Fueled by Strength, Passion and Appreciation

Spend any time with Tiffany Searls and you’ll be entranced by her boundless energy, passion and warmth. With a smile that lights up the room and a welcoming grace that puts you at ease, it’s no wonder that customers love to see her at Bygones of Castle Hills, the consignment store that’s been part of her life for 22 years.

Founded by her mother Kaye Taylor in 1991, Bygones is a San Antonio institution that offers 10,000 square feet of pre-owned treasures. Searls joined the business after graduating from college. “I never dreamed I would follow in my mom’s footsteps, but my love for beautiful things and my love for her quickly turned into a passion that I was made for,” she said with an excited smile. “I cherish each day and cannot imagine doing anything else.”

Part of what makes the store stand out is its customer service, where customers are treated as friends. Searls said customer service is number one to her.

“Mom always said, ‘Remember the golden rule — Do unto others as you’d have done to you’. If everyone did that in this world, what an amazing place we would have,” she said. “We aren’t perfect by a long shot, but we strive for perfection. At the end of the day, I’m going to attack anything that went wrong head-on, and when somebody leaves, hopefully they’re going to be happy.”

Searls began working at the store in 1996. Taylor had a successful consignment store in Fort Worth, which she sold to move to San Antonio. Searls was a sophomore at Texas Tech University looking to furnish her apartment, and the two set out to shop in their new hometown.

“What we found was slim pickings. Those stores aren’t even in business here anymore,” she explained. “Mom asked one shop why they called themselves a consignment when everything they sold was new. ‘Well, that’s just a trendy name. San Antonio wouldn’t support a consignment store.’ It wasn’t two weeks later that my mom called and said, ‘This town needs me. I’m going to open another store.’”

Taylor was right. The store ultimately grew into two locations, one on Broadway and one in Castles Hills. Searls decided to close the Broadway store at the end of 2016. Though she said it was a tough decision, she could not be in two places at once, so Castle Hills became the store’s primary location.

Bygones is known for its high standards of quality and condition. Searls dedicates her time to going on “previews”, during which she visits customers’ homes to review the merchandise they’d like to consign. Searls then has the items picked up and delivered to the store, saving customers a lot of time and hassle.

Previews were the first tasks that Taylor assigned to her, telling Searls, “You’re going to sink or swim. You’ve got to know more than the customer knows. If you go out to their home and you don’t know the kind of wood it is or you don’t know your brands, you’re going to lose your credibility.”

Searls’ mother was a designer with a keen eye. “She really educated me,” said Searls. “Presentation is everything. Mom always told me that I was blessed with balance, perspective and scale.”

When merchandise comes in, it is displayed in vignettes, marrying items together with accessories to give customers a vision of how things can look when placed together. “People will come in and literally buy a whole vignette. To me that’s so rewarding,” said Searls. “One day, a girl was sketching what I’d done with glasses and a tray so when she got home, she could duplicate it. That just made my day.”

Searls learned by working side-by-side with her mother. “We were a forced to be reckoned with. We didn’t need anybody else. I went out and got it all, she put it all together.”

It wasn’t until Taylor had a stroke in 2010 that Searls took on the task of creating the vignettes. Though doctors warned Searls that her mother probably wouldn’t survive, Taylor made a full recovery. Searls said she remembers the day she returned to the store.

“She walked in, she walked the whole store,” she said. “She walked back up front with tears in her eyes and said, ‘You don’t need me.’ I said, ‘Of course I need you!’ And she replied, ‘No, you don’t need me at all. This just shows me that an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’ Her telling me that, then losing her four years later, I feel really blessed that I got to have had her here for four more years. It also let me know that I had her approval.”

Though Taylor passed away suddenly in 2014, Searls’ mother was and remains her source of inspiration. She said Taylor taught her how to work hard and be confident, and though she misses her immensely, their bond will never disappear. “She was my biggest advocate. She told me I could do anything. I believe that,” said Searls. “She made me a very strong lady.”

Perhaps the biggest lesson Searls learned from Taylor was how to be a great mom. “I have big shoes to fill,” she noted. “Her being such a great mother made me want to be a great mother.” Searls works hard at all her endeavors, but her two boys, Sheppard, 13, and Taylor, 9, are her primary focus.

Searls said the two are strong students and great athletes. “They play baseball and basketball, so I’m at sports a lot. I’m that mom,” she said with a laugh, “screaming, yelling, and cheering.”

The three are extremely close. “We do everything together. We’re like the Three Amigos, or the Three Musketeers. Anyone who knows me knows my boys are my whole life. They are my passion,” she explained. “I would rather be with them than anyone else in this world.”

As busy as she is with Bygones, Searls’ days revolve around her boys. A typical day for her includes getting them up and off to school before she heads to the store, where she works on the décor, chats with customers, checks on employees, or goes on previews, all before picking up her sons from their various activities. She tries to keep her afternoons for them, turning off her phone to give them her undivided attention.

“I try to build memories with them,” she said. “I want them to remember me as a loving, doting mother. To me, family relationships are the most important relationships to have. In the end, they are the people you can always count on.”

When Searls was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42 after her first-ever mammogram, her family was what made Searls determined to fight it. “My children were 5 and 9 at the time. I knew how much they needed me. Failure was not an option. I gave it everything I had to beat it.”

