After 10 years of owning her own branding agency, designing products and packaging for others— she took an old concept (magnetic alphabet letters), repackaged it and improved the design. Now this self-proclaimed “word nerd” is shifting an industry with an old idea turned new!
I’m beyond excited to chat with Ashley Jankowski, founder of The Type Set Co, about the world of R&D, product development, manufacturing and all the good things that come with taking an idea from concept to store shelves.
WILDFLOWER SHOWNOTES : shannaskidmore.com/ashley-jankowski
Ashley Jankowski (00:00):
We launched at the end of 2017 with pre-orders on our website, like direct to consumer, and really we were just using social media and Facebook and asking friends to share. I don't know the numbers otherwise I'd tell you, but I remember being excited when first, when you're in an e-commerce business and you hear that cha-ching Shopify on your phone, and it's like Chich. I remember thinking the first day how cool that was.
Shanna Skidmore (00:25):
You were listening to Consider The Wildflowers, the podcast, episode 28, alphabet letters for your fridge. When you think of magnetic alphabet letters, you may have childhood flashbacks of tiny plastic letters that kind of say stuck to your fridge. Enter today's guest, Ashley Jankowski and the type Set Co. These are not your mom's eighties plastic, semi magnetic letters. These are beautiful, soft magnetic letters that actually stay stuck to your fridge or magnet board in gorgeous colors and beautiful fonts, aesthetically perfect and super fun to play with. Trust me, I have my own set. After 10 years of owning her own branding firm and designing products and packaging for others, she took an old concept, magnetic alphabet letters, repackaged it, and improved the design. Now this self-proclaimed word nerd is shifting an industry with an old idea turned new. I'm beyond excited to chat with Ashley about the world of r and d, product development, manufacturing, and all the good things that come with taking an idea from concept to store shelves.
If you dig professional bios, here it goes. Ashley Jankowski is the owner and co-founder of the Typeset Co with her husband Paul. They have pioneered the reimagination of colorful alphabet magnets for the modern family home. More recently, they've developed a new line of colorful driven stickers. She spent her career in design, photography, branding, and packaging, and has been influenced by generations of family entrepreneurs to love the entrepreneurial life. The Type Set CO is the culmination of a lifetime of passions, experiences, and influences, including a love for good design and wordplay when she's not working to bring fun and whimsy to homes around the world. You can find her at home in Georgia on her 11 acre lakefront compound with her family and a menagerie of crazy critters. On a nice day, you might see her in the garden or enjoying the lake life on her family's sailboat.
Okay, formal introductions over at, let's dive in. Hey, it's Shanna and this is Consider the Wildflowers, the podcast. For the past 15 plus years, I've had the honor to hear thousands of stories from entrepreneurs around the world. As a former Fortune 100 financial advisor, turn business consultant, I have a unique opportunity to see the real behind the highlight reel. I'm talking profit and loss statements, unpaid taxes, moments of burnout, and those of utter victory. Or as my husband says, the content everyone is wondering but not many are talking about. And now I'm bringing these private conversations to you. Hear the untold stories of how industry leaders, founders, and up and coming entrepreneurs got their start, the experiences that shaped them and the journey to building the brands they have today. Stories that will inspire and reignite encourage to redefine success and build a life in business on your own terms. Welcome Wildflower. I'm so glad you're here. Hi, Ashley.
Ashley Jankowski (03:11):
Shanna Skidmore (03:11):
I'm so glad we're doing this. I feel like I haven't got to catch up with you in a good year, so we have so much to catch up on.
Ashley Jankowski (03:19):
Yeah, thanks so much for having
Shanna Skidmore (03:21):
Me. Thanks for coming on the show. Will you just quickly introduce yourself, tell everybody who you are, what your company is before we dig in and just hear the whole journey? Sure.
Ashley Jankowski (03:32):
My name is Ashley Jankowski. I'm the founder of the types tech company where we make alphabet magnets for the modern family home. This is not my first business. I've actually been an entrepreneur most of my life, but this is my first foray into a physical product company,
Shanna Skidmore (03:51):
Which I love. We got Madeline a set of letters for Christmas. We have so much fun. That's awesome making, well, we make words. She's learning her ABCs right now, which is really cute. She says a D, C, so
Ashley Jankowski (04:06):
It says, I love it.
Shanna Skidmore (04:07):
They're fantastic. So they're amazing and they're foam. Are all of them foam or are some of them hard? I'm so interested how you came up with the concept.
Ashley Jankowski (04:18):
They are all foam now. They weren't always foam. We did start out with plastic letters, but that's kind of a pivot. Yeah, we could talk about later if we want, but I do. Yeah, that's, it's been a interesting journey, the materials, and even as we've grown, we've kind of added and changed, and
Shanna Skidmore (04:38):
I'm excited Ashley, because you might be our first, I'm trying to think back to our guests physical product company, and everyone who owns a physical product is like, thank goodness, because it's such a different beast.
Ashley Jankowski (04:55):
Oh, it totally a different beast. Yeah. Yeah. I didn't even know what I was getting myself into.
Shanna Skidmore (05:00):
Yeah. Okay, so with that said, take us back to the beginning. What were you doing before? How did you come up with this new idea? Give me a year when you started. The type set said, I just want to hear kind of the early days of business. That sounds like you were trying some other things as well. Yeah, just give me a backstory.
