Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
Julia: Everybody, I am here to introduce to you, Taylor. We have a lot in common that we just discovered; dogs, babies, a love for foster care. And so, I’m really excited to have her here! Taylor, tell us a little bit about you and your business.
Taylor: Thank you, Julia. It was great getting to talk with you before we got started and learning that we do have a lot in common. I’m married to my high school sweetheart, Nick, and we have a seven month old daughter named Lydia. I wasn’t gonna talk too much about this, but now that we have it in common, before Lydia, we did foster for a little bit. We really enjoyed that experience and we look forward to picking it back up once we’re done having your birth biological kids, whatever. Birth kids, whatever you wanna call them.
I own Simple & Sentimental, which is a personalized gift business, but underneath the umbrella that is Simple & Sentimental, we have a few different brands. So Simple & Sentimental is personalized gifts. So if you think about special occasions like baby showers, birthdays, weddings, and all that weddings entail, from bachelorette parties to bridal showers, all of that is encapsulated in Simple & Sentimental, as well as everyday type stuff like tumblers with names on them and other little personalized gifts, is what that is. That’s the first business I started. Of course, it wasn’t originally called Simple & Sentimental, but that’s my flagship, I guess.
That’s Ecommerce. It is currently online, always has been online. We do some pop ups and stuff, but we pretty much just sell online. We sell on Etsy, Amazon, and we do our own website. We sell on Faire too, but it’s not as big as the other three. And then from Simple & Sentimental, we launched some other brands, the most notable being Radiate Prints, which we launched earlier this year. Before Radiate Prints, we also launched Celebrate Cake Toppers and Man Gifts on Simple & Sentimental. But as far as the success of those brands, I would say Radiate Prints and Simple & Sentimental take the cake. Celebrate Cake Toppers is in the works, and then Man gifts is on the back burner, if we’re being honest.
Julia: I’m not gonna lie, I love that you call a brand Man Gifts, because it makes sense! Everybody struggles with man gifts, let’s be honest. I love it! So how did you get started? How did this happen?
Taylor: I was a student at East Carolina University. I’m an ECU grad, still live in Greenville. I’m not originally from Greenville. I’m from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and ECU is like three hours from there. I came here, I was majoring in interior design. And my now husband, we were dating at the time, he was majoring in engineering. I was looking for something to do in between classes to make money, and I had a hobby of calligraphy and hand lettering. So I would practice doing that, and I started having people reach out and say, can you make me this personalized gift? Can you write on a canvas? Can you draw on this for me?
I did the hand lettering thing for a while, and I decided to try listing it online, and it failed miserably. It was a saturated market, and I tried listing with Etsy. So many people sell hand lettering things on Etsy, I was not the only one doing it. So I didn’t really know what this word was at the time, but I pivoted, and I went out and bought a cricut on Black Friday, if you’re familiar with a paper cutting machine – or a silhouette would be comparable. Bought that, and I started making stickers outta my handwriting. So I would go in and write words and then turn it into a decal, listed those on Etsy, and by the end of my freshman year at ECU, I had 500 sales.
Julia: Congrats! That’s awesome!
Taylor: And was going straight along with my little decals, and then that summer, started putting decals on things. So I would put decals on cups, and put decals on boxes, and all kinds of different stuff. I ended up creating a bridesmaid proposal box that did really well on Etsy, which led to an engagement gift box, which led to other gift boxes and lots of things in the wedding industry.
So I graduated ECU in the fall of 2019, and I was the fifth full-time employee. My husband also quit his engineering job that he started right after school. He worked there for three months and then quit to co-work at Simple & Sentimental. I graduated in December of ‘19, and everything was looking so good. I was so excited for 2020, because I was like, my first full year of being able to run my business without being in school and not having to balance everything. So then COVID hits and just everyone stopped getting married, stopped getting engaged. All of our business just stopped. And we had five employees including us. We had put all of our eggs in one basket. So me and Nick, the household was relying on this business to work.
We decided that we would sell face shields, because Nick was in a Facebook group with – We have a laser engraver, we have two now. At the time, we had one. He realized we were making face shields, but they’re like laser engravers. And long story short, we created this GoFundMe that people could donate to pay us to make face shields. So we made enough to pay the employees to make them, to buy the materials, and we donated them to hospitals. So we donated 1,500 face shields during COVID.
Julia: That’s awesome!
Taylor: That was a crazy wild ride for like three weeks. We did that, and then just as that was dying down, we launched a gift box that said Happy Quarantined Birthday. I remember putting that on Etsy, and two weeks of it and nothing happened. Not one sold. And then all of a sudden, literally overnight, they started selling like crazy, and we went from five employees to 25 employees
Julia: In the middle of COVID?