Searls worked through almost all of her chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “I give God all the credit for healing me, but I definitely kept a positive attitude. My mother told me, ‘How you act in front of the boys is how they’ll react to you.’ Those words rang in my head every day, so I put up a good front because I didn’t want the boys to feel they might lose me.”

Searls said she worked hard to keep her cancer from defining her. Although she said some days made her want to stay in bed and hide under her covers, she knew maintaining her daily routine would serve her better. “I got up every day, got dressed, put on makeup and my wigs and put a smile on my face,” she said.

When she was sick, Searls said a lot of people in the community came to her aid. Although she said helping others has always been in her nature, it was hard to let them do the same for her. However, her battle with the illness made her appreciate the aid of others, as well as see the value in each day.

More than simply surviving cancer, Searls has thrived, and said she embraces each day to the fullest. “After cancer, I realize what a blessing life is and that each day is truly a gift. I look forward to
waking up and wow — another day. Every day that I wake up and I’m cancer free, that’s a good day. That’s a great day.”

She did admit her battle changed her. “Cancer humbled me,” she said. “I thought I was in control of my life, and now I realize that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Searls also added that she worries about her boys should she get sick again. Although she said she constantly lives in fear that her cancer will return, she said she is confident in her sons’ strength should the worst happen. “I’m very proud of their values, what they know, how kind they are, their manners,” she said.

Although Searls has faced her share of struggles, she said she has come through them and is proud of where she is now. “Every time I’ve been knocked down, I get back up.”

“People always tell me, ‘You’re so strong’. I always laugh and say it’s the only way to be. What choice do I have? I’m proud that I’m resilient, that I’m an over-comer. I’m blessed; I’ve had a really great life.”

That positive outlook keeps her moving forward no matter what the obstacle. She said as a mother and a businesswoman, certain challenges are harder than others, the easier being in her career. Through it all, she said any situation can be turned around.

“Some days I have it all together, some days I am so in the weeds I want to run for the hills,” she said. “But this is real life, and we all experience those feelings. How I face those challenges is by trying to always make the best decision for the situation.”

As a mom, her boys fuel her. “I want them to be proud of me. I want them to be proud of the woman I am. It warms my heart to heart to hear them talk about me to other people.”

She said hearing Sheppard describe her as superhuman, tenacious and nurturing makes her smile. However, in spite of that praise, Searls remains ever humble, never letting the compliments go to her head. “People give me way more credit than I think I deserve.”

She also admits to being her own worst critic. “I push myself,” she said. “If I can please myself, then I’m doing OK.”

While she didn’t land on her intended career path, Searls said she is pleased with where she is. “When she (Taylor) first passed away, people would say, ‘Do you think you’ll be able to keep the store?’ I felt like I had to prove myself, to prove that I could do this. The store is better than ever.”

Sales prove that. Bygones sells 78 percent of its merchandise in 21 days or less. Searls also attributes this success to the advice of her mother. “Mom always told me to set my goals high,” she said. “If you want to be successful, you go after it. Don’t rely on a man to make you successful. You’re born with it, you marry it or you make it. Your best job is to make it.”

Searls said sometimes, her job feels a little bit like Christmas. “Even though I go out and preview it and I know what’s coming in, I never know what someone is going to walk in the door with,” she said. “It’s like being a kid in a candy store or like Christmas morning.” She said she looks forward to not knowing what’s going to come in that day.

“I love handling beautiful things, then putting them out in the store,” Searls said. “I love helping people find something they love. I always tell people to never make do or do without. If you buy something you love, you’re going to always love it and you’ll find a home for it.”

Searls home is a showplace — and it doesn’t even include all of her collection. “I have three storage areas of furniture!” she laughed. However, she doesn’t add anything unless she gets rid of something else.

Searls said her perspective on success has changed over the years. “For so long in my life, success to me was whether I bought a certain purse I wanted, or a car. But really, I think success is about being happy where you are in life,” she said. “I am in charge of my own happiness. I have been down, but never out, and I don’t have any regrets in life. I think everything in life makes you – shapes you – into who you are. So I don’t have any regrets. I wouldn’t change anything.”

With all that’s on her plate, it’s hard for Searls to slow down. It’s just not who she is. “From the time I get up to the time I go to bed, I don’t sit down. I just go, go, go, go.” That pace keeps her brain flying, so much so that she often has trouble winding down to go to sleep, or finds herself awake at 3 a.m. because she can’t turn her brain off. “I’ll wake up, go on Facebook, answer questions, send emails. I always think people are going to think I’m nuts.”

She turns to gardening and working in her yard to relax, even finding the act of watering plants to be relaxing. “It’s meditational, being outside. I’m an outdoorsy girl. I love to be at the beach, putting my feet in the sand,” she said. She also likes to read motivational books, something she’s done more of since her cancer diagnosis.

Of course, nothing means more to her than family time. “I look forward each day to making new memories with my boys,” Searls said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the memories in life. I hope that long past my sight, they know how much they were loved and how very proud of them I am.”

“I hope to be remembered as a great mother, good friend, successful business owner and that I liked to have fun,” she said. “Laughing is good for your soul.”

Her strength and tenacity shine through when she offers advice to others. “I would tell any young woman starting her career that she can do anything she puts her mind to,” Searls said. “Many doors may be closed along the way. Keep knocking! If it doesn’t open, move on to the next door. Women are strong by nature. We can achieve anything if we put our minds to it.”

By Dawn Robinette

Photography by David Teran