Ashley Jankowski (05:22):
So I've basically been an entrepreneur in some form almost my whole life. I mean, I worked retail in college, but I always kind of had a side business in some way. I was always scheming my next big idea. I mean, even when I was 12, I was bundling and I sold missile toe in front of the local Walmart. I've always been in this, yeah, I have a degree in commercial photography and then also a BFA in graphic design. So the design and the creative side is really what I flourish in. And probably even more of the big idea. I'm definitely a big idea person. So I've always had some kind of photography business or design business. I had a firm for over 10 years where a branding firm, so we were doing logo design, branding, package design, website design for other small businesses. I kind of started out with working with a lot of photographers cause that's just where my background is. I know you have a lot of other friends that started out in that AR area as well. So I got in, they found out I was a designer and they're like, design my logo. So yeah, I've had business in that realm basically since I was, I don't know, grad was, I graduated in college in, gosh, 2006. So basically since then and even before then I was doing photography on the side even while I was in college. So yeah, my background is in branding.
Shanna Skidmore (07:02):
Yeah. Did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur and own your own business? Did it just kind of happen? Were you looking for a full-time career after job after college? How did just this first business come to be?
Ashley Jankowski (07:18):
I don't know that I consciously was like, I'm going to go work for myself. My parents work for themselves, my grandparents work for themselves. I probably just thought that's all there is. Yeah,
Shanna Skidmore (07:30):
Ashley Jankowski (07:32):
I mean, I did get a short job right out of college that honestly, they went out of business within a couple months, which was kind of sad. And then I was like, well, I can just go do this myself. I was kind of doing the photography thing on the side and there was no need for me to just my husband and then this sounds so terrible, but my husband is an engineer and I didn't really have to make a bunch of money to support our household. So it was always like, what can I do that's fun and flexible that I can be not overworked if that's the word that I'm looking for.
Shanna Skidmore (08:13):
Were you already married in
Ashley Jankowski (08:15):
College? I was married, yeah. I got married in college, so I got married at 23. And that
Shanna Skidmore (08:21):
Ashley Jankowski (08:22):
Yeah. Yeah, I, and that was 20, almost 20 years ago.
Shanna Skidmore (08:28):
Ashley Jankowski (08:29):
Shanna Skidmore (08:30):
Can you believe that 20 years of marriage?
Ashley Jankowski (08:33):
Yeah, my husband would say it feels like much longer. Our inside joke, and we always laugh at it. People are like, I can't believe he just said that.
Shanna Skidmore (08:41):
<laugh>. Hey, when you can joke about it, it's good. Yeah, 20 years. Kyle was 23 when we got married. I was 26, so he was just out of college, but So you're Mary, you're doing graphic design. It sounds like you have some entrepreneurial back with your parents and your grandparents. You got to watch some of that. Do you feel like that helped you as you developed your graphic design or photography work? How did you come up with your offers and your pricing and what were you charging people? I mean, how did that all come to be?
Ashley Jankowski (09:17):
I think in the beginning I just was like, what are my competitors charging that sort of have the same skill level as I do? And it wasn't until I started having employees that I worked with my C P A at the time to really work out what that firm's hourly rate needed to be and how many hours that we needed to be working on client work a week to really make sure that we were profitable and that we could make payroll and have enough work to sustain everybody that was working there. But in the beginning, you don't know anything and they don't teach you any of that in art school. They don't teach you any of the business. Hindsight is 2020. I sort of wish I had majored in art and minored in business, but it didn't happen that way. I didn't really learn that I liked the business side until way later that I could be smart with design and I could be smart on the business side as well.
Shanna Skidmore (10:19):
Ashley Jankowski (10:19):
Yeah. I'm definitely a right brain person, but I know how to work my left brain too.
Shanna Skidmore (10:25):
Yeah, same. I think we're kindred spirits in that. What would you say came naturally to you as a business owner? What do you feel like you did really well in that first business, and then what were some things that were not so natural to you or that, oh, this didn't go as well as I'd hoped?
Ashley Jankowski (10:47):
Let me see. I mean, I think I wasn't good. I wasn't good at the business side. I was good at getting the customers. I was good at marketing. I was good at talking about myself. I think I was fairly good at the design side of things. I wasn't good at having employees. That's taken a long time to figure that out. I wasn't always good at the money. It was sort of, I just ask a lot of questions. If I'm sitting down with any other entrepreneur or business owner, I'm asking them tons of questions. Yeah, I do. I still do the same thing with now I'm in this product-based world and we are at trade shows and I'm asking everybody, anything that pops into my head, I ask even if it might be inappropriate, but I don't even know it's inappropriate to ask that question. So that's how I learned how to do a lot of things is just by asking a lot of questions to a lot of different people and trial and error. We all make mistakes and figure out how to move forward and learn from those mistakes and do better next time.
Shanna Skidmore (11:46):
Yeah, I think that curiosity is something that has served me just really well as an entrepreneur and a business owner. And I always joke, I'm so grateful that I started my career in finance because you are allowed to ask the questions that nobody else is allowed to ask. And I learned so much about business by sitting down with people and being able to say, I mean, this's one of the reasons I started this podcast to be able to say, so I mean, really, how much money do you make? I mean, that's so inappropriate. But as a financial advisor, you have to know those things. So naturally curious as well. And I hope these conversations that I'm just so grateful for, I shared with you before we hit record. These stories I think need to get out and be told because we can learn so much from other people's experiences. So I love that. Walk me through Ashley, the trajectory of the graphic design business. Did you keep doing photography? Was that a part of it? Just walk me through the growth. It sounds like you hired people and Yeah, just how did that go?
Ashley Jankowski (12:50):
I did, yeah. Well, first of all, I had a couple of business partners at one point, which didn't turn out well. They were great. We weren't all on the same page in terms of the amount of work that we could do and equally and where we, that balance of business and personal that didn't work out so well. And I actually had, with that firm, I had my brother who worked for me and a cousin who was a copywriter who worked for me, and we just were like, well, we'll just go do this. I was the only one that had any funds to start up. So frankly, this was probably a terrible thing. But I paid them in the beginning before I paid myself because I was like, okay, well, I just need to get this going. We had clients essentially just, we kind of split our clients from the firm where I had partners and we just went on to work with those same people.
