In the News
MixedBlessing cards have received National Media Coverage in the following: Businessweek Online, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, USA Today, Jewish Journal, Seattle Times, The Detroit News, Arizonia Daily Star, Chicago Sun Times, Ohio Ackron Beacon Journal, San Jose Mercury News, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, News & Observer and more…..
Women’s Edge Magazine features Elise Okrend and the evolution of MixedBlessing –
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
Good Morning America features MixedBlessing Cards on the show during their holiday segment 11/30/04
Businessweek Interview with Elise Okrend owner of MixedBlessing
Christmas, Meet Hanukkah – August 22, 2005
Smart Answers By Karen E. Klein
Christmas, Meet Hanukkah
Elise Okrend saw a market for interfaith greeting cards. Despite a feast-and-famine sales cycle and traditionalists’ objections, business is booming.
With Christmas and Hanukkah converging on Dec. 25 this year, Elise Okrend hopes families will send out greeting cards celebrating both holidays. If they do, it could prove to be a banner year for MixedBlessing, her Raleigh (N.C.)-based company that specializes in interfaith and multicultural holiday cards.
Founded in 1988 by Okrend and her husband, Philip, MixedBlessing has endured criticism from religious leaders and skepticism from others about the staying power of its niche market. Okrend, who is already busy gearing up for the 2005 holiday season, took time out recently to speak with Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
Q: How did MixedBlessing get started?
A: I was working in printing and design in Manhattan, and my husband was an attorney. I’ve always been a creative type, and I had a neat idea for a holiday card one year. I realized we know a lot of people who are in relationships where one person is Jewish and one isn’t. I felt there was a need for a card we could send to them both, so I came up with a graphic design of a Star of David merging with a Christmas tree. I showed it to my husband, and he was really enthusiastic and thought I had hit on a great concept.
Q: Are you in a mixed marriage yourselves?
A: Everybody assumes we are, but no, we’re both Jewish. Our idea is just to make families who are of different religious backgrounds feel good about celebrating the holidays together. We try to think of the warmest and most delicate, lighthearted ways to combine the two holidays.
Q: What was the reaction when you first put the designs out?
A: We had to persuade retailers that this wasn’t just a fad — it was really a niche market that would last over the years. We got a lot of press because the idea was new, and that brought out some religious organizations saying they didn’t like our concept. They were worried about the holidays being combined and felt it wasn’t right. But, actually, their condemning the cards stirred up more publicity, which got us more customers and showed people we were here!
Q: When did you realize you had a viable small business on your hands?
A: Our first holiday season, we came up with six designs, and my husband threw them into the back of his car and drove around New York City trying to sell them to corner card shops. That went well, so we came up with the name and incorporated. But we ran the company for several years on the side while we both worked our regular jobs. We’d come home from work and process orders on our dining room table at night. After about five years, we began to make sales to some department stores. That’s when we realized we couldn’t handle everything ourselves, and also when we saw that the business could support us. So we quit our outside jobs to focus on it full-time. My husband now does life coaching, so he’s involved in the company about half time.
Q: You decided that rather than lease office space and hire employees, you’d contract all that work out. Why?
A: I didn’t want to set up my own operation to do all the collating, illustrating, and shipping in house, and I didn’t want to have to deal with employees. So I set things up so that when I get an order, I enter it into the system, and it’s out the door. I still do all the designs and creative work myself, so I wear many hats. What really helped us early on was attending industry trade shows, like the National Stationery Show every year to display our line, get exposure, and find vendors.
Q: How do you deal with the cash flow and other challenges of running a seasonal business?
A: It’s something you learn to manage. The first few months of the year are spent on product development, getting the cards designed, illustrated, and printed, preparing our catalog, doing sales and marketing, and working on our Web site.
The main thrust of the business starts right now, in August and September, when the shipments are being made to the larger stores. The imprinting and personalization, plus the direct sales, take place between now and the end of the year.
Making revenues last through the off season has been a personal challenge. It’s a matter of good budgeting, because we know how much we’re going to make in a given year, and we just have to live off that. With the holiday line, we’re able to pre-sell, so I have a pretty decent idea of what quantity I’m going to have in my inventory before I go to print.
