The serendipitous fact that it happened during my senior year, getting my degree in marketing, before that I had done a few entrepreneurial things. I had a lawn mowing business in high school and stuff like that, but jewelry was pretty far away from my radar at that point in time. It ended up being the way things funneled through.
It’s kind of funny, my mom was downtown in Durango, CO where we’re from. Right after we had left and found the alphabet in the pendant she was walking downtown, and she saw one of her friends and they were talking, and she looked at mom’s necklace and said, “What is that? That’s really a beautiful piece.” She was like, “Oh, it’s a doodle that I created to say, “love is all you need”, but my kids were just home, and we ended up uncovering every letter in the alphabet in it. The lady kind of looked at it and kind of perplexed she said, “So, my grandchildren’s names are in that?” My mom kind of thought for a second and said, “Yes, your grandkids names are in this.” That was kind of an “ah ha” moment for her. As we started discussing that and I started talking to some of my professors that I was thinking of starting a business around this. I think this would be something special to do.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk about the process that didn’t work and finally what did work.
DANE SHORT: Yeah. It took a while for us to realize how much of a story driven product Zymbol is. If you were to see the design in a store, for example, you may be able to see the marketing materials and see, I think the alphabets in here, but until you hear the story of my mother’s doodle and how you can wear it and how you can gift it, it’s hard to get that concept across. That was kind of a hard lesson learned. Initially, it was let’s run some ads in some magazines, let’s do banner ads, and we’re talking 2010 here, so google AdWords, banner ads. We were all over that and it was not quite enough to connect on an emotional level of what Zymbol is.
Our next big step was to go after stores, right? You have a product that you need distribution. Let’s go into some gift stores. We had been in a few local mom and pop shops and it was selling. Well, we decided to invest a little bit more in that and go set up at places like Dallas Market Center where you must put quite a bit of money in on the front end there. We went and met with some buyers who liked the product. We started writing some orders and a couple months into that the product wasn’t selling. We’re talking to some buyers and store owners and we come to figure out that the buyer loved the story because they heard it from us, the buyer was not the person in the store telling the story, it was the person in the store who didn’t know what the story was. So, only in the mom and pop ss people knew how to tell the story and to this day those are the stores that it sells in. It really was kind of a crawl, walk, run, sprint scenario.
What I ended up doing was rather than try to figure out some genius marketing plan it was what can I do to make the cash register ring today. What that is, is arts and crafts show, face to face, go set up a booth, sell to people. I remember the first show we did. I live in Austin, TX now in a little small town about a half an hour north of Austin. I think it was $15 to set up there and I think we sold one piece for $25. And that was set up by some high school kids that had beaded macaroni jewelry and stuff like that, but it was kind of my first introduction of selling face to face and understanding how to tell our story, and how to sell the product and so it’s really been a fun journey. We’re really lucky to be where we are right now and kind of ended up getting on some other stuff.
What I ended up doing was rather than try to figure out some genius marketing plan, it was what can I do to make the cash register ring today.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Yeah. Also, your business model created a challenge for you because the buyer needed to have the story to understand it. It sounds to me, by going to craft fairs you’re integral to selling it. At what point can you pull back and allow this to unfold and take place? Is it kind of like you’re getting it out, getting it out, so the more people who wear it – those will be the people who tell the story.
DANE SHORT: Yeah. I guess I have a few part answers to that. At one of the shows, I think it was the 4th show we did, I was still trying to decide is this a product that customers even want. I was getting my booth set up and this couple came by from Australia and I still didn’t quite have our table set up, but they had seen our banner and were kind of like, “Will you tell us about that design?” So, I proceeded to tell them the story and the lady started crying as I was telling the story, she was so touched by the concept of my mom doing this doodle and the meaning behind it and her being able to set her daily inspiration. They ended up buying some bracelets and they came back and asked if we would mind if they tattoo the design and I of course was like oh, absolutely. And they kind of threw me off a little there and I just said, “If you all ever do it please send us a picture.” I gave them my email and half an hour later they came back, and the lady had tattooed on the back of her neck and the man had it on the back of his arm.
PHYLLIS SMITH: What?!?
DANE SHORT: They were just that struck by the story and the concept that, people tattoo, you know, people’s names or an inspirational word all the time, Zymbol the meaning can change and evolve with them. So it’s this tattoo that they now have their personal meaning in it, but it’s never going to go out of style. I was so touched by that in the sense that someone would get our design tattooed, my mother’s doodle. That’s when it gave me the confidence that this is a product that can impact people’s lives in a positive way. We ended up posting those pictures and I think at the time 10 other people from our Facebook page said I also have this tattooed, and to date we have over 70 people that have tattooed the design. Which is absolutely crazy.
Moving back around on your answer. The whole thing when we decided that the stores weren’t working, and the shows were working well because we were telling it face to face was how can we tell this story to the most people at the same time. The obvious answer to us was QVC. We had set our sights to getting on QVC around 2013. We had met somebody that was a host for home shopping network. She loved the product and said she was going to take it to HSN and present it. We were over the moon about that. What ended up happening is she didn’t know the story, so the buyers didn’t get it and ended up shooting us down.
She luckily knew someone over at QVC, so when we went to do the presentation at QVC I told them we can do this presentation, but I need to be the one that goes there so I can do it myself. Fortunately, we met with the buyers out there. They ended up accepting us and over the last couple of years we have had 13 appearances and we’ve been a best seller for the last couple of years. It’s really been a great platform because I can interact with the host there, tell the story live, demonstrate how it works and really that’s the evolution from the doodle to the small arts and crafts shows to failing in stores to eventually getting it on QVC which has really been a big win for my family and me.