Gifts that Revel on the Fringe

There are some days when hanging out on the edge feels like a good place to be. This feels like one of those times.

As we enter a new season, we’ve shifted our gaze to the edge of the artisan market. Specifically, the edge of the hand-woven market, the fringe you might say. Several of our latest additions carry a little sassy extra to catch the eye.

First, these hand-woven coasters have arrived to liven up your beverage choices. Using colorful pattern inlays and hint of fringe, these coasters bring a splash of color and a stylish option to the traditional beverage experience. The good news is they’re durable too, so you can machine wash them. The white fringe around the trim creates an airy feel, and adds another element of interest. It’s the cherry on top…or maybe the bottom?

Next, if you’re looking to add a touch of class to your bar menu, these hand-woven bar towels, with an inset of silver sparkle, are meant to evoke a classic sense of celebration. (And yes, machine wash these beauties too!) Fresh off the loom, they include a light fringe with a silver shimmer. They’re luxurious yet ready for action, heirloom quality you can use every day.

In previous years, these elements may have been an after-thought to the party, not an intentional addition to a festive gathering. No more! On the fringe is a fun place to be.

Look for these hand-crafted fringe pieces throughout our Gift Box Collection.



How Memories of Main Street Create Meaningful Client Gifts

I used to love going down to the Rock Box when I was a kid. It was a tiny store on a small town main street selling rocks of all sizes, shapes and colors. The owners knew me well because of my frequent visits and let me wander free, picking up all the rocks to feel the quartz edges and touch the cold, smooth surface of the colored stones. That experience left a lasting impression on me, a reminder of the joy that comes from connecting with beautiful natural elements.

Today, we’ve expanded on the wares of the little rock shop by working with artisan elements of all shapes, sizes and colors. The feel of woven fabrics, the look of natural wood grain, and the touch of ceramic textures, are a few of the different ways we like to evoke a memorable gift experience. Often, it’s about adding depth and dimension to a gift, the result of a subtle touch or detail to magnify the focal pieces.

Adding dimension to a moving target takes a careful eye, a consistent evaluation of the landscape, and old-fashioned practice. If you understand the broader context, and the art of creating a custom gift box, you can scout the options and identify pieces that complete your preferred look.

Here are two things we strive for in our selection process:

Enhancing with color – how can we add color in ways that enhance the style yet don’t overpower a gift box? Consider pieces that are made from natural, woven or milled fabrics, and bring a unique sense of touch. Fabrics can be light and airy, bulky, silky or rough, depending on the look you’re aiming for. Special thread styles and even fringe can be part of the mix! These pieces can amplify a gift theme, yet minimize the space required inside a gift box. By rolling, folding or tucking them into artisan pieces, they add flexibility too.

Variety in textures - Adding elements such as, wood, metal, fabric, or a special glaze can create a more interesting visual effect. Many times, textures can be layered, such as floral elements resting on wood grain, or glaze drips on ceramics. Perhaps a wool fabric, which brings a much different feel than silky linens, is in order. Mother Nature is also your friend, offering pine cones, evergreens and the delicious smell of eucalyptus. An eye-catching combination of these can go a long way in creating a compelling style.

In the end, the goal is to understand a client’s needs and the experience they want to create. We hope our artisan gift boxes transport people to a wonderful place, maybe a feeling of adventure or celebration? Or maybe to a favorite old shop on main street.




Artisan Displays Along the Backroads & Byways

Traveling across the backroads and byways of the east, we navigated between a few fierce rainstorms to explore new open air markets and main streets. It was part of our quest to see what the summer season had on display. We found the local shops and maker booths brimming with fresh floral vases, colorful books, tools for outdoor adventures, blankets, and artisan sauces and scents reflecting unique cultures. In the midst of this digital world, it’s heartening to see people appreciate beautiful textures and the feel of hand-crafted pieces, whether it’s smooth glassware, a ceramic glaze or supple leather.

