Jen’s Wreaths had a very simple and organic start. My husband and I were newlyweds and we went to bid on a local farm that was being auctioned off. We got pre-approved for a loan and our hand went up several times that day in hopes of landing this property. The final bidding ended right at our pre-approved threshold and the auctioneer said, “SOLD!” Buying our farm at that auction was what jump started our small business adventures. We were in our early 20’s. The property had a giant 4 bedroom house, a barn and plenty of outbuildings with manufacturing space. We were full of energy, young, a bit crazy and ambitious. We had dreams and not a lot of money.
As a child growing up my dad worked at the local timber mill and money was tight. The need to make a little extra cash was how I got acquainted with making fresh Christmas wreaths. My parents got a contract to make balsam wreaths and that’s what we did for a couple winters. I was a teenager at the time so I helped out and saw the process up close. I knew how to make a wreath, generally speaking but making a nice quality wreath came with a lot more practice.
Fast forward to my college days and I needed a side job. I decided to do something familiar and I made a pickup truck full of fresh balsam wreaths and went door to door selling them in my local community. Those wreaths our first couple of years were definitely trial and error. I look back at the pictures and the wreaths are pretty wild. Those first wreaths barely made the cut but the response was great. I was encouraged and motived by those first sales. It really got my wheels turning about how to expand and make a full fledge business out of it. That’s really in a nutshell how Jen’s Wreaths came about.
After the door to door selling went so well, I decided to explore online opportunities. This was 2004 and the internet was slow and dial-up in all the rural areas. Most of the older people I knew didn’t even own a computer. I was not deterred and had been fascinated by computers for since elementary school. I coded an HTML website with a How To book, tried my hand listing some classifieds, ran some primitive online advertising and picked up a few solid customers. Folks loved our fresh Christmas wreaths!
It really was like a snowball. It started small and gained momentum. More customers came on board. We worked hard to recruit some dependable seasonable employees and we steadily grew.
Why did you decide to create your own business?
It was a combination of 3 main things.
I’m a business major and I love buying and selling. I had a store on the school bus when I was a kid. I traded baseball cards and sold craft items to my peers. A big part of it is just genetics and my personality. I have a natural knack for business so owning a business made sense.
I also enjoy business. I thrive talking to people and learning about them. I like to network and build relationships. Learning about other people’s businesses is something I really find a lot of enjoyment in. The day to day challenges that come with being a business owner always stretch you and there is no boredom in business. Every day is a learning experience. I like the spontaneity that owning a business brings into your life and the constant problem solving makes every day an adventure.
I think a common denominator of all business is the opportunity has to be right, too. You have to see that there’s potential and logically calculate that all the outputs (effort) are worth it. That early door to door selling success really clarified for me that there was potential to sell Christmas wreaths on a bigger scale. It was also a low-risk business. Our startup costs were minimal. It felt like a safe risk.
What keeps you motivated?
I love our customers. We have loyal and outstanding folks that buy our fresh wreath products year after year. They have stood by us on the tough years. One year we grew too fast and our Christmas wreaths shipped late. We chose another year to skip a season so we could put the energy into finalizing the adoption of our two boys.
Our customer’s loyalty makes me want to negotiate for the best freight contracts so I can get them the best prices on their Christmas gifts. I love visiting with our customers on the phone. Many have become good friends. Also, the unique demands of our customers motivate me to always bring our best looking wreaths into our every changing product line. Today we offer big oversized wreaths and small apartment sized wreaths. We also added door swags, arch swags, cross wreaths and candy cane shaped wreaths. Midwest folks want a different flavor than California beach home owners. Grandma’s style preferences are different than a young lady in her 30’s. I like to be diverse enough in our product offering to keep all genres of customers satisfied.
Our employees too, are just amazing. They are all unique. They have incredible talent when it comes to handcrafting those wreaths and getting them into their boxes in a timely manner. They are an inspiring bunch.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
When I think back over the years and my parents have always stood out. My dad always did side jobs and short self-employment stints. He never made excuses. He solved problems and worked incredibly hard. If money was tight my dad took on extra work doing all sorts of things. We trapped leaches a couple summers as kids with him for extra money. We sorted those slimy creatures and sold them to bait shops. My dad taught me that sometimes doing something seasonal and unusual for work is ok. My mom has always been a great cheerleader too of all aspects of my life. She supports our family and my dad.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
Our wreath season is just that a season. It starts ramping up in September when we order ahead items for the season. In October a few early orders trickle in. November is all hands on deck and 90 hour weeks. By mid-December we are done.
Over the years, I’ve hired extra office staff so I can still have time to be a mom. We also had a lot of help from grandmas with our kids during our busy season. Today our oldest son is now at an age where he can be employed working for our company.
There’s honestly not a lot of balance. We suspend most of our extracurricular commitments during our short season. We jump in with both feet and run nonstop. When the season is over then we relax and focus on extra family downtime.
What do successful leaders look like in Jen’s Wreaths?
Successful leaders understand every part of the process. I think it’s important to go out to the shop for an hour and just listen. Eavesdrop on the employees (LOL), observe the process and do lots of tweaking. Be open minded to changing the process so it’s better.
We use the term here “putting the Ace’s in their Place’s.” We have a phenomenal shop manager who is gifted at doing just that. He finds out who is good at what and maximizes their potential. Delegating the right job to the right person makes the whole process much more efficient.
My husband is a huge part of our holiday wreath company. He is a fierce get ‘er done kind of guy. He loves to work and work hard. I think leaders need to be willing to put in long hours and invest in a business.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
Bigger isn’t always better. That was a hard lesson we learned in our earlier years. Making a better quality door wreath vs. making a huge quantity of wreaths is a better fit for our company. A handful of solid dedicated employees are better than many employees who aren’t as dependable.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
“Giver’s Gain” was the moto of our BNI, Business Networking group that I was a part of for several years. Don’t lose your humanity in all the demands of your business. Put yourself in others shoes. That day your employee really wants off might be a bigger deal than you can imagine to them. That person who asked for a wreath for the local benefit is pouring their heart out to help someone with cancer, etc., donate with a smile. Be glad to be in the position to be able to help out.
Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
That common list of priorities we hear Faith, Family and Friends hold true to me. I don’t always get it right. I often jumble it all up. I love the verse in Lamentations that says, “His mercies are new every morning.”
We need money to do life. We need to have a job (business in our case) to survive but money isn’t everything. Being a wife and married to my husband now for 18 years is at the top of my list followed by being a mom to our 5 children. My jobs of being a homeschool mom, washer of much laundry and official driver of our children to many life events are what matter most.
Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?
We need to be flexible to the changing demands of the online Christmas decorations market. Optimization for our website www.jenswreaths.com has changed dramatically over a decade. The search engine our customers use to find us has changed over the years. We have to stay up to date always with all aspects in technology.
In 5 years, I hope to have maximized everything to the point we can expand slightly and profitably. We may put a small addition on an outbuilding for more manufacturing space.
My goal is to continue to provide a decent job too for our employees. I would really like to see the same dependable friendly faces in our shop in 5 years.