Small Business Profile: Liz Klafeta, Owner of BANGTEL - Chicago
How did you start BANGTEL?
I was a wardrobe and prop stylist for commercials and print ads for 14 years in Chicago, NYC, and LA. I got really burnt out and needed to switch things up. I had purchased my first home when I was 23 years old and spent fortune rehabbing it. Knowing I could not part with it when I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I started renting my house out on Airbnb. People were coming to stay there from all around the world and giving me such crazy feedback that I felt was super rewarding. Therefore, I decided to do some more and started the trademark process shortly after that for BANGTEL. We now have 25 spaces and just put a bid in for a 31 room motel an hour outside of Chicago, that will have a pool and a restaurant. Fingers crossed!
What inspires your work?
I was always interested in interiors and I originally went to school for interior architecture. It was a little more technical than I had expected. I wanted to be creating a more versus tracing plans. I switched to Fashion Business at Columbia College and then started getting styling jobs right away from my roommates that worked at a modeling agency. Interiors have always interested and inspired me. When the recession hit in 2016, I started getting booked on interior prop styling jobs by big companies like HGTV and CB2 because people did not pay for a wardrobe stylist as well as a prop stylist. I became the all in one stop shop.
I currently partner with a number of developers in Chicago and do a lot of their gut rehabs, house flips, and apartment rentals, simply because it is fun for me. I’m constantly getting inspired when I travel to random places and love figuring out how do things that no one else has done. We have a hanging bed in one of our spaces that is probably the most regrammed bed on Instagram. I know that people have probably done it before, but we have made it attainable for the public. People can purchase it from us and we can have our carpenters build it. We like to make or feature things that other people can have in their homes. Attainability is key.
How did you find your style/aesthetic?
We always try to do something different. Each of our homes have a different theme. Everything is pretty modern, but we always vintage shop and try to feature local artists. We feature a lot of local people; if someone has something cool, we want to show everyone. If something is new, we want to check it off the bucket list and do something different. The next spaces that we are designing are going to be super, super colorful. That’s something that we’ve tried to do in our design, just add the “WOW” factor. We want to make people see things that they wouldn’t normally see, like a life size teepee and giant painted horses. We’re always trying to have fun and inspire people.
What brought you to Chicago?
I am from Chicago and we are headquartered here. We want to be everywhere, though. People ask us every day if we have a places in Nashville or Bali… It’s nice that we are creating something people can come to and know what they are going to get. We have this standard across the board where the spaces are well designed, with 24/7 concierge, and are always pristinely clean. Another reason I started BANGTEL is that I’ve stayed in so many Airbnbs and was offended when I showed up due to lack of cleanliness or missing amenities.
If you weren’t here, where would you be?
Where we choose to set up next. It’s a matter of time before we meet the right fit, whether that’s a developer or partner that we work with. Right now, Austin, LA, Nashville, and London are all competing next places for BANGTEL. We were just in Austin last week shooting a new 4 bed, 3 bath house with an infinity pool on the river. The home is kind of a jaw-dropping show stopper.
If you weren’t running BANGTEL, what would you be doing?
This was all kind of an accident, an accident that became a lot of fun. I get to work with great people every day. So, it would probably be something like this. Something where I could collaborate with people and make other people happy. It would definitely be something creative, hopefully, with travel.
What are you trying to learn right now?
EVERYTHING. We’re growing and learning a lot. We grew 100% the first year, we grew 100% last year, and we are projected to grow another 100% this year. I’m responsible for six full-time employees and more independent contractors, so learning how to take care of them and make them happy. Everyday I’m learning how to run BANGTEL correctly, and what to not do.
What are you most proud of?
When talking to people that have jobs that they don’t like, encouraging them and inspiring them to do their own thing. It’s really hard when you’ve had a salary job for x-amount of years to think outside that box. If you do what you are passionate about, then I believe, you can’t fail. Or, if you do fail, then you can start again. I think it’s really important that you are happy with what you’re doing because that carries out into the world and all aspects of everything. I encouraged my sister that it was ok to quit college and start her own allergen-free ice cream company called Nana Creme. That was maybe one successful achievement of inspiring someone. She is 26 years old and being sold nationwide. It’s really important to do what you are passionate about.