And that was, gosh, 2011 maybe when we started. Our firm was called Brazen. And our idea was that we wanted to be able to tell it it was to our customers and put our foot down and say, no, this is ugly designer. We don't want to do it this way. And we kind of positioned ourselves in that way that, Hey, we were brazen. We were going to tell you what you needed and you were going to listen to us, which is totally fine. It actually didn't mostly work out for us that way, although you always have customers who don't like that. They don't like to hire professionals and then tell 'em what to do.
So honestly, after a decade of that, I was just tired. My brother and my cousin still worked for me that essentially that entire time, very talented guys. And I had multiple kind of breakdowns. And looking back on that, I think it was probably because A, I didn't pay myself very much, which was a huge mistake. So it's, I sort of got a little bitter, not that again, not that I needed to pay myself, but when you look at it later, you're like, well, gosh, was that all worth it to not pay yourself? So I mean, probably after don't a decade, almost a decade, I was just like, I can't do this anymore. But honestly, I had started set before that and was just so invigorated by that just like, oh, I can just create this thing and have it made and go out and do that. And I just was completely blown away by how exciting that was. And when I was doing branding, you're taking someone else's business and ideas and making those into something tangible. And we never really done that for ourselves. Hey, we didn't have time to really do. It wasn't like we got to spend a whole lot of time redesigning our own website or working on our own branding because we were doing everybody. So we were sort of doing the idea thing for other people, and I thought, I just needed
Shanna Skidmore (16:07):
The cobblers kids have no shoes kind of idea. Yeah,
Ashley Jankowski (16:09):
Yeah, exactly. You could
Shanna Skidmore (16:09):
Never work on your own
Ashley Jankowski (16:11):
Business. Yeah, exactly. So I really wanted to just do something that was fun on the side. I wasn't even thinking would it would really go anywhere big. So we started set, we had the idea in 2016, my husband and I were really like, we went actually into it and set out brainstorming. We could create a physical product that was what could we create? And we were really looking for, our goal was to always redesign or repackage something that didn't have a great shelf presence or that hadn't been touched in years. That was kind of our goal. We we'd go to a store and you'd realize, wow, if that wasn't packaged so well, I probably wouldn't buy it. I don't need it, but I want to buy it because it's packaged so well. And at that point, we were actually doing packaging and design work for a lot of customers, and that was just a fun thing.
It was, it's different when you design a business card versus you design a package that you then see in a store somewhere. And we had done that for several clients, and that was just an exciting thing to actually see. I designed that and it's on a shelf now, and how cool is that? So we didn't really look further than our own kitchen honestly, though our business, my business was always so people were always in my house, <laugh> in my kitchen, having lunch at the dining room table, things like that. And I found that all of the adults loved the alphabet magnets that were my sons. And when he outgrew them and I went to go take 'em off, nobody wanted me to take 'em off the fridge because they were having such a good time playing with them. It's like they didn't even realize they were excited by them. And so it was just a noticing. We just noticed that, wow, no one's really touched those. And so I started Googling and to see if I could find some that were prettier. Being a designer, I was like, wow, it'd be nice to have these in a nicer font or a solid color or prettier colors or whatever. And I couldn't find anything. The closest thing I could find was, here's how you paint, spray, paint your alphabet magnets and make
Shanna Skidmore (18:20):
Them work. Oh, for real?
Ashley Jankowski (18:21):
Yeah. Wow. That was all I could find. I was so surprised. And my husband's an engineer. He works a lot in manufacturing, and he said, those wouldn't be that hard to make. So he and I just started researching injection molds, injection mold locally. We went and actually visited several injection mold factories here in the us. It actually in Georgia where we're located, and most of 'em were like, we'd be pretty easy. We'd have the bold main in China, and then we could make 'em here. But what stopped us from having them made here is the labor to actually insert the magnets into the back of the letters.
Shanna Skidmore (19:00):
So you have this idea, you're realizing there's a need, there's a need in the, well, I
Ashley Jankowski (19:05):
Thought market, I needed them. So if I needed them, somebody else
Shanna Skidmore (19:09):
I need them
Ashley Jankowski (19:10):
Is bound to need them too. Right.
Shanna Skidmore (19:12):
Yeah. Okay. So you start researching how to make this, it's nice that it sounds like you and your husband put a perfect partnership using your brains and your gifts to figure this out. How to just continue to walk me through creating this product. I want to hear what went well, what didn't go well, when did you launch it? So many questions I have.
Ashley Jankowski (19:36):
Yeah. Well, the first thing we did was we bought a 3D printer. They were had come down in price by then, so they were pretty accessible. And so we wanted to experiment with what do they look like if they're in all white, what do they look like if they're in this font versus this font and this size versus this size? So we kind of used that as a making prototypes. Then they didn't have magnets in them. They were just dimensional letters that we had 3D printed, which allowed us to just touch and feel and see the scale of things. And also take those to the manufacturers that we were looking at and say, okay, this is what we're thinking. We started doing, how many letters are going to be in a set? How much is the mold going to cost amateurize the mold into the cost of the product? Injection molds are anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000. It's a big investment to
Shanna Skidmore (20:41):
Actually, from one letter?
Ashley Jankowski (20:42):
No, not for one letter for a set.
Shanna Skidmore (20:44):
Okay. Yeah, yeah. I was like, woo.