Words don’t seem to do full justice to the sights, smells and sounds of our open air strolls, so we’ve selected a few photos to help bring the sensations home for you. (Photos taken in Burlington, VT, Phoenicia Flea, and Kingston, NY)

How to Prep When You're Ready to Press "Record"

The iPhone was in position, we were in our seats, our intro was prepared, and yet, hitting “record” on our first video still felt daunting. It sounds easy to record a 1-2 minute video. While the recording process might be, the rest is not. The prep work should not to be taken lightly.

Here are a few things we learned launching our video channel:

Background work. We took time to learn the how and why of using video. This came in the form of listening to several podcasts, even before watching videos. One interview that was particularly insightful came from Jenna Kutcher’s Goaldigger podcast 246, Hit Record. I’m a big fan of her business acumen. We took to heart her comment that sometimes you just have to press “record.”

This is not the place for snap decisions. We made the decision three months before we hit “record” to launch a video channel. We’ve been asked many of the same questions by clients and artisans, and from our research, this seemed like a good way to answer those questions. Recording itself takes a minute or two, but those minutes take weeks to research, plan and execute.

Say what? Prior to this, we had very little experience with a video platform and the steps to establish a channel (thus the iPhone reference in the intro). This includes determining which video platform to even use. (We chose You Tube.) Our website, and other social platforms, have been our initial priority. I had to add in the learning curve time – and frustration – of technically how to do it. (And we’re not done yet.)

New meaning of App-titude. It’s not just You Tube you have to download, but the YT Studio for editing. Since we don’t have a professional thumbnail, yet, we use what the Studio gives us for three photo choices. (Yes, just wait until you see the first three photos you can pick from as the “face” of your video. Hot tip: make sure you’re smiling when you hit “record.”) Test recordings, editing options (not yet), uploading, adding links, it takes time to learn this stuff.

What’s the story. Next we had to decide what we wanted to discuss on the videos. And not just the first one, but what’s the schedule for the next few months? What are the topics people ask us about, and what specifically will be valuable or interesting to share in a few minutes?

Integrate it into your content. How does this video content integrate into all the other content you produce? For example, how does this upload into a newsletter? And the web site? How will you promote this, and on what timeline? We decided to post one every two weeks, which we realize is like 10 years in internet time, but a reasonable commitment beats and unrealistic one.

Cut! Take 2,3,4… Ugh, can we just tell you it takes a lot of attempts to get one you can manage to use (assuming video isn’t your natural calling). Even though it’s not live and you can delete anything, it’s funny how being on camera suddenly elevates all your personal appearance issues to a new level. And, it’s not just what you say, it’s are you staring at the camera like a zombie? What do you wear? How’s your energy level? What do you say first? How do you close it out? The list is long. We originally wrote a list of points to keep by the video as it was recording so we wouldn’t forget. Then we stared at the list and not the camera, so we had to ditch that idea! (Hot Tip: You have to be willing to laugh at yourself!)

Press the red button. We are novices in this area, however, I’m proud that we’ve made the leap and entered a brand new era for us. We’ll evolve and laugh about this one day, but the plan is that folks out there in internet-land get to know us and learn a few things that are helpful too. We’re willing to try to bring new ideas to you, our subscribers, site visitors, followers and customers. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but we’ll be smarter business people for it, and have some laughs along the way.

Lights, Camera! Action! See for yourself here… (be sure to subscribe for bonus editions and we’d love a “thumbs up!”)

The Refined Few Beats the Varied Many: Year 3

Reflecting on recent accomplishments and the “my how things have changed here” points is what we do as we transition into our next year. A lot has changed, as one would expect, moving into year three. (Will we be saying that twenty years from now?) If the first two years are like drinking water from a firehose, year three will be all about fine-tuning and learning to jettison (quickly) things that weigh us down. Here we pause for a moment of reflection.

Year one was the heavy business lift (more on that here), standing up the foundation and web platform (more here) along with selecting and defining artist relationships. A basic level of marketing was in order, (more here) while selling and fulfilling orders as we went.

Year two was about exploring gift box possibilities with our community of artists and the acceleration of outreach to corporate and hospitality. Increased outreach meant more energy went into processes and guidelines as larger clients expect such things.

