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Think Calamity Jane, Times Two: Sisters embrace personalization business

Cassie Green is the editor of Awards & Engraving Magazine. She can be reached at cgreen@nbm.com or by phone at 720-566-7278.

Note: This article appears in the April 2017 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!

In the strongest sense, Evergreen Engraving is just like any other engraving shop you might find around the industry: it’s family-operated by sisters Marj Nardi and Kari Russell, whose biggest business goal is to offer customers exceptional service and unique items. They offer a variety of products including signage, fundraising items and engrave the hugely-popular Yeti tumblers.

But in another sense, Evergreen Engraving is nothing like any other shop you’ve seen. The sisters do not operate a brick-and-mortar location. Instead, home base is, well, home, and the sisters are the only two employees. That doesn’t stop this little business from having big expectations, however. In fact, the sisters have hit the ground running.

New Roots

Evergreen Engraving is as green as they come. The business “opened its doors” on February 1, 2016, making it a young business in the industry. “It has been a rollercoaster; lots of ups and downs,” muses Nardi. She got the idea to open a shop that offers both engraving and sublimation services after her only child moved off to college. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love. “There are so many options in this industry, it’s hard not to be excited,” she states.

The excitement extends in all sorts of directions, and according to Nardi, that sometimes leads to an overwhelming amount of creative ideas. “The hardest part is keeping ourselves focused on one project while not getting distracted by ten other brilliant ideas at the same time,” says Nardi. But when that happens, the sisters just share a laugh and embrace the brainstorm.

“We tend to think a lot alike, so when we’re brainstorming for new ideas, it seems like we take turns pointing out the steps we need to take to bring that idea to fruition,” Russell says. As the one who focuses on the website and all things computer, Russell also isn’t afraid to take the lead sometimes. “We seem to switch off with who’s having a not so great day, so we tend to pump each other back up on those days,” she says.

Perhaps it’s this positive energy that inspires the sisters’ business focus: unique gift items and personalization services. “When we decided to embark on this crazy adventure, we really wanted to focus on creative items that not everyone offered,” says Nardi. “At this point, I would say we are too new of a company to specialize in only one area. We basically throw out hooks into various markets and see what we catch.”

A Personal Approach

One of the things that Nardi and Russell have caught on to is the Yeti craze. Not only are these tumblers sought-after because of their notoriety to keep colds cold and hots hot, but people are pouring into engraving shops wanting customization on their items. The sisters took note, but it wasn’t easy getting started.

“I’m embarrassed to say just how many Yeti tumblers we ended up purchasing before we got the settings just right,” laughs Nardi. Like so many others, learning to engrave on these tumblers has mostly been trial and error.

When it comes to learning engraving and sublimation as a whole, Nardi says that trial and error has been their main teacher. “Next to that, we often utilize Facebook groups of other professionals and find it vastly helpful to read about their experiences, both for engraving and sublimation,” she adds.

As they go about learning the ins and outs of these decorating techniques, they also find themselves relying on and teaching each other, as well. Russell points out that the two bounce ideas off each other and work together to make a project come to fruition. “When it all comes together, there are always big high-fives and sometimes even a happy dance,” she says. “Honestly, I think we were both a little surprised at how well we work together.”

That sisterly love lends a personal touch to their business. “Our most recent product lines center around home décor, sonograms and holidays,” says Nardi. “We try to develop designs that we would love in our own homes and lives.” The sisters have also done some fundraising projects and layered wood signs, all products that get a custom design touch. And that goes a long way with customers.

“We offer customers the option to design graphics themselves, whether it be photos, artwork, poems, Bible verses—whatever is important to them,” says Nardi. “From the beginning, one of our biggest goals has been customer satisfaction.”

Looking Ahead

Even though it’s early on in the life of the business, both Nardi and Russell are already enjoying every aspect of the engraving and sublimation business. “By far and away, my favorite part of the business is the multitude of ways in which we can use our creativity,” Nardi muses. “I love it when I have some crazy design idea in my head, and my sister miraculously makes it come to life on the computer.”

Their joy in working with each other certainly overflows into their joy of interacting with and serving their customers. “I think it’s really rewarding when we can provide a gift for someone who needs something for that one person in their life that’s so hard to buy for,” Russell feels. “I love when they get so excited about one of our products because it fits that particular person perfectly.”

With a business that is off to such a good start, one has to wonder what the sisters have in store for the future. Like many small businesses, the home-based operation is a great place to start. But as time rolls on, business changes, and a brick-and-mortar store, are always something to be considered.

“We are truly on the fence about a brick-and-mortar store,” Nardi confesses. “On the one hand, we feel like we need to financially justify enough sales to open a brick and mortar. On the other hand, we feel like our business might have a better opportunity to grow with the visibility of a brick and mortar.” Aside from the fact that the business is still freshly hatched, there are other factors that play into this decision. “Kari still has a relatively young child at home, and I still manage and operate our rental properties,” she adds. Of course, the topic will remain open to discussion.

The two are not going to let anything stand in their way, though. “Our future holds many more projects where we combine the laser and sublimation,” says Nardi. “We feel like that’s an area where we can stand apart from others.” Offering unique and creative items is their main way of standing apart, but there’s no denying the fact that two sisters comprising an entire company is also unique.

“It’s just us two chickens in the henhouse,” laughs Nardi. “Think Calamity Jane, times two.”

Note: This article appears in the April 2017 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!