Ashley Jankowski (20:46):
Actually, actually, no, it was for a set. Then we actually tried to create the 3D files, but we just, neither one of us really had the skill to do that. So I think we went on Upwork and we found somebody that could do 3D modeling, and we kind of talked to him about what our design was going to be like and how we wanted the magnet to go in. We actually ended up wanting to use stronger magnets. So we used what's called neodymium magnets. They're the, they're really dangerous that you don't give to kids. And we wanted to have 'em to be pushed into the back in a pocket, essentially with the designer made of pocket. And the idea was that they, you'd push 'em in, you'd never be able to get 'em out, but that they would be stronger because that was one of the problems with the old kid ones is that those, they were using what I now know as essentially a rubberized magnet, and it just wasn't strong enough to hold the letter and a piece of paper or whatever.
And even it wasn't strong enough to handle somebody closing the refrigerator door because they'd always fall off. And we hated that. So we were not only looking to repackage something, we were also looking to improve a design and things that people hated about those old school alphabet magnets. We did work with a designer. He created files. During all of this. We were in the process of trying to find a manufacturer because we realized after basically getting ghosted by every manufacturer in the US that we called, because they didn't want to deal with the magnet portion of it, they just wanted to essentially pop out a plastic product out of the mold and into a bag, and it, it's done, but ours has, there's a little bit more labor to it. So I don't know if it's that they thought, there's no way they'll be able to sell this product.
It, it's not viable. And they just didn't want to tell us that, at least from a US manufacturing perspective or what. But after being ghosted by, I don't know, 10 manufacturers, we were like, okay, we're going to have to go to China to figure out how to get this made. I'm almost a little embarrassed to say this, but honestly, we just googled finding a manufacturer in China, came up with a website made in china.com. Okay, there you go. I mean, you can do the same thing with Alibaba. Kind of a similar thing. They're full of middlemen. Anybody's ever done something on Alibaba or Main China, it's full of middlemen. Most of the time you're not actually dealing with a factory directly. The first company I ended up working with was a factory, and they had a sales department, and the sales guy spoke English, which was great.
So basically, they were a magnet manufacturer, and they had never really done injection mold, but they knew about magnets. So that was like they're trying to sell anything that their product can work with. Essentially, they were able to get us actually molds for under 5,000. So it didn't feel like, oh my gosh, we're investing $20,000 in a mold. And by the way, this was all, yeah, we were taking any profits from my branding firm, any of our personal money, just money we, we didn't go out and get investors or loan or anything at this point. And in the middle of this, my husband actually started his own, or he was working for himself as well at that point, I believe, started his, he has
Shanna Skidmore (24:24):
Engineering firm all in. Yes. Yeah.
Ashley Jankowski (24:27):
So this was our side hustle together. So he was doing the engineering consulting, I was doing the branding and then set was kind of our little brainchild together. I needed him for the manufacturing end, and I was there for the branding, packaging design end of things. So that was interesting, making of the molds and getting samples. You have to get samples, and we ended up deciding that we needed to visit. We needed to actually physically go to the factory and meet people, and Paul wanted to look at what these molds looked like because they need to have a certain finish texture to them, or we wanted them to have a smooth texture. Our idea originally was to do black, white, and gold letters because we wanted them to be more home decor friendly. We wanted an interior designer to want to refer them to parents.
Yes, grandparents. That was probably not the best idea, but it was sort of like everybody was painting their alphabet magnets, black, gold and white. So that was the direction that we went. Visiting China was amazing. It was so cool. My husband and I, I think it was probably 2017 that we went, so we were a year into the development, essentially the research and development phase, and they basically had made the molds. They had given us some samples, so we went and actually watched how they came out of the machine, what the mold looked like, the whole process, even them inserting magnets into the back of the letters. And we were able to say, Hey, this letter has, I don't know, a bur or something, go through all of them with our sales guy. Our sales guy actually took us all over China. We went to a few different cities. We also found our board manufacturer the same way on. We make magnetic writing boards as well for our letters. And we happened to be able to visit both factories while we were there. I think we were there for 10 days. And we even visited Shanghai Disney, which was super fun. Yeah.
Shanna Skidmore (26:42):
How old was your son at this time?
Ashley Jankowski (26:45):
Okay, let's see. That was 2017, so he was nine.
Shanna Skidmore (26:52):
Ashley Jankowski (26:53):
He's nine. He was nine at the time. We did not bring him on that trip.
Shanna Skidmore (26:57):
Got it. He would've loved Shanghai Disney. Yeah,
Ashley Jankowski (27:00):
We did take him back there though. Yeah, we did go back and we took him. So I mean, that was pretty costly to go to China and do
Shanna Skidmore (27:08):
All of that as well. I mean, you guys are in a year in pretty hefty investment at this time. Was there ever a point where you're like, what are we doing? Are never, you were just like, this is happening.
Ashley Jankowski (27:23):
Yeah. Never. Not risk of ours, which I think you kind of need that in some degree to be an entrepreneur. You can't just be like, oh, I'm going to quit my corporate job where I make a hundred thousand dollars and
Shanna Skidmore (27:42):
Without needing some risk, being okay with some risk in your life. Yeah.
Ashley Jankowski (27:46):
Shanna Skidmore (27:47):
Did it take you, Ashley, to get it to market?