Taylor: In the middle of COVID, we were the only one who was hiring. So we had all these people who were working at other jobs that had been furloughed or had no other way of making money, they came, worked for us, and we figured out how to put people far enough apart. I don’t even think masks were a thing yet. It was just a wild time.
Julia: Wow! What an adventure!
Taylor: Yeah, it was crazy! We grew really fast. It honestly exploded our business. We realized that the way we were doing things from our production standpoint was not sustainable for that kind of volume, so we ended up buying more equipment. We used to do vinyl and everything, like I mentioned, cricut. Now we do UV printing and laser engraving, and it’s just grown and blossomed from there. That’s how I got to this point, was just lots of different products.
Julia: Taylor, I love that you were this little college student, putting stickers on things, and now, you produced this massive thing that is really helping provide for other people. What a cool, cool experience? So you’re not putting stickers on things now? What do you do at Simple & Sentimental?
Taylor: Oh, what do I do? We’re kind of in growth mode again right now. I would call, 2020 was a big growth year for us. 2021 and 2022, we spent those years wondering, was 2020 an anomaly? We can’t do the same thing that we did in 2020 to see success in those years, so we dialed back and now we are back in growth mode again after just throwing some things at the wall and seeing what stuck. We realized that corporate gifting and promotional products and screen printing and embroidery and doing things at a mass scale is one thing that sticks, and doing the e-commerce stuff is another thing that sticks. So I’ve almost got two sides of my business that lean on each other throughout the year. Almost like alternating peak seasons.
Julia: Yeah. That makes sense!
Taylor: So I spend a lot of my time right now doing sales, so I work with all of our corporate clients. I do some graphic design and art, so I’ll come up with different products to put on our Etsy shop, on our Amazon store, on our website. I make websites for us internally just on Shopify. No expert, or anything that I know of.
Julia: Hey, you’re doing it though!
Taylor: I’m also the only person who does our marketing, which is why it’s not where I would like it to be if I had all the time in the world.
Julia: But you know what, it’s working. It’s working! Could it work better? Maybe. Probably. But it’s working. So what have you figured out works for you guys in terms of marketing?
Taylor: From a Simple & Sentimental perspective, we relied pretty heavily on Etsy in the beginning, and now we have taken more than just one egg in the basket approach. We have Etsy, Amazon Faire, and we have a website in the mix. So Simple & Sentimental, A lot of our traffic does still come from those platforms like Amazon and Etsy. My goal is to start seeing more traffic coming from SEO on our website, which I focus on writing blog posts, optimizing product pages with SEO. I’ve been really, really enjoying experimenting with AI with that.
Julia: Yeah. It’s so fun!
Taylor: And seeing how I can take my time and almost multiply it. It’s been great! So I’ll do that when it comes to marketing for Simple & Sentimental. And then on the flip, for Radiate Prints, it’s almost completely different. I had to learn a lot. I thankfully have some friends, and I’m in C12, which is a Christian business owner round table thing that meets once a month, and I have gotten good feedback from them. Most of them are men, and I’m one of two women in my group, and they’re all great guys. But a lot of them didn’t start the business themselves, maybe they inherited it from a family member. A couple of them did, but a lot of them do sales. When I say sales, I mean relationship business. That’s what a lot of people call it. So I had to do a lot of learning about how all that works, and after about a year of pushing it, we’re finally at a point where it’s sustainable. I would say the main way that we got the clients that we have now for Radiate Prints was just relationships that I’ve formed within probably the last five years. So whether that was people I met at ECU, people I’ve met even through organizations like the Chamber of Commerce or C12.
Julia: And that’s like the corporate gifting side?
Julia: Sweet! That’s awesome!
Taylor: Simple & Sentimental is direct to consumer and Radiate Prints is b2b, the approach is so different, and what matters to that client is so different. So it’s been really interesting to learn how the two sides work.
Julia: For sure! Because in the end, you have to speak to two different problems. The gifting side, direct to consumer, you’re really just speaking to that individual who’s celebrating a milestone or whatever it might be. Whereas the corporate gifting, it’s like, oh, you have to get a Christmas gift for your people, or an anniversary thing. Even I struggle with that. We have 11 people on our team, and I’m like, what will everybody like, so I’m not wasting my money? And we have really different personalities, and so it’s challenging. That’s awesome!
You guys have changed a lot since 2019, and even before that, because you started on your own even before that, what are some of the biggest changes that you’re most proud of? This is a surprise question.
Taylor: I have my notes!
Julia: Oh, it’s not on there!