I’ve noted before about one Hazard of the Job, which includes having access to so many ceramic shows and artists. We have a variety of styles, textures and colors at our fingertips, and it’s tempting to want more beautiful options on hand. We’re in this business because we appreciate the talents of these artists. I can justify buying for future gift boxes and for select clients who trust us to provide specialty individual gift boxes with hard-to-find pieces. Maybe. You can see where this leads, right? To inventory that isn’t as focused as it could be.

This coming year will be about refinement and focus, with added attention to the data. Numbers don’t lie, they can be interpreted differently perhaps, but the data is there for the taking. We researched and educated ourselves on SEO, and beefed up the analytics, paying more attention to the different reports available (for free). It’s a combination of understanding the data and analytics, while keeping a pulse on artisan design trends that will capture our clients’ hearts - and wallets. With two years of experience in our artisan community, and data in hand, we expect refinement and focus will be the name of the game in year three.

We’re excited about what we’ve accomplished in just two short years: a talented community of top-tier artists, respected globally; Fortune 500 and renowned hospitality clients; a growing platform of vibrant content (Blog, web, IG, Pinterest and this year, video!), and a rapidly increasing number of engaged, supportive newsletter subscribers, and cheering fans. It’s quite an amazing journey. Saddle up, and join us for the ride!

Are We There Yet? Towns that Beckon the Artisan and Adventurer

One of the best things about summer is the chance to explore small towns with character and personality, complete with diverse shops, restaurants and outdoor options. Discovering communities in transition is exciting, you can feel the energy of the residents who believe they are part of something special. Kingston, NY feels like one of those towns.

When we started the drive down Broadway, off of I87, the scene was initially more transition than intriguing shops. At first, I wondered if I’d completely misread the area. But if you keep going, the road leads to the Rondout area, where local makers and artisans dot the main streets and restaurants overlook the marina. Here you’ll find interesting shops like Clove & Creek, full of outdoor adventure tools, books, candles, ceramics, artist renderings and more. And just down the street is Jay Teske’s hand-crafted leather shop, where we found the brass hiking bell, seen here in our gift boxes.

The community enthusiasm and friendly attitudes are on full display here. The gentleman behind the counter at Clove and Creek gave us a handwritten note of suggested places to shop up the road in the Stockade District. Following his instructions, we landed on Washington Street, another area off the water, but with even more local shop options.

One store owner in the Stockade District shared his excitement over Kingston, telling us that everyone was moving here from the expensive Brooklyn neighborhoods. In his view, the cost of living here was so much less and the quality of life so much more. He and his partner made the move to open their home lifestyle and culinary store, Blue Cashew.

You can have the best of both worlds in this upstate New York region, it’s 90 miles to New York City, or 30 minutes to the Catskills. And the Adirondacks are a bit further north, beyond Albany.

Heading West, tucked in the southwest corner of Colorado, is the town of Durango. It’s a hidden gem in the Animas River Valley, full of outdoor adventure-lovers and creatives. The air exudes creative energy and the scenery calls you to be outside. While Durango is larger and more established than Kingston, it’s still small and unknown to many.  

The locals share regular stories of outdoor-lovers who arrive for a vacation and never leave. Most homes in town are small, yet expensive, and it’s clear the owners are here for the location, spending more on their gear, outdoor vehicles and apparatus, and less concerned about the home itself. It’s no wonder, given the wealth of hiking, biking, and skiing options available, why would you move here to then sit inside? It’s also a terrific base camp for exploring other areas within a 1-2 hour drive. Options like the Pagosa Hot Springs, the town of Silverton, and Mesa Verde National Park, are close, as is the spectacular San Juan Skyway, if you’re up for a ride. The Skyway is a 236 mile loop of breathtaking scenery that includes the Million Dollar Highway, between Silverton and Ouray. The loop runs from Durango north to Telluride and then around to Ouray and back to Durango.  The travel information says allow 7 hours, we say take a least 24 and stay overnight in Telluride to peruse downtown. We also recommend you hike the Jud Weibe trail in the morning and get your blood pumping. One piece of advice, consider the time of year you’re traveling here, snow arrives earlier than you might think.

