MixedBlessing Interfaith Holiday Cards in Women’s Edge Magazine
It was about 14 years ago. Elise Okrend remembers the day well. She was in her office in New York City. “I got a call from our nanny who was very excited. She said that our son, Jordan, had just taken his first steps…and I missed it.” She recalls thinking that things have to change. And they did.
Elise had been working for ten years in New York. An artist by training, she had worked as a graphic designer for an advertising firm and then in corporate positions…right smack in the middle of the rat race.
In addition to her work in the corporate world she had also started a small business. Some of her friends and relatives had interfaith marriages, one spouse was Jewish and the other was Christian. Because of this, every December an awkward situation developed. She and Philip, her husband, wanted to send out holiday cards but how should they handle it? “There was an explosion of mixed relationships. Catholic and Jewish.…Jewish and Protestant,” explains Elise.“It also seemed a little awkward for us to send out Christmas Cards because we’re Jewish. A Hanukkah card did not seem to fit either.” So Elise doodled a card with a combination of a Christmas tree and the Star of David. She was pleased with the result.
A New Business
Elise showed the card to Philip and he was immediately enthralled with it. Philip thought if they really liked it, others would too. They set up the base of operations for the fledgling business, Mixed Blessing, in their dining room. Elise came up with a couple more designs and Philip sold the cards to card and bookstores in New York City in his spare time. The business grew. Elise provided the creative vision, design and production and Philip did the marketing and sales. They participated in the National Stationary Show in New York and started selling in other parts of the country through sales reps. Then, chain stores such as Barnes and Noble, Borders and Bed Bath and Beyond picked up the card line.
Flexibility and freedom are such big factors.
All the while Elise had hoped that one day she could work full-time out of her home. Then came “the call” from the nanny and it was decided that Elise would leave the corporate world and work exclusively from home, devoting all of her work-related attention to Mixed Blessing. The business was such that it could be operated from virtually anywhere.
So the Okrends decided to look for the optimum place to live. They looked at Atlanta, suburban Baltimore and Charlottesville, Virginia but eventually settled on Raleigh and moved here 13 years ago.
A Seasonal Business
Elise now operates the business out of an office in the family’s North Raleigh home where she lives with her husband and two sons. This is where she does all of her design work. Each year she develops new designs and then compiles all the offered cards into a catalog. The catalog is sent out in the spring to retail locations and buyers all across the country. This is when most of the sales and PR work is done. The targeted end-customer is usually well educated and lives in an urban area.
It is not easy working out of your home. It is certainly easy to get sidetracked.
Most stores place orders for the holiday season by early to mid-summer. Orders from individuals also come in by phone or through the business’ website, www.mixedblessing.com. The cards are usually shipped out in July and August. But this is no longer done from the Okrend’s dining room. It would take a very large dining room! With an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 cards to be shipped, Elise now uses a fulfillment house that prepares the ordered product, packages and ships it. “I don’t want to be in the packing and shipping business,” says Elise. “I want to send the order in and say goodbye…so I can spend my time on my art or take my kids to soccer practice.”
Discipline, Key To A Successful Business
It is not easy to work out of your home. It is certainly easy to get sidetracked. Elise agrees. “The one thing you’ve got to learn when you work out of your home is how to shut out a lot of the distractions. It’s a discipline thing,” she explains. One way she maintains this is to set up a schedule for certain activities. So, in a particular day, for example, she might schedule two hours to work on the catalog. Then some time is set aside to work on a drawing. After lunch she tackles the laundry.
Benefits Of Working From Home
Flexibility and freedom are such big factors. I have the flexibility to arrange drop-offs or pick-ups or do things with my kids…it’s really worth a lot.” The benefits include effective use of time. When things are busy there is no running back and forth to the office in the car.
A Success Story
Although there are competitors, Elise credits the success of her greeting card line with how she treats the common occurrence of two religions in a family. “How do you bring that out and say it is OK? Sometimes I think it is handled in too casual a manner,” she says. “It needs to be handled in a respectful, maybe lighthearted, way.” She uses the same approach with her custom-designed line of multicultural cards.
Elise cites hard work and a passion for her business as keys to its success. She also is quick to credit her husband, Philip, with having the vision and inspiration that got Mixed Blessing started almost two decades ago. Mixed Blessing has certainly been a blessing for the Okrend family.
I got a call from our nanny who was very excited.She said that our son, Jordan, had just taken his first steps…and I missed it.
By Brad Wyckoff
Reprinted From Women’s Edge, June 2008