Ashley Jankowski (27:51):
We actually took it to market before we even had it in our hands, which now I hate doing. Yeah. We had all of our samples. We actually had a good amount of samples. We launched at the end of 2017 after Christmas, because we knew we couldn't launch it at Christmas because we weren't going to have the product. I think it was at that point, it was on a boat. It had been manufactured, it was on a boat. We did, we ordered, it was a palette of product. It wasn't a ton. I think we ordered 500 of every color, so we had 1500 units. Now I think about that. I'm like, that's nothing compared to what we order now. And I think we probably ordered somewhere about the same amount of boards, and we did black chalkboard, white dry erase, and a green chalkboard and one size, and I think we probably ordered 500 of each,
Something in that ballpark. So we launched really with six products, maybe. We maybe had our little rulers. We did these little rulers allow you to perfect your type setting, essentially. Yeah. And we launched at the end of 2017 with pre-orders on our website, direct to consumer. And really, we were just using social media and Facebook and asking friends to share. I don't know the numbers otherwise I'd tell you. But I remember being excited when you're in an e-commerce business and you hear that chich Shopify on your phone, and it's like, I remember thinking the first day how cool that was. We utilized our customers from branding. Yeah, we sent them a, Hey, we're doing this on the side. It's this fun side project. And then we also essentially simultaneously launched in wholesale as well. I had another customer that we'd done their branding and packaging, and essentially we were kind of around the, I think they did, they launched before us, but I talked to her a lot, the owners of that business, and essentially got their advice. Ask them all those questions that you probably wouldn't ask if you knew that they were inappropriate.
Shanna Skidmore (30:05):
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Ashley Jankowski (30:06):
And so we launched wholesale and we happened to have, in Atlanta, we have what everybody here refers to as the Mark Mart. It's the biggest wholesale market in the us. Yeah, it's huge. Three buildings, 18 floors. I mean, it's unbelievable. So we ended up launching there. We walked, actually, we walked several shows before we even did a trade show. That was another kind of one in our research and development phase. We went to New York now, we walked Atlanta. I think we walked, we might have walked another one too. So yeah, we went to New York. We walked all those shows just to kind of like, Hey, is there anybody that's selling what we're wanting to sell? Is there anything similar to us? What are they pricing at there? By the way, there was not anybody selling anything similar. So we felt pretty confident we could go into the market with no competition, which it was a really good feeling. And that's probably where the confidence also came from that is that we really couldn't find anybody doing what we were wanting to do.
Shanna Skidmore (31:18):
So how has it grown since initial launch in 2017?
Ashley Jankowski (31:25):
Growning immensely. We figured out real quick that people, they wanted to know where the rainbow magnets were. They wanted to know why we had magnets that were only for age 14 and up. They wanted pretty magnets that they could play with, but also their kids could play
Shanna Skidmore (31:43):
Ashley Jankowski (31:44):
So we pivoted pretty hard. We never reordered the plastic magnets.
One of the reasons was that our sales guy, who we'd become very attached to in China, almost like he was family, he left to start his own business and we wanted to follow him. We didn't want to work with someone new. We felt like a loyalty to him. And he was essentially turned into our agent and the old factory wouldn't release the molds to us. Wow. And we were going to have to make the molds again. And this time they were going to be $10,000. And we were just, were like, okay, we we're too far into this. We don't want to let it go, but we can't kind of start over. So our new agent suggested that he's, I've seen I do these foam magnets too, and I think they would be a really great way for you, you guys to pivot. And that's exactly what we did. We actually had them made in a bunch of custom colors. The molds were way simpler, almost like a paper dye cut mold. I don't know if anybody understands what that is, but it's basically a really sharp blade that's in a shape. And so they were really a lot easier to
Shanna Skidmore (32:57):
A cookie cutter.
Ashley Jankowski (32:58):
A cookie cutter, exactly. A sharp, really sharp cookie cutter that can cut through something a little more intense, which the cost of that was only 300 bucks. So I could make a mold, mold for 300 bucks and test a product like that. There's no better research and development that costs $300 to test out and see. And so I think we had black, white, and then I think I did eight colors thinking, okay, well we'll release the black and the white, and then a few of the colors and see how they do. And it was immediate, huge reaction. I think we released those in, it was either in late 2018, I think it was late 2018. So literally six months after we released the plastic, we released these pumps, we pivoted, and we could have those toy tested, and they came back with a recommended age of three and up.
So we knew we just opened our market up. Huge. Yeah. Not just because initially we were thinking we would be marketing to interior designers, but now we could market to teachers and to parents and to kids. So we made the market huge. So we came out with, I don't know, maybe it was 10 colors and a couple of rainbow sets that were mixed sets in a bag. And we did package them so that they had a really good retail presence. I mean, they looked like candy. So these foam letters gave us the opportunity to really play with the packaging and have that look so on point in a store. Yeah. We knew that being in the wholesale market was this huge marketing opportunity because it basically helps put your name out there. If you're in 500 stores around the us, somebody walks in, they say there's one color in there, then they Google you and they see, oh wow, they have 30 colors I didn't see in the store. So that's kind of how I look at wholes at wholesale. I mean, it's still profitable, but I look at wholesale. It's a marketing investment, just not a revenue stream.
Shanna Skidmore (35:13):
Yeah. Yeah. Oh, this is also interesting. Has there been anything that you're like, this totally got our name out there, or has just really, was there anything, and maybe it's just small, simple steps every day working and making it better. But was there anything that you're like, this made a huge impact in our business?
