From Etsy to Amazon… Couples Plan for the Future
By Sonia Duggan
From bedroom startups to booming online businesses, two Wylie couples have found harmony, and sales, working together and building a future.
In just four years, Carrie Lindsey’s creativity, combined with her husband Charles’ business knowledge, has taken their home-grown startup, Carrie Elle, to a whole new level.
Just a few years ago, Carrie needed help. As a stay-at-home mom with two young children, she was looking for a solution to simplify the meal planning process.
“Dinnertime was really chaotic and super stressful,” she said.
Meal planning and hungry, crying children are not a good combination so Carrie started looking for solutions to make the process easier.
As a full-time blogger since 2011, she said some of her blogger friends talked about meal planning. She had never actually tried it but decided to give it a go.
Online searches produced meal planning printables which she tried, but said it was not a perfect solution either.
“You have to have ink and paper readily available to make that work. I wanted a book with a grocery list and menu for the week so I could just rip it off. It just didn’t exist,” she said.
Online searches for meal planners with perforated tabs yielded dismal results.
“I thought how hard could it be to just make one?” she said.
The determined mom fashioned a rudimentary version on her own. Still not satisfied, she knew it could be made even better so she began planning office supplies to buy to make a more appealing version. One day, while on a car trip, she told her husband her plan.
“I told him I was going to use my birthday money to buy supplies to make the planner,” she said.
Charles, a technical person and HP employee at the time, asked, “What exactly are you trying to do?”
She knew what she was going to do and in December 2013, armed with over $400 in birthday cash, Carrie bought a laminator, binder, perforated paper and a color printer (one that did full bleed).
Charles said all the technology pieces got him thinking and once he saw the first planner it was amazing. Carrie thought the planners were horrible but functional.
“I had absolutely no design experience,” she said.
In February 2014, after blogging about her project on carrieelle.com, readers encouraged her to sell the five planners she made on Etsy, a website where crafters can sell their goods. Within just a few hours, she sold her first one for $18.
“I realized other people needed it too,” she said.
Those first few planners cost $20 to make, requiring Carrie to evaluate the process to make it profitable and cost effective. She said initially they were making them to order.
“We started with one printer, then ended up with four and we couldn’t keep up,” Charles said. By November 2014 the small business outgrew the bedroom space and the couple made the decision to lease space in the Arts Building in downtown Wylie.
The whole process of expanding went pretty quickly said Charles and Carrie.
At the time, Charles was still working full-time for HP (remotely) but he managed to juggle his work and the printing and shipping process. Carrie would help bind books and work on designs, having honed her skills pretty quickly.
Carrie Elle’s main product was the meal planner until Carrie discovered the 21-day Fix fitness program in spring 2015. She heard about it through her blogger friends and wanted to lose a few pounds, so she signed up. The company sent her information about the program, how it worked (portioning foods in different color containers) and how to track food, exercise and water.
“Nothing was helpful, it was horrible,” she said. The entrepreneur mom wanted a coordinating shopping/goal list for the program to keep track of what she was eating.
The purse-sized 21-day planner became the second product for their business.
“That was the shift,” Charles said. “The meal planners had grown, this idea came and we couldn’t print it all.” Charles quit his job and went full-time.
They partnered with a local DFW trade printer and ordered 300 of the planners and the results were positive.
“People just ate them up,” Carrie said.
With the majority of their sales online and having shipped over 13,000 packages in the past few years, Charles said, “Customer service is paramount to us.”
They became a verified seller on Amazon in addition to selling their products on Etsy and their website, shop.carrieelle.com. In 2017 they ventured into the retail side of business with a retail storefront on Oak Street. They quickly found that retail was not the way to go, and space was limited, so they closed shop and moved into a larger office space on Ballard Avenue where Charles manages the operations, printing and assembling of their products. Carrie works from home, blogging, creating new designs, and taking care of their two children, ages 7 and 9.
Ashley Gardner started her business, Printable Wisdom, in the summer of 2012 while she was in medical school at the Baylor College of Medicine in order to help pay some bills. She ran the business in her free time during medical school out of the spare bedroom of the apartment she shared with her husband Daniel. The products were sold on Etsy. “At that time, we lived in Houston and Daniel was also in law school (at the University of Houston Law Center) and was working a full-time job,” she said. “We had just gotten married and we were so busy.”