But I digress, back to downtown Durango. The Studio & Gallery showcases local ceramic artists, including our own, Lorna Meaden pottery (in our gift boxes, here and here). The Silverton North Gauge Railway is still chugging away and the sound of the train whistle announcing its departure is worth the trip. Visit the train museum downtown, and book your excursion. At Christmas, you can train with Santa, in the summer, enjoy the open car views as you travel by rail, or for the really athletic, you can race the train in the annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. 

Retail won’t let you down either, one of the best footwear stores I’ve found, is Brown’s Shoe Fit on Main Street, where I have invested multiple times in my favorite Taos and Pinkolino boots. And, it’s conveniently located next door to Urban Market, a festive home and lifestyle store. (We bought so much there we had to ship it back.) 

One easy way to take in the full view of the downtown area, and see across the valley, is to head up the hill and take the short loop around Rim Drive and the campus of Fort Lewis College, “Colorado’s crossroads of education and adventure,” as they like to proclaim. Finally, if you’re looking for a jolt of caffeine after all this fresh air and adventure, head up East College Drive and grab a table at Durango Joe’s Coffee.  

While these two destinations are found on the roads less traveled, they are both worth the time on your summer travel schedule.

From left to right: Three scenes from Kingston’s Rondout and Stockade Districts. The Silverton train in Durango, the San Juan Skyway into Telluride, Mesa Verda National Park.

Rockin' Red Even in Silver

 

When you’re the face of your business, changing your appearance matters. For experienced, executive women, when that change means moving to silver locks, get ready.

For starters, people who’ve known me for years ask all the time if I’m still the “Red” in “Red & Rugged” now that I have a silver hair. Yes, is the short answer. The “red” still applies to my “spicey” personality (my husband’s nickname for me), not the hair color. That said, of the many decisions I’ve made in my career, it’s amazing how compelling this decision became, to let my hair turn to natural silver.

To quote Beyonce, one day I woke up like this. I was just ready to embrace it - my experience, future opportunities, and my age - which all seemed like what turning silver meant. For me, it seemed like the color of my hair was hiding things, or keeping things a secret, and I didn’t care what other people said. Or so I thought.

In addition to the attitude shift, the salon situation included spending two hours, every two and a half weeks, and upwards of $200 each salon visit. You do the math. The time commitment became too much, it just didn’t make sense to me anymore, and pouring chemicals on my head that often wasn’t thrilling either. I had spent years getting my hair to a consistent level of red, and one night I told my husband I was done. It was time to own my age and my hair color, and move on. There were more important things in life to spend my time and money on. He was surprised, but he didn’t argue. Smart man.

At first, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I was so over the time commitment that I didn’t care. Then it became clear how publicly obvious it was going to be to get my hair from years of chemicals to silver. The first attempt consisted of 4+ hours in the salon chair, before my trusted stylist and I both gave up. The red didn’t want to leave and thus an “interesting” blondish/yellow was as good as it was going to get. We were both stressed. The second try was about the same. The easy transition was out the window, so I told my stylist to cut it shorter, the torture would be quicker. On St Patty’s Day, I put a styling product in my hair that accidentally, and slowly, turned pieces of my hair green. I heard one young lady at a business event that night say, “See, if she can do her hair that color, I should be able to do purple!” Not exactly what I was going for. My hair had been so colorful to the business community that they all thought it was intentional.

In the end, the full transition took about a year. I share this with those of you considering this move, as a point of consideration, not to say to avoid it. I will add, it feels like more of a significant decision, at times. For example, unusual business interactions began to happen that made it apparent I’d made this change. I was on an appointment with a co-worker (a white male) and our contact came down to greet us. He said his admin had told him his appointment was here with his wife. Wait, what?! I guess since my co-worker had gray hair, and now I did, I was married to him? Suddenly, it didn’t occur to people I was a senior executive? Wow. Seriously. That was not the only time this type of thing happened either, and it had never happened before. (I’m also willing to bet that comment never happens in reverse.)

