Lehi Entrepreneurs: Vintage brand uses modern business model
“Junk seems to find me,” laughs Jami Ray, sitting in her restored 1917 home in Lehi surrounded by hand-painted vintage treasures.
Jami and her husband Zeb spent 18 months bringing the original house back to life and adding more than 2,600 square feet of living space. They did almost everything themselves during a global pandemic, all while running a thriving business with Zeb working a regular job during the day, and also participating in church activities and raising their young family.
“I’ve painted furniture since I was 13. Sometimes I didn’t get approval from my Mom first; she would just find out afterward,” remembered Jami. Long before there were online markets, Jami would find old furniture to paint at yard sales. She would sell pieces she’d painted on consignment, then in yard sale groups online.
“Back then I was just slapping hardware store paint on stuff and people would scoop it up. I noticed this trend of people buying painted furniture. I thought it was a little weird that people wanted to pay for things I’d painted,” said Jami. “It was never on my radar to do this full-time, but it kept snowballing and getting bigger and bigger.”
Jami Ray Vintage is more than a full-time gig for the Ray family today. They have more than 171,000 subscribers on their YouTube channel, a store at 1245 W. Main Street in Lehi where they sell vintage home décor and all the ingredients for DIY projects, as well as a booming online store. Business was so good that Jami and then Zeb quit their other jobs to focus on Jami Ray Vintage full time.
“I love to create. If I’ve had a really stressful day, I’ll just find something to paint and get in a zone. I love watching the paint come through the brush and making something beautiful,” Jami explained.
As much as Jami loved painting furniture and selling it, she and Zeb knew they had to come up with a new business model that would allow them to enjoy more time with their own projects. That’s when they started a YouTube channel and posted videos of anything they were working on. “It’s so satisfying to watch. People feel a sense of accomplishment seeing a project come together and it sometimes motivates them to try it themselves,” said Jami.
Jami used to spend hours emailing people who asked what kind of paint she used or what technique. With the YouTube channel, Jami could reply with a link to a video. “I’m an open book – I have no problem sharing trade secrets,” she said.
The Rays carefully broke down their old home and built an addition with more living space and a two-car garage over the course of 18 months. “When you’re a chronic DIY-er, you think you can do anything,” said Jami. Her father is a general contractor and Zeb’s father is an electrical engineer, so they have a great base of knowledge to draw from too.
“There’s not much left of the original house, but keeping that character is really important to me,” Jami continued. The hardwood floors were in terrible shape, but they kept them and painted them. They found a fireplace that had been plastered over decades ago and made it a feature. “We opened up the ceiling and insulated from the outside so we could see the original woodwork that no one ever saw. To me that’s beautiful. They don’t build stick frame houses anymore,” she said.
“They raised six kids in this home – it’s been through two pandemics. I love bringing history back to life,” said Jami.
The next step for Jami and Zeb Ray is restoring Lehi’s oldest church, the Third Ward building at 1190 North 500 West, and moving Jami Ray Vintage there. “I love the growth in Lehi because the growth will put into the economy what is necessary to save that church,” Jami said. “If the economy was not good here, I could not afford to buy this piece of property.
“I feel like there’s a symbiotic relationship between growth and preservation and there has to be a balance,” she concluded.