November 21, 2020 12 min read
I'm going to share with you the story of Simple & Sentimental. By the grace of God and many hours or hard work, I took $300 and turned it into a multi-million dollar company. Along the way, I built a great marriage, graduated college, and worked through tough things from my childhood. Here's how I did it.
In the fall of 2016, I was an 18-year-old freshman at East Carolina University majoring in Interior Design. Many of my classes were 3 hours long, so in between classes I would practice hand lettering. Hand lettering is the art of having pretty hand writing, to put it simply. I would make things for myself, and I even had a basket outside of my dorm room that I put my creations in for people living in my residence hall to take for free.
Here are some of the bookmarks I made and left in my basket outside of my dorm room.
In September of 2016, I was saved and gave my life to Jesus Christ. I didn't grow up going to church. My boyfriend (now my husband), Nick, grew up going to church and naturally joined a Christian college ministry when he started attending ECU in 2014. When I came to ECU and joined Nick, I went to the ministry with him where I attended a conference. God met me right there.
I shared my testimony on stage one night at my college ministry. This was probably the first time I ever spoke publicly!
I was baptized the morning after I found God, and my pastor was praying over me. He spoke a calling of leadership over my life, talking about how I would become a respected leader of many. As a young, shy, anxiety-ridden teenager, I felt intimidated by it. I was abused for years during my childhood, and had deeply rooted beliefs that no one could ever love me, that I was never going to be good enough. How could God use someone like me to be a leader?
As the fall semester went on, Christmas time came around. Friends knew that I did hand lettering, and they asked me to make gifts for them. I got to thinking, maybe other people wanted to buy my prints too. As a result, I created an Etsy shop, "TDHDesign". TDH were my initials, innovative, I know.
This was my first Etsy shop banner. There was no thoughts on branding, I just made this on Canva so I had something up there.
I listed my art prints that my friends were buying on Etsy, expecting the same results. I waited for sales to pour in, but no one bought them.
This was one of the art prints I listed on Etsy. This was the only listing photo.
Time passed, and no one bought my prints. Black Friday rolled around and I saw an ad for craft vinyl cutting machines that were going on sale. I knew many of my fellow college friends LOVED stickers. What if I could take my hand writing and make it into stickers? Maybe that would sell?
The machine and materials were going to be around $300 total. I talked it over with Nick, and he really encouraged me to go for it. We drove to the craft store late on Thanksgiving night, and I came home with everything I thought I needed to make stickers.
We hosted a ribbon-cutting at our new location! You can see myself, Nick, and our first full-time employee, Sarah.
With the new year came new growth! We hired our first full-time employee and moved into a new office in March 2019. We hosted a ribbon-cutting and had a small storefront where community members could come in and shop.
We invited our business mentors to our wedding to celebrate with us!
May 2019 was a busy time for us personally and at the business. We hired a second full-time employee, Nick graduated college, we bought our first home, and we got married!
I attribute much of our business success to mentorship, so of course our mentors were there on our big day! We had to snap a photo with our full-time staff and mentors to remember celebrating with them.
This was our staff in November, 2019! We hadn't hired all of our seasonal employees quite yet.
By the end of 2019, we had a staff of 5 full-time employees and 3 seasonal employees! Nick and I both graduated from ECU in 2019, so it was a busy year. We tripled the size of the business from 2018 to 2019, so we were excited to see what 2020 had in store.
2020 started out a big rough for Simple & Sentimental. We had come off a great Christmas season, but in January some of our suppliers overseas were seeing delays due to COVID-19. The pandemic affected our business far before it came to the United States.
Sales dropped dramatically once stay-at-home orders were announced around the country. We sent our employees home and sat tight for a little while, hoping it would all end soon. Luckily we had saved enough money to continue paying our employees while we waited things out.
With no end in sight, we happened to come across a Facebook post showing how to make face shields using a laser engraver. We had a laser engraver at S&S to make cake toppers and Christmas ornaments, we never thought we would use it to make PPE.
Nick and I spent a lot of extra time in the office making and packaging face shields! We delivered many donations in-person as well.
I made a GoFundMe to raise money so we could make and donate face shields to our local hospital. We raised enough money to donate over 2,500 face shields to our local hospital and hospitals around the country. It also helped us continue paying our employees while our personalized gift sales were down.
As we wrapped up our donation campaign, I decided to expand our product line. Before the pandemic, Simple & Sentimental was primarily known for engagement gift boxes, bridesmaid gifts, and Christmas ornaments.
I listed a gift box that said "Happy Quarantined Birthday". For the first 2 weeks, nothing happened. Sales suddenly started picking up as quarantine went on, and the "quarantine gift boxes" became a best-seller.
A make-shift packaging station for quarantined birthday boxes.
We were NOT ready for the order volume we saw in April and May. I don't have many photos from this time because we were so busy. We hired around 20 people to work full-time and help us fulfill the orders. At one point we had around 25 people working in the office at once to fill quarantine orders.
A local news station featured our popular quarantine gift boxes!
After Mother's Day, things calmed down a little. We were able to regroup after the insanity that ensued in our office for weeks. During that time, Nick and I worked 40 days straight, usually 12+ hours per day. We were so ready to have a rest and take a break from the office.
We were thankful to have built a business that survived the pandemic and grew as a result of it. But we learned a lot from our big rush of orders. Our current operation was not made to handle 500+ orders going out per day. We decided we needed to change how we fulfilled orders, and it started with production.
Our staff posed in front of the giant crate that our new production machine came in. We were all so excited that it arrived!
We took the profits we made from the Mother's Day rush and invested them in printers to make our operation more efficient. Throughout the history of S&S, we have consistently reinvested the profits back into the business. As a result, we see growth year after year.
Now, we're ready to keep expanding and growing until we become the leading personalized gift company in the world!
Simple & Sentimental is known online for our quarantine gift boxes, cake toppers, engagement gift boxes, tumblers, Christmas ornaments, and personalized gifts. Nick and I work full-time at S&S alongside a team of production, customer service, sales, and graphic design staff. As the company has scaled, I've been able to focus in on product development and marketing while Nick manages the day-to-day operation of the business. What started in a dorm room has become a thriving business that has served hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Nick and I are proof that you can own a thriving business AND have a great marriage and family life outside of the office. I don't think "work/life balance" applies to many entrepreneurs. Instead, your work becomes an extension of your passions and your home life. It all works together. Your career and your home life support and help one another, they aren't separate.
C.S. Lewis said "Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” and I believe it whole-heartedly. My challenges during my childhood created in me a grit and perseverance that can't be formed any other way. I believe hardships make us better and they bring us closer to God.
I hope my story encourages people that your past doesn't hold you back. Your history makes you who you are, and it gives you an opportunity to be a light to other people.
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