Ashley Jankowski (35:36):
We probably saw a big difference when we got into container store because they have a lot more stores, they have a lot more eyes on them. And when you sell to a big box retailer, that was really nerve-wracking from a money perspective because they want more, what you'd call margin. They basically want, they want to buy it for, you're basically making less money, essentially. So they want to buy for 65 or 70% margin, which means they want to pay 30 or 40% of wholesale, of retail, excuse me, of retail. So typically back then it was what it was called Keystone. So you would pay, pay a dollar for a product, you'd sell it wholesale for $2, and they would double it and sell it for $4. I knew that wasn't quite right. So we always did have a little bit more than two x markup because we knew that there were other costs essentially involved. And you can't really run a business on Keystone. And the same goes for the retailers as well. They would much rather buy a product that they can buy for 10 and sell for 25 than in buy for 10 and sell for 20. So that was nervous to not really, no. Do we have the margins to sell this to Container store or to whoever, Barnes and Noble, whatever, big box, right? Because once we got into a rep group, they all want to want to sell your product. They want to have bigger orders. They want to
Get it into Barnes and Noble and places like that. Well,
Shanna Skidmore (37:17):
What's so interesting, Ashley, you say that, so we got to work together in 2021.
Ashley Jankowski (37:22):
Yeah, I think that was it.
Shanna Skidmore (37:24):
And I feel like for anyone who I work with in the wholesale or retail product based industries, pricing is so key and getting those margins, and I think that was a big piece of what we worked on too, together. Just as you're growing, and I love that you brought this up, it feels like the dream to get into these amazing big box stores, but I've had and worked with several companies who it's like we're paying them to take our product. So getting it's sometimes you want to get that margin right first and then expand. So I'm so glad you brought that up.
Ashley Jankowski (37:58):
I feel like we were okay. Yeah, it wasn't terrible, but when I worked with you, I realized there were so many things we weren't taking into consideration. We weren't taking into consideration like shipping charges for the direct to consumer side. We weren't taking into consideration the 3% credit card fees. We weren't taking into consideration ad spend, things like that. So you know, really helped us build a formula for making sure that we had the margins to support a future team. At that time, I don't think we really maybe had one employee.
Shanna Skidmore (38:33):
You were just starting. I
Ashley Jankowski (38:36):
Had a fulfillment
Shanna Skidmore (38:36):
Person, right? Yeah, exactly. Yep. You had, and you were wanting to hire kind of a warehouse manager, I remember. Yeah. No, you guys were doing great. I have, that's the biggest thing I see in,
Ashley Jankowski (38:47):
I just knew we could do
Shanna Skidmore (38:48):
Better. Exactly. And I love what you said. There's all those little costs that when you start tracking them, it really
Ashley Jankowski (38:55):
Add up to the boxes that you have to ship stuff in and the packing materials and the thank you note that you want to send with every order, all of those, that was you. My homework for you was incredibly eye-opening just to see, wow, we're really spending this much to ship an order out. And you don't really even, you're not thinking about that in the beginning. Yeah. You're really only looking at, okay, the product cost me this. The freight shipping cost me this. How do I add those together and multiply it by, or divide by how many products I have and then multiply that by two, over two and a half or three or whatever was the number that most of the people that I was talking to had answered like, oh, we mark up this
Shanna Skidmore (39:43):
Right. Or whatever. I mean, the keystone is my background too. I worked with a fashion designer, was my first kind of retail wholesale business. And that was in 2011. And it was still kind of the standard I would say, in the wholesale retail industry. But you're right when you get into it, it's different for every manufacturer of the big box tour. So this is so good. There's so much more. I want to talk to you about where to, but I'm like, ugh,
Ashley Jankowski (40:10):
We probably should just have a whole other,
Shanna Skidmore (40:12):
I know. We need a part two, A
Ashley Jankowski (40:14):
Two on pricing. Hello. Pricing for a physical goods. There's not a whole lot of people that talk about that.
Shanna Skidmore (40:20):
I know. I have two big questions I want to ask you. So one of them is, this is now, so you've phased out the branding company. I do. Your husband now, he's still is doing his engineering consulting, but this is your family business, and I always love to hear from moms and where are you moms and what are some things that you love about your family business and things. I just want to hear how do you be a mom and a business owner, and what do you feel like you've done well in that? I know you involve your son so much in the business, and I just think that's so beautiful. So if there's anything you would love to share about running a family business or things you feel like you've done well, things you've learned, I would just love to hear that. Sure.
Ashley Jankowski (41:05):
Well, I don't have a little one anymore. By the time we started this business big, he was nine. Yeah. So it's a little bit different when you have a baby. I did have a baby strep to my chest in a business, and that was super helpful in the beginning when he was little, little, because I still was doing design work then. Yeah, he's a teenager now. I will say he's not as interested in helping with the business now as he was when he was eight. He thought it was so cool to go to all the showrooms and we took him to China one time. We really immersed him in it. Well, my husband and I work really well together, so not that we don't have fights, and not that he doesn't get tired of hearing about my business, but I feel like we're pretty equal.
He comes home, tells me about his job that he was just on, and I tell him about the show that I just left, so, and my husband's not in it as much as he used to be. Yeah. Because he doesn't need to be, at this point, I think mean he still makes more money than I do, which is totally fine. That's not what I'm in it for. Yeah. I'm really not in it for the money, but my son's not super into it anymore. He's a teenager. He's in high school now. He's got a lot of homework to do. Yeah. He's always been homeschooled. And I will tell you the key to getting work done and having a kid at home is to hire a nanny. I didn't have to pay childcare. I could either hire a nanny or pay for childcare. And honestly, we decided that having a nanny was worth it because she was also doing, when he was little, he was also doing things like our laundry and going grocery shopping and stuff like that. She was in the house, so I could always see my son whenever I wanted. Not everybody can afford to have a nanny. My business paid for that.
