Eight years ago, Jess and Ryan Mead started making tables out of reclaimed wood and steel.
The North Kansas City couple’s hobby quickly turned into a business — it wasn’t long before they were selling their handmade industrial-modern furniture on Etsy under the name Tyler Kingston, a mashup of the middle names of their two sons, who are now 11 and 13.
“Over the course of the last few years, the business just kind of evolved,” Ryan says.
Today, the Meads own and operate Tyler Kingston Mercantile stores, one at 422 Armour Road in North Kansas City and one at 8221 Corinth Mall in Prairie Village. The latter opened in June.
The “modern general stores” sell a variety of handmade home and lifestyle goods, from coasters and candles to T-shirts, jewelry and vintage rugs. And of course, you can find the hexagon-shaped side tables that started it all — they cost $129 to $159, depending on the size, and can double as plant stands.
The tables are made locally at the Meads’ woodworking shop at 26th Street and Madison Avenue, a building that once housed The Roasterie’s coffee plant.
We recently caught up with the full-time makers and entrepreneurs about what makes Tyler Kingston Mercantile different from other KC stores — and what’s next for their ever-evolving family business.
Maker City KC: How has your furniture business evolved with the addition of the two stores?
Ryan: We streamlined a little bit and now we just do our bestsellers. Before we did a lot of custom work, which is really time-consuming. Now we focus on our bestsellers that are easy for us to turn around. Our hexagon side tables are by far the bestseller.
Maker City KC: How do you select your inventory?
Jess: I try to choose simple goods that are useful for everyday life, and good quality — but they’re not going to cost a fortune. It’s a mix of handmade and modern goods, with a little bit of vintage in there.
Ryan: We also want to introduce people to different brands or lines they may not have heard of. Our focus is not to carry what everyone else is carrying.
Maker City KC: What are some of your most popular items?
Jess: We sell a lot of jewelry. A lot of candles. Our own line of T-shirts is also really popular. They’re available in our stores and little boutiques across KC.
Maker City KC: Tell us more about your T-shirts.
Ryan: We design them ourselves or work with friends who are designers. Ben Kosinski is here locally — we worked with him on a couple different designs. We also work with Matt Ayalla, who does design work for Made Mobb. Some of our collaborations are with graphic designers we find on Facebook or Instagram. Our most popular (shirt) is our Made in the Midwest tee. We offer that in four different colors.
Maker City KC: Where do you go for great vintage finds?
Jess: I source it from all over. I love to visit estate sales, flea markets. We try to get out to the West Coast a couple times a year and go to flea markets, to look for fresh ideas and new vendors.
Maker City KC: Ah — so that explains Tyler Kingston Mercantile’s West Coast vibe.
Ryan: We just like it out west. We tend to go out there at least once a year, if not twice. We go to L.A. — there are a lot of cool shops out there — and San Diego, Arizona. Any time we go out of town, we navigate out west.
Maker City KC: Are you planning any more locations?
Ryan: Our next store will open in Dallas, Texas in the spring of 2020. A friend of ours who we go to church with works for Nebraska Furniture Mart and introduced us to the project. About three years ago, (Nebraska Furniture Mart) opened up a store in north Dallas. They own 400 acres around their store and decided to develop those 400 acres themselves.
(Grandscape) will be the largest lifestyle center in the United States. It’ll have a Scheels sporting goods store, a movie theater, bowling, indoor go-carts. All mixed in is going to be restaurants and shopping — and one section is designated to small independent shops. It’ll probably have 20 different independent brands, and it looks like an old Texas outpost. We’re excited. They only wanted shops and restaurants that were either new to Texas or new to the United States.
Maker City KC: How do you connect with makers not only in KC, but across the country?
Jess: Instagram is a great place to find makers around the U.S. that make unique things that people around here aren’t familiar with.
Ryan: One of our most popular items is our big Kansas City neighborhoods map. I actually found the company, Native Maps, on Instagram. They’re out of Nashville. They actually didn’t have a Kansas City map yet, so we contacted them and worked with them. We gave them input on how the design was going to look. They wanted to make sure they got all the neighborhoods right. I think those are probably one of our most popular items at both locations. Nobody else is carrying those.
Jess: I’d say the other (popular maker at the stores) is Oxford Pennant. We worked with them to develop a KC camp flag. When “Queer Eye” filmed here last season, the (Fab 5) used it in one of their Instagram photos. (Note: the KC camp flag, which was also sold at Westside Storey, is sold out).
Maker City KC: What do you think your customers like about Tyler Kingston Mercantile?
Jess: I think people appreciate unique goods, priced right and supporting small makers, even if they’re not located right in their backyard.