How do you take time for yourself?
I was talking with the team the other day about how I haven’t taken a non-BANGTEL vacation in a long time. I think I am going to plan a big trip coming up for just myself. Hanging out with friends, trying to unplug, yoga, and Soul Cycle with Jaclyn, the best instructor, are what I tend to do.
Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
It’s super important. It’s important for everyone to collaborate. Women, especially, are so amazing to collaborate with. I have some friends where I look at them and think, “Holy crap, you’re totally inspiring me!” It’s important for women to join together for equal pay and equal rights, and the more we do that, the more we can educate others and inspire people.
What is your advice for someone who wants a job like yours?
I feel really blessed to have really good women mentors in my life. I was just having fun and trying to find another way to enjoy my life and have free time that was mine, but still wanted something that allowed me to have a creative outlet. I didn’t think that it would get to where it is right now. I would have never have thought that. I think BANGTELl is cool, but when people tell me that BANGTEL is the coolest thing in the world, that makes me excited. I was lucky enough to have other women business owners that saw what BANGTEL was going to be and helped me. I think it’s really important that people who are starting their own business have other people to talk to and bounce ideas off of. You have to talk to insurance people, lawyers, accountants, and bookkeepers, all of the non-fun things, but you have to make sure that they are there. I am lucky enough now to have a Team that can deal with those things, so I can do more of the creating.
What is one thing that surprised you in your path?
How excited people are about BANGTEL. Also, the amount of people we get to collaborate with. I met an artist the other day and he showed me his work, and I said let’s just do a BANGTEL with all of your pieces. We even started partnering with Great Lakes Tattoo, and I was like let’s do a tattoo themed BANGTEL.
What else has surprised me is the way that we have grown into other cities, and how welcoming and excited people are.
Favorite female creatives?
Right now, my favorite female is Natalie White for Equal Rights. I met her at the Women’s March in DC. She had a dance party in the square and it quickly became the best corner at the March. My girlfriend and I danced on that corner for six hours. Talk about inspiring...she wrote ERA Now at the White House in red craft paint and got arrested. She is an amazing artist and inspiration, who is bringing awareness about women’s rights to the world. We, as women, do not have equal rights in the constitution, so she’s trying to ratify this and bring awareness to the world. That’s where it starts. We’re just continuing the human race and also working, no big deal, right? You should definitely interview her next!
Favorite Chicago places?
- All the BANGTELS, since I’m always usually hanging out or living in one. I am a big fan of how they always bring good groups of people together.
- Matchbox for the best martinis.
- Danny’s to shake a hot foot and a old Chicago staple.
- Chicago Athletic Association is pretty jaw-dropping. Ask for a tour because the history behind that place is pretty amazing.
- Best Intentions is a good divey bar in Humboldt Park, but the bar that it replaced, Marble, was pretty amazing too.
- All the Prop houses, like Propabilities and Zap Props to find crazy party props for the next shin-dig we are throwing.
- Favorite pizza place is Nick and Vito’s on the Southside near Midway Airport. It was also featured on the Food Network and you can get $1 Old Style on draft….say what??!
- The bar at the top of The Robey Hotel has a breathtaking view right in the hood.
Top three items of clothing/accessories?
I used to have an entire bedroom that I turned into a closet, but now my life is really simple, since I live out of my suitcase. Jean jacket or varsity bomber jacket, my simple jewelry, and always a bright lipstick.
Wake up, go through too many emails, and touch base with the Team. Then, I’ll get up and make some strong coffee. I usually head to the office or work from wherever I am.
Favorite travel destination(s)?
I usually like going to new places instead of repeating. I like beach destinations the best. My favorite vacation was when I went to Thailand and rented a motor scooter and went from hidden beach to hidden beach. Running into a baby wild elephant was the icing on the cake.
That cheeseburger from Soho House.