Shanna Skidmore (43:03):
Ashley Jankowski (43:04):
Had always paid for that. Even if I had a bad month and couldn't pay myself, I always had a nanny, so I always felt fulfilled. I work fulfills me. Not everybody's that way. I like being the idea person. So that was how I balanced having a family and having, because then I didn't have to go out after work and go grocery shopping and then come home and make dinner. Yeah. My nanny had done grocery shopping, so then I could just start dinner when she got off. Yeah. So it was like I still had that balance. Yeah,
Shanna Skidmore (43:37):
Ashley Jankowski (43:38):
But that was really helpful, having somebody in our house helping us not be helping my husband and I not like, oh my God, we got five loads of laundry to do to that tonight after work. It really helped us be a family when we were done with
Shanna Skidmore (43:56):
Work. Yeah. Ooh, that's so good. And something else, man, I wish we had more time. Just I feel like since I know you a little bit, you are not opposed <laugh> in any way you hire, help you. Yes. That's something I've seen patterned throughout the different businesses you've had and how, for anyone who struggles with hiring help or even in the past, I know you have taken less of a paycheck in order to have the help you need. So kind of just talk through your philosophy on hiring help and maybe one or two of maybe the best things you've learned about getting good support around you.
Ashley Jankowski (44:36):
I think I said this in the beginning, I have not always been good at having employees, and I'm still going to make mistakes about having employees, but what I've learned is that having clear expectations of them and giving clear training, having standard operating procedures, SOPs has been super helpful, especially for me over the last year because basically I kind of started from scratch. You probably don't know this. I kind of started from scratch again in last January, and I had a couple weeks of having no employees and then was like, oh my gosh, I need a salesperson. I need a fulfillment manager that can do warehouse and all this stuff. I honestly, I wrote our warehouse fulfillment shipping SOP manual in a week to prepare for a new employee that I hired. And honestly, that was probably the best thing I have ever done in my bus in any business. I wish I could go back in time and create an SOP manual. So an employee has proper expectations. They know how to do their job, and if they have a question, they don't necessarily have to come to me. I mean, they could, but it's written down it. It's in a book, everything's written down. There's videos of how to do everything.
Shanna Skidmore (46:01):
Yeah. I think that, I love that, Ashley, that you said that because even something like standard operating procedures, creating a workflow, creating makes you me more efficient in your business. Something I teach my students in the blueprint model, we call 'em the recipes, your Starbucks strength, how can you create those streamlines? It makes you better. So when I changed from go one-on-one consulting over to creating my online programs, it was the best thing because I had to streamline everything. And so I love, even if somebody listening isn't planning on hiring, creating those standard operating pro workflows makes you be so much more efficient. Yeah, absolutely. At your work. Yeah,
Ashley Jankowski (46:43):
Shanna Skidmore (46:44):
Yeah. That's so good. I
Ashley Jankowski (46:45):
Love that. And honestly, I learned that from my VA company. I have a VA that does a lot of work for me, and they literally in the beginning, created all these so p manuals for the things that I wanted them to do. And I had talked to the owner of that company and she's like, it makes all the difference. It really does.
Shanna Skidmore (47:03):
Oh, that's so good. Okay. Ooh, 49 minutes. Let's go into a quick fire round, but I always, always want to ask all of our guests, what would you say is the best thing that you have learned about money?
Ashley Jankowski (47:15):
Oh, that's a good one. That money helps make ideas come to life, and it's the ideas that bring me joy.
Shanna Skidmore (47:26):
Ashley Jankowski (47:27):
It's not the, I'm going to go, I have the money to go buy a $800 pair of shoes. It's not that at all. I love work. I love being the idea person. I love having the time to come up with the ideas. I love having the money to be able to do the research and development of those ideas and see them come to life. So, so for me, money helps ideas come to life.
Shanna Skidmore (47:49):
That's so good. I need to write that down. Okay. Ashley, let's go into, thank you so much for sharing your story. I feel like there's so much more we could talk about <laugh>, but let's go into just kind of a quick fire. I think it's really fun. Okay. So first question, what is one thing you would be embarrassed if people knew
Ashley Jankowski (48:10):
I have had three major falling outs with friends or family who've worked for me?
Shanna Skidmore (48:16):
Yeah. Yeah. That's hard.
Ashley Jankowski (48:19):
Yeah, it is.
Shanna Skidmore (48:20):
And thank you for sharing that. Tough. I feel that in the depths of my soul, because I see all these people who work with their family and I'm like, Ugh, that looks so picturesque and so wonderful. But working with people, being a boss
Ashley Jankowski (48:35):
Shanna Skidmore (48:35):
It's hard for me. That is one of my biggest, I've had to talk so much with Kyle about limiting beliefs or things that are holding as the c e O of your company. You're the leader, and I just, I'm A C F O, I sit behind the screen. That's my skillset. But I am the C C E O of this company. So yeah, I feel that learning to be a good leader and manager and see, so yeah, I think somebody needed to hear that. I appreciate you sharing. It's not always rosy, but you're getting better. Yeah, absolutely. And you're learning and figuring it out. Okay. Any regrets or wish you could do over moments?
Ashley Jankowski (49:11):
I would create those s sop manuals way sooner than I did.
Shanna Skidmore (49:16):
Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that's so good.
Ashley Jankowski (49:18):
Having, that's a challenge for me, having those job descriptions really laid out for your employees. Yeah. What are your expectations of them? Even if it's like you're going to be packing orders, but you're also going to be making coffee for everybody in the morning, whatever it is, write it down.
Shanna Skidmore (49:35):
Ashley Jankowski (49:36):
Because I think if people, you throw things at people that they didn't think they were supposed to know how to do, then you've created unrealistic expectations and they don't know what to do. It confuses people when they don't know what their job is.