This transition also triggers a new internal dialogue. As confident and not caring as I typically am, there are days when I feel the change more than others. People do look at you differently now that you’re of a certain age. Before, they wondered or guessed, but now my age range is pretty obvious. Or that’s the story I tell myself sometimes, before I auto-correct and get a grip. I have no idea what they’re thinking. Or what they used to think. They might have always looked at me that way! I also catch myself thinking at networking events, “Good grief, this room is full of gray hair, we need some younger folks,” and then I chuckle when I remember I’m one of the gray ones.

In the end, it was a great decision for me. I’m still the red and “spicey” one, the one with the passionate attitude. And in spite of the challenges, having moved to a natural color feels like a blast of freedom. I never worry when the wind blows! (Some of you know exactly what I mean!) I’ve got nothing to hide. I’m out there and ready to keep rocking it, and excited to leverage my wisdom and experience in this business.

My advice, as you consider this for yourself one day… if you don’t have thick skin for the inevitable comments, and the idea of months of color transition feels like death-by-a-thousand-cuts, then you may want to hold off. But, if you’re ready to cut loose of the time commitment and be comfortable with all you bring to the table, then let the change begin!

Tips We've Learned Creating an Efficient Workshop

Running a workshop that deals in custom gift box orders requires being super-efficient since each order can involve different sizes, accents and wood stains. For example, we’ve worked to be strategic in the number and size of gift boxes offered, however, because the hardware accent can change, it means we go from offering a few combinations to many. Ditto on the cutting board possibilities. Options require process and a plan, and don’t allow for wasted time looking for tools, making room for wood pieces and finding the right hardware inventory.

Here are two points we consider important as we deliver on customer timelines:

1. Stay sharp. We’ve created a sharpening schedule for all the blades and bits. We use all hardwoods for our gift boxes which means the length of time between sharpening the blades is shorter than for those who use soft woods (red oak vs pine). The sharper the blades, the less sanding required, the faster the process. The blades are on a rotating schedule, making sure the ones in use perform at their best, while others get sharpened at the same time. Router bits, used for the gift box edging, require the same type of attention and sharpening schedule.

2. Get organized for production. We’re often working on multiple projects simultaneously; creating cutting boards, staining boxes, and finishing tablescapes. This means three different processes are in the works. When you require drying time, cutting time and finishing time – all at once - the work stations can get crowded quick, and meeting customer delivery dates means production schedules need to be seamless. You can’t have the clamps that hold each unique wood piece for cutting boards out in the same area where the gift box pieces need to be stained. If you’re unorganized and spend hours cleaning up benches and moving tables around for the next step in each project, you’ve wasted a lot of valuable time. And there’s no rushing things like drying time. It’s like waiting for water to boil. Endless if you’re in a hurry.

Efficiency in the workshop isn’t complicated, however, it does require attention to detail and thoughtful planning. (It’s an evolving process too, read more of our early lessons.) Delivering quality craftsmanship is as much about the tools as it is about the skill required to use them.

Cast a Line and Connect the Dots

My husband isn’t one to enjoy casual networking, he still can’t believe lunches and latte conversations lead to meaningful new business. The issue for him is the time and patience it takes. By the time new orders, or something significant happens, he’s lost track of how that connection appeared in the first place. But I haven’t forgotten, I know we had that line in the water for some time. In my career, I’ve seen how genuine, patient, follow up can lead to new sales, strong partnerships and important visibility. I’ll share a few examples for the non-believers.

First, I was asked to speak on a panel recently on the topic of women in business. This wasn’t a hospitality targeted event or a corporate gifting audience, we were speaking to women working in all stages of their careers - full time, contract, just starting out, mid-career, with families, and seasoned empty nesters. I agreed because I was committed to sharing my story in the off-chance it might resonate with a woman in the crowd. After the panel, I received a message via LinkedIn from an attendee who said she thought her CEO would love knowing about our artisan gifts. She connected me with the CEO’s Chief of Staff, and I followed up. They then connected me to another individual, more follow up. Fast forward, and we’ve now delivered repeat orders to that global client, all based on the fact that I spoke on a panel months ago.

