The ultimate 'garage saler'

by Stephanie Fellenstein Published:

Most people would see a pile of junk - an old pie plate, mothball cans, a wooden cutting board and the rusted top of a rake. But not Gina Bishop. She sees an owl -- the cutting board becomes the body, the rake some "hair," and the mothball cans make perfect half-closed owl eyes.

And it is that vision that has propelled her fast and furiously to the next level of her design career.

Bishop, or Homegirl as she is known today in the design world, has turned her love of creating into a thriving, successful business. So successful, in fact, she has appeared on the Nate Berkus Show, GMC Trade Secrets with Eric Stromer and even created a series of MSN.com videos offering design tips and secrets.

It is a windy, rainy afternoon in November when she throws open her garage door.

"Keep your shoes on," she demands with a huge grin. "We live in this house."

That is what makes her so relatable and it is easy to see why Bishop is successful. She is funny and engaging, easily shifting from design tips to her children to life in Hudson.

Before Homegirl

Bishop, who grew up in Greensburg, Penn. about 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, credits her mom with teaching her to see the potential in everyday objects.

"Before it was cool, she liked to furnish our house with garage sale stuff," Bishop says. "I remember my mom took me with her."

Bishop, who says all of her friends had shiny furniture that matched, admits she was embarrassed by her mom's style back then.

"But yay to my mom now," she says laughing, as she sits in the living room of her mid-1800s farmhouse.

The room blends comfortable furniture with refinished tables. Old trunks and boxes are just as at home in the room as the furry white cat fast asleep on a pillow. The above-mentioned owl keeps a watchful eye on the whole room from his perch on the mantle.

While Bishop says she always had an eye for design, her dad persuaded her to chose a different path for college.

"I probably would have gone to art school," she says.

But instead she attended the University of Pittsburgh majoring in both elementary education and city planning. "I never taught and never worked for a city," she says.

Backing up a few steps, Bishop said it was important to point out that she started working in retail when she was 16.

"I loved retail," she says.

And during college, while working in retail during Christmas break, she met her future husband Brian.

"After I graduated I didn't know what I wanted to do," she says.

It was Brian who went to the college job board and saw a posting that Abercrombie & Fitch was hiring managers.

Bishop applied, was hired and within five months was transferred to the corporate office in Columbus.

While she enjoyed the job, she jumped at the chance to work in visual merchandising with Bath and Body Works. After a few years, the Bishops welcomed daughters Lila and Edie, and Gina wanted to stay home.

Homegirl makes herself known

The only problem with staying home is that Bishop did not know what to do with all of her extra energy.

"I have this creative energy and I was going crazy," she says, adding she constantly repainted rooms, bought stuff to redo and it ended up in the basement.

Finally Brian convinced her to look for a creative outlet.

"There was store in Powell, Ohio that I shopped in. I told the owner that I had a lot of stuff and asked if I could have a small space to sell stuff in. I did that for two years."

Life for the Bishops, in the Columbus suburb of Bexley, most likely would have continued on except for one thing.

"We got robbed," Bishop says, adding that they were home when it happened. Brian was playing with the girls in the living room and Gina was in the basement.

"It was very traumatic. Even though it was not violent, we still felt very violated," she says.

Bishop took that as a sign.

"My sister [Christine Kirkendall] lived in Hudson and we visited her a lot. I said, 'Can we please move to Hudson?'"

And as fate would have it, the house that Bishop drove by whenever she visited her sister -- Maple Wood Farm -- happened to be on the market.

Homegirl moves to Hudson

"I love every room," Bishop says, walking through the dining room to the kitchen where family photographs smile up from the kitchen counters. (Bishop had glass cut to fit on top of the counters. Under the glass are pictures of the kids as babies, notes and drawings.)

Her office was originally the office of Dr. Moses Thompson who treated patients in the living room back in the 1850s.

Bishop says she even saw potential in the barn when they first drove up the driveway.

"The worst thing to say to me is 'no'," Bishop says smiling. "I take it as a challenge. I think Brian might have said no, he didn't think I could turn the barn into anything."

While Brian says he loved the property when they first saw it, he originally saw the barn as a rundown building that could store the tractor, mower and yard tools.

"It was old, dirty and hard to envision it being what it is today," he says. "I told Gina there was no way she could sell out of it, but she did."

Bishop gladly accepted the challenge. Her twice-a-year barn sale started with a contact list of about 100 people. Now thousands of visitors line up to see what she has created in the barn.

"People came from Canada and Michigan," she says, still shocked that the barn has attracted that much attention. "People even chartered a plane to come from Chicago," she says. "I had to hire a traffic guard."

Brian says he never imagined the sales getting so large.

"It is very funny to go back and look at pictures of the barn from a few years ago -- so different. To think we have major lines, parking concerns and a traffic cop at the end of the driveway is crazy to me."

Getting down to work

Bishop is constantly researching trends and design.

"Home decor is really shifting," she says. "People are looking for brand 'me.' That's why pop-up shops are so appealing. They offer good designs at an affordable price."

Five years ago, Bishop was hitting garage sales, bringing her finds home, painting, decorating and revitalizing each piece.

"Today I'm not as hands on," she says. "I'm still buying stuff, but I'm not necessarily the one painting anymore. I have two employees and interns from Kent State University. They are incredible."

Homegirl hits the big time

"I always felt like I was going to meet Nate Berkus someday," Bishop says, adding she used to watch him on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Two summers ago, Bishop was checking her email quickly before taking her girls to the pool. There was an email with a subject line that said something like, "are you the ultimate yard saler?"

Bishop was intrigued. "Because of course, I am," she says.

The email went on to say, "Hello Nate fan. We are looking for yard salers, if you think this is you, send us pictures of your projects."

"I didn't overthink it," she says. "I found some pictures and hit send."

The Bishops were swimming when Gina's cell phone rang a couple hours later.

"They loved the pictures and asked if I knew of anyone who would be a challenger for me. Of course, I said my mom," Bishop says.

Her mom, however, politely declined and suggested Gina's older sister, Susan Pantalone, of Pennsylvania. "Within a week we were on our way to Tennessee," Bishop says.

She went on to appear again on the show and won a contest to appear on GMC Trade Secrets with Eric Stromer. The barn sale also led to a series of videos on MSN.com.

"A woman from Chagrin Falls came to the sale," Bishop says. It turns out she was a producer and liked Bishop's style.

"Things are going in ways I never thought possible," Bishop says. "It is so important to have balance," she says, adding that last winter was really busy with trips to New York and Los Angeles within a week of each other. "Family needs to come first."

And the family has embraced Bishop's potential.

"My wife is totally amazing -- a great mom, wife and business person," Brian says. "She is incredibly creative and has a great vision of what she wants and what she thinks something can be. She is also very inspiring for me, my girls and so many other people. She really loves what she does with a true desire to help people make their life better and feel good about their home and where they live."

Even Lila, now 11, and Edie, 9, help out getting ready for the sales. Edie really likes art, while Lila's niche is music, Bishop says.

Today Bishop is working on a product line and a TV show may be in the works, she says, but can't say anything more at the moment.

She also is being recognized for her work outside of Hudson. Just the other day while shopping, a woman came up to her and asked, "are you Homegirl?"

Bishop laughs and said the woman showed her a picture of her living room and asked if throw pillows she was holding would match.

Whatever the future brings, Bishop is guaranteed to see the potential in every situation.

She can't help it.

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