Stumped on what to give her for a special occasion? Amy Sullivan and her sister, Allison Loftus, would like to help.
About six months ago the sisters started VelvetCrate, an online specialty gift box company whose gifts are designed with women in mind.
Sullivan, who lives in Olathe, and Loftus, who lives in New York, had wanted to team up on a project. The gift packages were the right idea at the right time for them.
Sullivan said her sister “always dreamed of owning a gift store and realized a bricks and mortar one wasn’t in the immediate future.” But going online-only let them get VelvetCrate up and running within six months.
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VelvetCrate offers three different package lines — “Just Because,” “Love” and “Celebrate” to meet different reasons for sending a woman a gift. Each season VelvetCrate changes up the contents with three to four items the sisters choose.
“We always go with trending brands for classy gifts, everything women from 18 to 78 would enjoy,” Sullivan said. “We typically have a candy edible included.… They are in a craft box that looks like a crate. It’s really a classy box that we vary by colors and flavors.”
The sisters get the items from various vendors and like to use products that are either made or imported by American companies. Each VelvetCrate runs $78, which includes a personal message and delivery.
They came up with the idea for VelvetCrate late last year and moved forward early this year. Sullivan, who had worked with other start-ups, drew up a business plan while Loftus started the hunt for the perfect items at the Dallas gift market. By spring, VelvetCrate was on line and taking orders.
Q: What differentiates your product? How do you market VelvetCrate to customers?
“VelvetCrate stands out … because of the uniquely curated selection of chic products,” Loftus said. “Many gift basket companies seem outdated and, unlike most subscription boxes, we are very transparent in the beautiful gifts we include.”
Sullivan said after the first few months in business, the sisters slightly shifted VelvetCrate’s online focus.
“Our strategy in the initial stages was to be a company for men to order from,” Sullivan said. “Now 90 percent of our orders are from women.… We’ve had to shift directions from ‘where do men go’ to ‘where do women look.’ We have shifted the website to be more gender neutral.”
Loftus and Sullivan have used social media as a primary marketing channel for VelvetCrate.
“My sister has done a really good job,” Sullivan said. “In addition, we’ve been featured in several magazines in Dallas, where Amy was living, and that’s really been helpful. A lot of it’s been from our own personal network, word of mouth.”
Though VelvetCrate has been in operation only a few months, Sullivan said they are pleased with the pace of sales, averaging about 100 baskets monthly.
“We’d love to get to about 400 to 500 a month,” Sullivan said.
VelvetCrate got a nice boost from hometown film and TV celebrity Rob Riggle, whose wife, Tiffany, and Sullivan are childhood friends. Riggle bought several crates for family and friends. The comedian even went a step further.
“Rob tweeted out for us around Mother’s Day,” said Sullivan, and the company saw an increase in orders. “We also have a former Miss America I know who has tweeted about us.”
Q: What’s it like to be siblings working together?
Sullivan said she and her sister’s defined roles helped things run smoothly. Loftus is responsible for product ordering, social media and the website. Sullivan handles order fulfillment from Olathe, as well as other operational tasks.
Sullivan and Loftus, who are 12 years apart, have found teaming up in business to be a good experience.
“Working with my sister has brought us closer together, even though we don’t live close to each other,” Loftus said. “We have completely different skill sets which truly complement each other. Amy is amazingly business savvy and helps me stay on track in order to achieve our goals.”
Loftus gets back to town four to five times a year. In the meantime, the sisters are in touch daily on the phone or by email.
Q: What’s next?
VelvetCrate will roll out its fall line on Sept. 22. Plans call for a special holiday edition that will come out in November.
“The holiday crate will likely be under $50, based on feedback we received from people who say they have so many gifts to give at that time of year,” Sullivan said.
As to the future of Velvet Crate, Sullivan said it’s possible the company will add a line of men’s gifts.
“Our next phase is who we can partner with for corporate gifts,” Sullivan said. “We might even look at personalizing.… We’re OK with growing slow and steady.”
IN A NUTSHELL
OWNERS: Allison Loftus and Amy Sullivan
WEB SITE: www.velvetcrate.com