Taylor: I’d probably say the ability for us to pivot as much as we have. We have pivoted quite a bit. I hate to sound morbid about business, but if you’re not growing, you’re dying, seems to be really true. Because if you stay stagnant in an area for too long – Like Simple & Sentimental on Etsy, for example. We can leave products on there that do well, but if we’re not, every once in a while, at least going in there and jazzing up the color chart, adding new colors, or changing out the fonts to make sure that they match with what’s currently trendy, or things like that, that listing dies. So that’s just one small example.
One thing that I’ve been praying about for years, being in the gift business, you can imagine, it’s really seasonal. So we quickly learned that December was the time to be in the gift business, especially with the way “wedding seasons” – I don’t think wedding seasons really exists anymore, but before COVID, it did. It was summer. And the way the seasonality of the business was, I was stuck in this problem where we would spend the first 10, 11 months of the year just waiting for Q4 to hit. Because a lot of gift businesses, that’s where you make all of your money, that’s where most of your sales come in, and another part of the problem was that we had to hire all these seasonal people to come in. We would double or triple our staff size just for that six week period.
Julia: That would be hard.
Taylor: Yeah, it was. I spent a lot of time in prayer, like, how do we take this business and make it at least maybe we have two peaks or something that’s a little bit more across the board so we don’t have to do all this hiring. Basically counting on that time for money to come in for everything. The past couple of years, it has been a slow build, but now Radiate Prints has been the answer to that. It’s gonna have a peak in Christmas too, but it’s not just about Christmas, like personalized gifts or ornaments.
Julia: And even with corporate stuff, they’re even thinking about it. I don’t know if you found that, but I would imagine they’re thinking about it on a different time table.
Taylor: Depends on the business, I guess. Some of them are really good, and they’ll reach out in August, and others are like three weeks before Christmas.
Julia: This would’ve been a lot easier. Oh my gosh! That’s awesome! So that answers the question, what’s one of the hardest things? What’s one of the best things that you’ve experienced over the years?
Taylor: I would say creating jobs. I love meeting people and getting to create jobs that pay their bills, that they can enjoy. I can’t tell you how many people have come to work for us. Our first employee that we ever hired full-time, she ended up leaving after she had a baby, and she opted to stay home with the baby, which now that I have a baby, I totally understand. But anyway, she gave us feedback that it was the best job she’d ever had. And you just can’t beat that! You really can’t!
And I’m not saying that every employee who’s ever worked for us loves us, because that ain’t true. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and my business isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but for the people who it does work, it’s really rewarding. Because you think about how much of your time is spent at work, and I don’t get why workplaces have to be so boring, or uptight, or micromanaging. I’m not a micromanager. By any means, if anything I lean more the other way. So I think being able to find people who are a good cultural fit and be able to create a good work culture that people enjoy coming to work every day, and get to feel accomplished in their daily work, and enjoy it while they’re there is very rewarding.
Julia: We hired during COVID too, which was a unique privilege to be able to do that because people were having a really hard time. And so, that’s my favorite thing about your business.
Taylor: And I wanna say we hired around 12 or 13. I don’t know off the top of my head, but it’s been crazy over the years, different businesses.
Julia: Are you all working out of your house? Where are you guys working?
Taylor: In 2021, we bought a building. So we have 7,000 square feet that we operate out of. Part of it is dedicated to Radiate Prints, because it’s messy doing screen printing, everything is everywhere. The rest of it is housed in the other room. But yeah, we have a facility to work in.
Julia: That’s awesome! That’s really cool too. That’s really great. As we close this out, I’d be curious, if someone were to talk to you and say, “Taylor, I wanna start a business.” What would you tell them? What would you advise them?
Taylor: I would say to find mentors who are further along than you and just don’t be afraid to ask questions. That was the best thing I could have done for my business. When I was in college, I took so much advantage of the professors and the alumni. And I didn’t touch on my college entrepreneur story, but long story short, I won two pitch competitions while I was in college. So think like Shark Tank style. What’s crazy is the two final rounds of them where I won the two competitions, they were 24 hours apart. So one was on Wednesday and one was on a Thursday. I won $18,500.
Julia: Wow. Within like 48 hours? That’s wild!
Taylor: It’s crazy! One of them, I entered because I saw a sign when I was walking outside, and my now husband was like, “You should enter that.” And I think just those mentors who are willing to sow into you, especially like the long-term relationships, I think people who are further along in business, a lot of times, they wanna give back. You’re not being a burden on them by asking questions. And we have so many folks who, just over the years, have been so kind and listening to me just ask questions that I think are silly, but they’ve experienced it before and they can provide insight, and just realizing that one, I need to be humbled, and two, just realizing I don’t know anything compared to most business people. Just realizing that I’m just figuring it out like everyone else is, but there are people who are older than I am or have more years of experience that can lend some clarity and just be a sounding board. I think that’s the best thing you can do, honestly. I think being a business owner just causes a lot of personal development really fast, so just buckle up and be open to it. Be open to letting things happen and just rolling with the punches in a way.
