming Dynasty vase, and we had to make a decision to roll with the punches," Lee said.
They’ll be debuting a fine art and collectibles category soon, for items requiring authentication and appraisal papers.
As with all shopping, Lee cautions "caveat emptor" — let the buyer beware. Since CathysMarketplace.com is purely Web-based, items are approved on the basis of photos only. Buyers are encouraged to inspect the item in person before finalizing a sale.
Those looking to sell items need to register online, upload pictures to send to the site administrator, and provide dimensions. You want to make sure that couch you’re buying fits through the front door. "Most items get approved," Lee said, "and contrary to what people might think, not everything is designer and high-end, but are still of good quality and good buys." The minimum price point for accessories is $25 and for furniture and art, $50.
"Plus the site is so visual and easy to use," Lee said. "We try to make it fun."
While there is no physical storefront and no salesperson to greet you, a popular attraction is a "Shop with Focus" feature with Lee in YouTube format as your personal shopper/designer. You get a hint of her cheerleader past with her ready smile and exuberance as she holds up photographs of the week’s highlighted items, creating a virtual vignette, coordinating them with pillows, fabrics, curtains or paint chips.
"These videos are great because even if you’re not planning on buying the brown couch that’s being sold, and I’m talking about accenting it with pillows, you might take that idea and make it your own somehow, and that’s what we’re about, teaching and inspiring people," Lee said.
Although she’s had no formal training in interior design, it contributes to her audience appeal. "If I learned, anyone can learn, and I want to help them," said Lee, who grew up in a humble home in Pearl City.
At school, she was the go-to girl for friends with boyfriend or parent problems and if she wasn’t with RSVPstyle, she might’ve pursued a career in guidance counseling or perhaps psychology.
She sees RSVPstyle/CathysMarketplace as the conduit for those seeking to enhance their lives by beautifying their space and for those in the home, building and design industries.
"We’re all about helping and connecting people," said Lee. "Retailers, shops and stores are now taking notice." The site will soon have a "shop within a shop" feature that links to other resources plus a service directory. "It will be great for smaller businesses who don’t have a website driving a lot of traffic."
For more Real Simple solutions, read Real Simple magazine or go to RealSimple.com.