About 2-3 years later, Ashley said she started venturing into printed items and they printed them all themselves.
“This was around the time that Printable Wisdom started to make enough money that Daniel was able to quit his full-time job and work on Printable Wisdom with me while we both completed medical and law school in Houston,” she said.
She initially started out with selling digital artwork “printables” that people could download and then print from home. The prints are sold for just $5 each. “This was great for us at the time because there was virtually no startup cost (other than the 20 cents per item to list on Etsy which is negligible),” she said. “I really loved the idea that a piece of artwork could be affordable and instantly downloaded. I started out by using fonts that I bought, but quickly transitioned to hand lettering. Now that’s my bread and butter! I’m a quote collector at heart, so being able to transform a quote into a beautiful work of art is super rewarding for me,” she said.
After college Daniel and Ashley returned home so she could start her residency at UT Southwestern in Dallas. Born, raised, and educated in Wylie, they are now living in a house on land that her great-grandparents used to farm after they moved here from Germany.
“We met in high school and started dating when we were 15 and 16 years old and have now been married for seven years,” she said.
Daniel started working at Printable Wisdom full-time and the couple really needed more space for production. “At that time, we were printing all of our items ourselves and had a ton of inventory in our garage, she said. “It was crazy!” They rented space in downtown Wylie so they could use half the building as a storefront and half as a production/ storage/warehouse space.
Collaboration and connection
Charles and Carrie were walking down Ballard Avenue one day when they saw the Printable Wisdom store. “It immediately caught Carrie’s attention,” Charles said. She said to him, “I know that name. They are a big shop on Etsy.”
Soon afterward Charles walked into Printable Wisdom and met Daniel Gardner. He quickly discovered that the Gardners were a husband and wife team just like he and Carrie were.
“I noticed they were making these calligraphy books,” he said. “Daniel had stacks he was about to ship out.” At the time, the products were printed in California. Charles told Daniel he had recently purchased a heavy duty industrial printer for the Carrie Elle products. Cost was a big issue, but Charles agreed to try it out and give him an estimate. He sourced all the paper, printed one and Ashley tested it. “It turns out I could print it,” Charles said. “I could get a better price and it was local.”
Charles started printing the calligraphy books in his shop, then he would hand them over to Daniel to ship. Soon Daniel became busy starting his new Wylie business venture, Elm Creek Environmental, so they shifted to outsourcing some of their manufacturing.
“So, we no longer needed 2000 square feet (thank goodness!) and we closed the retail storefront,” Ashley said.
Much like Carrie Elle, Printable Wisdom said goodbye to retail and now sells only online again. “Our business has really shifted away from printables to more customized designs,” Ashley said. “We’ve sold over 1500 custom portraits and instructional material like “The Hand Lettering Bible.”
Sales are expected to hit $1 million in revenue for total Etsy sales by next year and Carrie Elle predictions are not far behind.
Ashley graduated with her medical degree and has one year left in her residency. She is in advanced training to be a psychiatrist and plans to open her own private practice in the area. Ashley said she and Daniel have had to get creative with their time in order to keep things running smoothly.
“I continue to do all of the creative design work and product development, and we have Charles ship and print our art prints and calligraphy instruction books – it’s a great partnership! Daniel continues to run the wholesale side of our business and does all of our accounting/legal work.”
Once she’s finished with school, Ashley said she has big plans for Printable Wisdom since she’ll have more time for the business. “I want to continue cultivating our educational products for aspiring hand letterers,” she said.
The collaborative relationship between Carrie Elle and Printable Wisdom is taking their businesses to another level. The duo formed a partnership for a new business, Daydream to Day Job, LLC.
Through the new venture, the women plan to share their tips and hard-earned advice with other aspiring creative entrepreneurs by hosting conferences where people can come listen and learn. Their first conference is August 4 in Wylie.
“We’re so excited to share everything we know with local entrepreneurs,” Ashley said.
Attendees will spend a full day getting the inside scoop on how to jumpstart their own businesses by attending multiple workshops that explain branding, marketing photography and more, plus they will have the opportunity to speak with local vendors.
“A lot of people have ideas, but it’s all about execution,” Charles said. “That’s when we give up because we don’t know how to execute.”