Making Of A Maven

Posted on Dec 1, 2009 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Sandra Began, Sandra Began Holiday

Sandra Began doesn’t need to pay much attention to the calendar. After all, when you’re in the holiday business, every day is Christmas. And putting a high-end spin on such a niche market has proven both to her – and to fans nationwide – that there’s no place like home for the holidays.

Began always enjoyed decorating her own home for Christmas, so about four years ago, she turned her personal penchant for style into a fledgling lifestyle business, which she runs from her home in Appleton.

After doing some custom work and decorating for home tours, she launched Sandra Began Holiday in 2005, creating a line of her own designs for wreathes, runners and swags.

“I absolutely love decorating for Christmas so it was a lifestyle choice for me. And from a business standpoint, it was the kind of business move I wanted to make,” Began says.

Began’s items, which retail from around $45 to $89, offer a more luxe look than other holiday décor on the market. “Every item is made by hand with the freshest greens. Also, I use quality components including French silk ribbon for my bows,” she says.

Began threw herself entirely into the business — from writing her own business plan to financing the venture herself to designing and making all her own product. About 70 percent of her sales are to corporate accounts.

“It just kept growing and growing,” she says of her business, which has been featured in Country Home, Country Living and other national lifestyle/dwelling publications.

Began modestly started her venture in her garage, and by 2007, her business was what she called “gangbusters.” She estimates that between her second and third years in business, revenues grew by 200 percent. Today, her holiday empire now includes two retail locations and two websites.

When faced with the prospect of expansion, though, a fortuitous alliance appeared, paving the way for the future of Began’s company. In 2007, she teamed up with The Wreath Factory in Plymouth and Menasha; her designs are licensed exclusively to the company, which produces and packages the products according to her specifications and ships them.

“It’s a great strategic alliance for us,” says Jeff Buser, a co-owner of The Wreath Factory. “She’s just a sheer genius at what she does. She really knows how to take her designs and implementations to the market.”

The partnership has afforded her more time for designing and marketing her products.

Maintaining an online presence, she adds, has been essential. In addition to offering an e-mail newsletter, Began maintains a Facebook page and Twitter account to promote her business.

“Social media is so important,” she says. “It’s free and it’s another way to remind people that you’re out there.”

That’s especially important in this economy. According to a 2009 National Retail Federation consumer survey, about two-thirds of Americans say the economy will affect their holiday plans this year. Spending in non-gift categories like decorations is expected to drop, with the survey indicating that about 34 percent of consumers will consider putting up last year’s decorations instead of buying new ones.

Began says her sales were down a bit last year. Because of that, Began realizes that one of the most important marketing tools she can use – especially this year – is making her name and her company more visible.

“You have to continue to get yourself out there,” she says. Began takes part in local events, such as last summer’s children’s parade in Appleton.

And while she also drives business through her website, she doesn’t rely solely on that. “It’s [about] getting to know people, getting involved in your community,” she says.

“A lot of times, people in the online business world think it’s all going to come from online. You can’t forget about your local connections.”