Second, even though our main target is corporate, we do sell gift boxes to individuals too. You never know who those individuals are giving a box to, who else they know, and/or where they work. Our marketing “speaks” to corporate, however, individuals order off the website from our full Gift Box Collection. In one example, customers have loved our gift boxes so much that they referred us to their favorite luxury vacation resorts. After several emails and phone calls, the resort executives then ordered our gift boxes for their VIP guests.

Lastly, years ago I read the book, Small Giants, and loved it. I enjoyed it so much, I took a train to New York City to hear the author (an editor at Inc. Magazine) and a featured CEO from the book, speak at Columbia University. Before the session began, I introduced myself to the speakers and invited them to come speak in Central Pennsylvania , where I lived at the time. I went home and followed up on my request. We worked on the details, and Bo Burlingham and Norm Brodsky came to Harrisburg to speak to entrepreneurs in Central Pennsylvania. Somehow, I managed to get two editors from a major publication to speak – no speaking fees – in our small city. It was a big success with entrepreneurs attending from all stages of growth. Later, I took the train back to Manhattan, to have lunch with Bo, ask questions and hear more of his insights on writing content. Looking back, that was a big moment in my life, when you realize what you can accomplish when you set your mind to something.

In our current business endeavor, we are lean and I don’t have time for days full of coffee meetings and casual lunches, I’m not suggesting that. I am saying that creating opportunities for selective outreach, with genuine intention, and persistence can be productive if you’ve laid the groundwork.

You can create your own path forward. Find your spot, set the environment, and cast your line. You might be amazed what it nets over the coming months.

Below is my signed copy of Small Giants (of course!) and a picture of our event coordinator (Jeanmarie Kline) , myself (the one with the rebel blonde streak), Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham. Still a favorite photo of mine!

How to Match Artisan Storytelling with Your Corporate Mission

Sitting at an end table in a busy local restaurant, we began a conversation about how to tell the story of living a healthy lifestyle through elements of artisan work. Our contact was looking for a way to give custom hand-crafted gifts, and at the same time, represent a corporate brand of health and wellness. Between spoonfuls of soup, we picked through sample ceramic pieces and bantered about ideas.

Big meetings with special clients require a lot of planning, agenda outlines, and logistical coordination. At the end of all that planning, a client gift had better cap off a productive day with surprise and delight! Deciding on the contents of a meaningful gift can be tricky because these professionals represent many international cultures, and you likely have never met them before. Still, you want to leave a lasting, positive impression of your company. The question becomes how does one give a thoughtful gift, in line with the company brand, without crossing any cultural boundaries that may inadvertently offend someone.

The beauty of artisan work is that it offers variety, and the ability to select unique pieces that are both meaningful and reflect a company’s mission. In working with this global corporation, we considered different options and challenges. Food items were off the list when we evaluated transit times and the guests’ travel plans. Avoiding any direct implication of alcohol was another variable we removed. Their brand encourages healthy living and outdoor activity, so how best to blend those ideas with artisan appeal?

The solution was twofold, first to select elements created by artists located in different areas of the country, places where their employees live and work. This was a creative way to showcase the company’s geographic diversity while highlighting the craftsmanship of a unique set of artists. And, in picking certain pieces, we accomplished the second objective, which included a subtle reference to healthy lifestyles (cutting board and veggie/cheese slicer) and enjoying the great outdoors (National Parks postcard book, woolen to-go-cup holders, and brass hiking bells).

To complete this story, we chose styles from upstate New York, the Hudson Valley, Vermont, and Maryland to create the gift boxes. We also shared the individual artists’ information, and how each element represented a different local region.

In these times when our differences are often the focus, it was rewarding to see how artisan gifts so beautifully aligned diverse cultural connections with a positive corporate mission.