Persistence is Resilience — if someone tells you no, keep at it. We’ve been told “no” what feels like one million times. You have to keep your focus and carry on in what you believe you can accomplish.
I had the pleasure to interview Lina Dickinson and Melanie Bolin of Mer Sea & Co. Mer-Sea & Co. is a partnership between two long-time friends, Melanie and Lina . They are passionate owners who have a hand in every detail and are completely dedicated to designing and producing beautiful sea-inspired products that can transport you to the calming effects of an ocean vacation.
Thank you so much for joining us Lina and Melanie! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Coincidentally, Melanie and I both ended up moving to Kansas City from California because of our husband’s jobs. Our oldest children ended up in the same preschool class, and we became fast friends. We spent years raising our children together, and when they got older, we were itching to do something new. We both had professional careers before kids, and we both had a dream of building our own business. We both loved to travel, and we both yearned for the coasts and thought we could create gifts that could transport us daily through scent and texture. Our first product was a candle in a bag. We found a woman who made feed bags for horses about an hour away in the country and convinced her to make our bags! We started in our kitchen — washing labels off or glass we bought at IKEA and packaging them in our little canvas bags — and since then, we’ve grown to be named as the Fastest Growing Business in Kansas!
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I think the most exciting stories are the funny things that happened in the early years. The “mistakes” that we can laugh about today. When we started, we were lucky that a friend had some empty office space we could use until the lease was up — about six months. The building was filled with professional companies: lawyers, financial companies, doctors. We got our first order because an investment firm down the hall smelled our candles and came searching for the source. A few days later, we were handling their corporate Christmas gifts! We had to figure out bulk shipping quickly. I calculated the cubic volume of packing peanuts needed for the 350 boxes and placed an order on Uline. I had no clue what that looked like, until a semi-truck FULL of 50 giant bags of peanuts came to the front of this professional building, ready to deliver our order! We have never laughed that hard. The marble floor entryway was filled with these bags. It took a dozen or more trips up the elevator to get them to our hallway. We were so lucky that the landlord had a space next door to us and let us store our peanuts there for free. There are countless people like that, who helped along our way, and asked for nothing in return. They deserve credit for our success too.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Not only are we a women-owned business (Certified WOB) that started with a dream, we have a soul. There is a truth to what we sell — we want to gift and wear our products. The gifting marketplace is so flooded with “things,” but we strive to create a curated collection that we actually test and love — that has been one of the keys to our success. We are truly the people behind the brand. We design everything, we travel the world to find the perfect manufacturer, we create deep relationships with our partners, and we only make what we would want to use ourselves or would be proud to gift to our dearest friends. Product truth allows for a brand depth that is tough to find these days.
We are also still very connected to all aspects of our company. There is not much we don’t have a hand in! Whether we are traveling to factories, meeting with the women coops that make our bags, setting up for trunk shows, being at the conventions, popping in on retailers, being featured in our social media with our REAL LIVES — these are the things that bring “soul” to our products.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Certainly, Catherine Moellering from Anthropologie took us under her wing early on and helped us get a foot in the door there — allowing us to develop our first collaboration with a major retailer. She found our little fabric hand-wrapped soap and reached out to us to place an order. The next thing you know, we are discussing a full collaboration. We ended up designing an entire, exclusive collection that went in all of their US stores. She had complete faith in us! We are still amazed that she believed in us when we were only 1 1/2 years old.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Funny, we talk about the idea of resilience in regards to our kids a lot. We strongly believe that having to rebound from failure is key to building resilience. We are the opposite of helicopter moms and let our kids make all sorts of mistakes! With us working so much, our kids are required to figure out and do things for themselves, and that builds their resilience. The same can be said of business leaders. The more little mistakes you make and learn from, the more significant that resilience muscle grows. We are grateful for the DOZENS of land mines we stepped on and learned from! It made us better leaders. There is a lot to be said from starting from scratch and having to learn EVERYTHING — manufacturing, shipping, selling, pricing, building systems, and company infrastructure. It might be a little slower road from getting a considerable capital infusion and hiring people to do it for you, but nothing can replace the knowledge you gain from figuring it out on your own and surviving mistakes. This is resilience to us.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
We certainly think of the great female pioneers in travel: Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride, Gertrude Bell. They were the women that wanted to explore the world, and nothing could keep them home. They were women who were “first” in something and pioneers in their fields. They had the same travel bug that we do and knew that to really LIVE you have to see and experience the world.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I can’t think of a time that someone told us something was impossible, but I can think of many times when people didn’t take us seriously. While there are many AMAZING people out there that saw us as equals and treated our business seriously, there were also many that thought our business was a “jobbie.” We fielded comments like, “Are you still doing that Mer-Sea thing?” (YES! We were in it to build a company; it was never a hobby for us.) or “Can you believe you got this far out of your kitchen?” (YES! We fully expected to kick ass!) Those types of comments would just fuel our desire to work harder, grow faster, and be even more successful.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
The market crash in 2008 was a critical time in my family’s life and changed my personal trajectory. My husband had his own business that was severely impacted by the economy. He did not think they would make it. It really shook me up — watching him live in such stress and fear. At first, I felt helpless and anxious. But, eventually, it helped reset my priorities. My journey to starting Mer-Sea began out of this low. I realized I could sit around and worry, or I could be part of the solution.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Oh goodness, our family stories would require a book! Melanie and I both have very unique situations growing up that helped shape us. Her grandmother and great grandmother raised her along with her aunt, who had severe mental and physical disabilities. Her grandmother was a force — a true entrepreneur who built an incredible real estate business in a time when women entrepreneurs were very rare! That is a huge part of why she works so hard and can relate to anyone with compassion. I had my own family dynamics that shaped me. My biological father did not raise me and eventually allowed my “dad” to adopt me. My mother had her own baggage that made it for an interesting and challenging upbringing. But, I am who I am because of those difficult times. Melanie and I could be dropped on a desert island without food and water, and we would survive and somehow still have fun. You definitely want us on your team!
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are five steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Travel Well, Travel Often, and Travel Light — this is one of our signature mottos. We don’t know of any travel that we’ve ever taken that doesn’t boost our spirit.
- Persistence is Resilience — if someone tells you no, keep at it. We’ve been told “no” what feels like one million times. You have to keep your focus and carry on in what you believe you can accomplish.
- Practice the Dr. Coue Method: “Day by Day in Every Way, I am Getting Better and Better.” If you think it, you will believe it. Our products have evolved over the years, getting better and better as we’ve fine-tuned our methods and become closer to our customers.
- The cure for everything is saltwater — swear, tears or the sea — -sometimes you have just to let it out! Or travel to the ocean and let the journey do the rest.
- Remember the famous Kansan who said: “There’s no place like home.” Having a great home base is also a key to resilience. Knowing that there is a solid under-footing can make the journey that much better.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
CLEAN WATER FOR ALL! We support water.org (also based in Kansas City and founded by Gary White and Matt Damon) through the sales of products, in particular, this candle: https://www.mersea.com/products/sea-change-sandbag-candle?_pos=1&_sid=642f3bb0c&_ss=r There is no better way for women and children in developing countries to succeed than to provide them and their families with access to clean water. They spend up to 6 hours a day collecting water, so if we can give them easy access to clean water, women can spend that time working to provide income to their families, and children can go to school and help stop the cycle of poverty.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
We would love to travel with Matt Damon on his next water.org trip. We know the good he does with that charity and would be inspired to see more of it, and give first-hand help — it would be an incredible adventure!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining