When Casey Kelley decided to create some of the products she needed for her own wedding, the items she crafted turned out so well that she launched a family business to sell more like them.
“We started Blended Designs (BD) in 2014 shortly after we got married. We made all the wedding stationery and favors ourselves. We had very unique items. Our “Save the Date” included a string that tied into a knot when it was opened, our thank-you cards were a puzzle with a photo of our new Blended family. Everyone suggested we offer these items for others so we opened an Etsy store,” Kelley recalls.
Based in Jacksonville, Fla., BD sells products with a positive message, including an aspirational travel and products brand that educates, motivates, and stimulates the culture’s experience and narrative.
Kelley says it’s important for her customers to see themselves represented, especially children.
“In 2017, our then eight-year-old son wanted a backpack that looked like him. His classmate had a backpack with a character with red hair and freckles. My son noticed that it looked like his classmates and became aware that there wasn’t an option that looked like him,” she shares. “We did research and found that less than 2 percent of the character backpacks included children of color. It is important for children to see themselves because it gives a sense of empowerment and belonging. They feel included.”
The initial response was extraordinary.
“We launched March 2017. By August 2017 we had a quarter of a million dollars in revenue sales,” says Kelley, who self-funded the venture along with investment from family. “My mom contributed $1,000 and my brother-in-law contributed $4,000,” says Kelley.
Kelley drew on her experience in consumer insights to market her new business. “I had a 20-plus-year career in consumer insights and analytics within the CPG (consumer packaged goods) world working for companies like Hershey, P&G, Coke, and Coors,” she says.
She’s developed a market formula for BD. “I use marketing techniques that I learned during my work experience. We market very specifically using segment marketing and honing in on our ‘model customer’ based on buying behaviors. Using data we know exactly who our customer is. We have ‘her’ identified at a very granular level down to where she lives. We market to ‘her’ specifically.
By honing in on her and what influences her to buy, we are able to capture others that are similar including secondary and tertiary demographics,” Kelley explains.
While the marketing was working — and working well — like other businesses, BD was affected by the covid-19 pandemic.
“Seventy percent of our sales are done during the third quarter due to back to school. With children not returning to face-to-face instruction, there was no need for students to carry backpacks. Back-to-school shopping is more tradition than necessity. It is part of the season of getting ready for the first day of school,” says Kelley.
“So when children returned to face-to-face instruction, it was done without the school shopping that normally happens. Customers used items from previous years. Our sales for the entire third quarter of 2020 were less than 10 percent of what we normally do just in about two weeks of August. So three months of sales were less than two weeks of sales.”
Now BD is in recovery mode.
“We are still trying to recover from the hit of Covid. One of the things Covid taught us was that we need a broader product assortment,” says Kelley.
New products are on the way for 2022, she states.