Julia: Well, because in the end, when things don’t work out, it stinks! I know you said you didn’t really think about it, but when you launched your Quarantined Birthday in a box, it stinks when things don’t take off like you want them to. But we also can’t predict the future we don’t know. I’ve learned, if you hang on to a bad idea for too long, it prevents the good ideas from coming.
Taylor: That’s right!
Julia: Rewind a little bit though. So you won $18,000 in 48 hours? I’m just imagining, you had to be so excited and also so exhausted after giving two pitches. What were you feeling? Tell me.
Taylor: This was in February 2018. One of the pitch competitions was a six month long competition. The first round was in the fall of 2017. The pro of that one is that it was a mentorship aspect, which is part of the reason that I love mentorship now. So it instilled that in me. I was the first winner of that competition, and now it’s the largest pitch competition in the southeast. But you have to be an ECU student to enter it, which is cool. So I’m a huge advocate. It was definitely a rush. And honestly, the first one was the smaller competition, because one of them was like $6,000 and one was 12,500. First night was the $6,000 one, and I entered that one for practice. So I had no expectations that I would win. And when they called out third place and second place, I literally turned to my husband – he was my fiance at the time, I was like, “Well, at least I got tomorrow night.” And I ended up winning it. I was shocked.
Julia: What’d you do with it? You were in college!
Taylor: I moved into a building. I rented my first office and hired two employees.
Julia: Wow! That’s so cool.
Taylor: I was 19.
Julia: That’s amazing, Taylor. I think it’s so cool! I turn 32 tomorrow, actually. Sometimes I’m like, wow, I feel so old, and here I am running a business, but then I’m like, you know what? I’m not that old. And I’m in my 30s running a business, and then I look at people like you who started in college and I’m like, how cool! What a cool experience!
Taylor: There’s definitely pros and cons to starting at different stages and stages, but I would say, if there’s anyone who’s listening who’s like, when is the best time? Honestly, I think college is one of the best times! I think a lot of people when you’re in college, you’re spending the whole time trying to figure out what you’re gonna do with your life. But it’s one of the few times in life where in some scenarios, you really don’t have a lot of risk. I’m not saying anyone should be in this scenario. But a lot of times, you may still be on your parents’ health insurance, you might be on a scholarship loan paying for your school and your rent and all that stuff. And that’s not necessarily the same once you graduate, so really, the risk is low, and if you start it like, what are you out? Like I started mine with $300. So it really depends on the company. Not every company can start with that amount of money.
Julia: Right! Gosh, I don’t even know how old I was when I started. But I started in my 20s, and because of the kind of business I had, there was no overhead. And so, I think that it all depends on the kind of business, but there are a lot of opportunities. And one cool thing about starting in college is that if you decide you hate it, then you just don’t do it anymore.
Julia: There’s no risk in that regard. Taylor, if people want to find you, where can they do that?
Taylor: You can find me at @simplesentimental for Simple & Sentimental. That’s on Instagram (https://instagram.com/simplesentimental), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/simplesentimental, TikTok (https://tiktok.com/@simplesentimental), pretty much every social media platform. Simple & Sentimental is on Instagram and Facebook. We have Radiate Prints, Celebrate Cake Toppers and you can find me on Instagram at @taywalden (https://www.instagram.com/taywalden/?hl=en), Taylor Walden. I don’t go by Tay, but that’s the only one that was available.
Julia: I love it! Well, Taylor, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. If anybody wants to reach out to Taylor, I would just really recommend it, even just to hear stories. I would imagine, Taylor, just as like you’re looking for mentors, if people are like, “Hey, Taylor might have some good advice”, I’m sure you can reach out to Taylor, and she’ll answer your question if she has time. because she’s very busy, obviously!
Taylor: No, I enjoy it. I have one regular mentee. I enjoy it a lot.
Julia: Well, and I think you and I being on the side of years into business, there is something about, even though we have mentors, there’s also something about helping people prevent the problems that we faced. You’re never gonna avoid all the problems, but we can help you. So reach out to Taylor, find her at Simple & Sentimental. Taylor, thanks for joining us. Give sweet Lydia some cuddles on our behalf. Everybody, tune in next week. We’ll have some more interviews coming up. Taylor, thank you!
Taylor: Yeah, thank you so much for having me!
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know, each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos Team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.