Shanna Skidmore (49:52):
And I think too, for me, learning to be okay to ask for what I want, just because I don't want to do a job doesn't mean that someone else wouldn't thrive in that job. That's been something I've had to learn, that we all have different personalities and finding the right fit for the, so being so clear on what you need that you find the right fit. Some people
Ashley Jankowski (50:17):
Think, yeah, well, also knowing how to do all the jobs, even if you're not necessarily good at it, or somebody does them more efficiently, you still, as a small business owner, you have to know how to do every job. I have to know how to pack boxes. If my fulfillment manager's on vacation, I still, I'm going to have to go in there and do it when he's on vacation.
Shanna Skidmore (50:40):
Ashley, that's why I'm all about finance, <laugh>. I don't think you need to be the CFO o of your company, but you got to learn how to read the numbers. That's why I do every day. That empowers you. So I think that's so true. Okay. Yeah. What's a big win or a pinch me moment?
Ashley Jankowski (50:53):
I think we're in the precipice of a pinch me moment.
Shanna Skidmore (50:57):
Ooh, it's exciting.
Ashley Jankowski (50:58):
I didn't talk about this. I probably should have, or maybe we talk about another episode or whatever, but the pandemic really kind of set us back. Our growth was not as achievable, and I just now feel like we're starting to get out of that. The supply chain issues that we've had to deal with over the last few years have been really rough, and honestly, we just kind of pivoted a little bit and created a line of stickers that we have control, complete control over that process. We bought the machinery to be able to make it, so essentially we took all of our quote ideas that we put on our letter boards and turn 'em into stickers, which is kind of cool. I can literally go design something and make it a finished product that comes out of the machine. Done. Yeah. So I feel like we're kind of in that pinch me moment. It just kind of released the beginning of this year, and we just did a couple of shows and it was amazing. People loved it, and it was just affirmation that we were kind of expanding and growing in new ways, and there's excited about that.
Shanna Skidmore (52:10):
That's exciting. Isn't it amazing sometimes when you're kind of up against the wall or you're in that really hard season is when the best ideas are the best things happen in your business. We've seen that as well when we've kind of been backed against the wall a little bit. It's like, actually, that was a huge blessing in disguise, so yeah.
Ashley Jankowski (52:31):
Shanna Skidmore (52:32):
Yeah. Okay. What is the best advice you've ever received, or just really good advice?
Ashley Jankowski (52:38):
I have two. First, my mom told me a long time ago that if you do what you love, the money will follow. It's so funny that she doesn't even ever remember telling me that, but it really stuck with me. And again, the money isn't necessarily everything to me, but being able to have money to create those ideas and flesh those out is pretty exciting. And then the other one, this is from a book that I just read recently. It's called Unreasonable Hospitality, and the thing that I loved about that was that if you treat your employees well, then they will treat your customers well. And that just has really resonated with me the past couple of years. I even had my whole team read the book, and now they go around saying, I'm going to do this for my clients, because it's unreasonable. It's unreasonable hospitality.
Shanna Skidmore (53:28):
Huh. Okay. Awesome. We'll link that in the show notes. That's so fun. All right, last quick fire and then we'll send it off. You kind of mentioned this, but I don't know if you want to mention something else, but what are you working on now or one resource you'd like to share?
Ashley Jankowski (53:44):
Yeah. We're been working on the sticker line. Honestly, we haven't come out with any new products, but in the alphabet magnet side, but we're working on that. We just found a new factory, so we're excited to kind of get a new factory up and going. We've got some really big, hopefully key account work coming our way. We found a new factory that has a better pricing, so we have more margin to play with, which is exciting. And then being able to create some products ourself, which is super fun. Yeah, we we'll probably do our quotes on magnets, and we might create some flat alphabet magnets as well, now that we have the machinery to do that, so that's pretty
Shanna Skidmore (54:18):
Exciting. That's exciting. Oh, Ashley, this has been fun, and I just want to send it off with, if you could go back to the beginning days of your graphic design business or the type set, either one, just what would you tell yourself now, looking back, what would you tell yourself? Then?
Ashley Jankowski (54:38):
Don't hire friends and family.
Shanna Skidmore (54:44):
Hey, sometimes we got to learn the lessons. Yeah. I know sometimes that maybe hire the right fit. Yeah. Whoever that
Ashley Jankowski (54:52):
Might be. And honestly, I probably, I say that, but there are people that work really well together. I mean, my husband and I work really well together, and there, I'm sure that there are instances that are amazing, and I think probably having those s SOP manuals and setting good expectations up and probably paying myself probably, yeah, in the beginning before it became like a problem. Right. Would have helped.
Shanna Skidmore (55:15):
Yeah. Oh, for sure. Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that's so true. Hiring is tough, and knowing who you're hire, what job you're hiring for. Yeah. That's been the best that I've learned. The whole idea of if you need someone to climb a tree, do you hire a squirrel or train a horse? Like, yeah, hire a squirrel and they might be your family member, but they might not be. Yeah. Yeah.
Ashley Jankowski (55:37):
Shanna Skidmore (55:37):
True. Ashley, thank you so much for sharing your story. It's so neat and cool to see. Yeah, and a physical product like it's on the shelves. You made it. It's on my refrigerator, which I love. Yeah,
Ashley Jankowski (55:49):
I do too.
Shanna Skidmore (55:50):
And I'm just so grateful to know you. Thanks for sharing your story today. Thanks
Ashley Jankowski (55:54):
For having me.
Shanna Skidmore (55:55):
Hey, wildflower, you just finished another episode of Consider The Wildflowers, the podcast. Head over to consider the wildflowers podcast.com for show notes, resource links, and to learn how you can connect with Ashley. One final thought for today from Good Old Socrates, the secret of change is to focus all your energy. Not on fighting the old, but on building the new. As always, thank you for listening. I'll see you next time.