Of course, the stores pay after the fact, and that requires some juggling on our part. But everybody who orders personally from us comes in with a check or credit card over the Internet, so that’s been very helpful.
Q: When did you set up your Web site?
A: The site is about six years old. It’s interesting, because our original concept was just to sell through retailers, and the direct sales were not something I really thought was going to happen. But in the last few years, that’s where we’ve seen our strongest growth. Especially now, with the small card stores having a rough time competing with larger retailers, our direct sales are becoming more and more important.
Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.
Edited by Rod Kurtz
As seen in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Sun Sentinel
Merry Mazeltov? Card companies combine mistletoes, menorahs
MATT SEDENSKY, Associated Pres Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Every December, Zack Rudman and his wife send out cards with winterscapes and generic holiday greetings. Finally, though, the Kansas City lawyer found a variety that seemed to better suit a Jewish man and an Episcopal woman with two young children as familiar with the menorah as mistletoe. It screams “Merry Chrismukkah!”
Across the country, two holidays that once seemed to share little more than a calendar page are increasingly being melded on greeting cards aimed at the country’s estimated 2.5 million families with both Jewish and Christian members.
“It’s representative of the way people live and the way they spend the holidays,” said Elise Okrend, an owner of Raleigh, N.C.-based MixedBlessing, a card company devoted to interfaith holiday greetings. “And it’s an expression of people understanding the people around them.”
MixedBlessing, like other companies, has found such interfaith greeting cards have a stable market niche and a slowly growing customer base. The company was among the first to come out with holiday cards suitable for Jewish-Christian families about 15 years ago and is still perhaps the only company to focus entirely on that market segment. In its first year, it sold about 3,000 cards from nine different offerings. This year, Okrend projects sales of 200,000 cards off its 55-card line.
Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc. says among its most popular categories of Hanukkah cards is the one that combines Jewish and Christian themes. The company tried the idea with just one card in the mid-90s; today they have four. “The essence of these cards is not about interfaith households as much as it is about friends and family members of different faiths acknowledging the different holidays that they all celebrate,” said Shalanda Stanley, a product manager at Hallmark.
American Greetings Corp. has also increased its Hanukkah-Christmas line offerings since its introduction eight years ago. There are around 10 this year.Kathy Krassner, editor of Greetings Inc., a trade magazine, said mixed-faith holiday cards are one of countless niche categories introduced by greeting card companies.”It’s an interesting market,” she said. “But it’s a limited market.”
The newest player is Chrismukkah.com, which helped put a name on what many interreligious families have been celebrating for years. Ron Gompertz founded the company this year with his wife, inspired by an episode of the popular Fox series “The O.C.” in which Seth Cohen, a character whose mother is Protestant and father is Jewish, coins the term.
“It’s a little bit of both,” Gompertz explains. “Spin the dreidel under the mistletoe.” As with anything addressing religion, though, cardmakers are careful not to offend. The Chrismukkah site even offers a disclaimer: “We respect people’s different faiths and do not suggest combining the religious observance of Christmas and Hanukkah.”
“Our intention wasn’t to merge the religious aspects,” Gompertz said, “but rather the secular aspects of the holidays.”
Gompertz’s explanation hasn’t gone over well with everyone. He says the site has angered some conservative Jews who believe it promotes intermarriage. Cards from the Livingston, Mont.-based Chrismukkah.com use humor to create a hybrid holiday. Gompertz is Jewish and from New York City. He married the daughter of a Protestant minister from the Midwest. His company offers greetings including images of a Christmas tree decorated with dreidels, a menorah filled with candy canes and simpler varieties featuring messages including “Merry Mazeltov” and “Oy Joy.”
“It’s whimsical. It’s humorous,” said Gompertz. “This is a way of diffusing the seriousness of it.”
Most of American Greetings’ Hanukkah-Christmas cards are humorous, too. One shows three snowmen – two dressed in traditional winter hats and scarves, the third wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl. Another features a list of Hanukkah songs that never caught on, including “Shlepping Through a Winter Wonderland,” “Bubbie Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and “Come On, Baby, Light My Menorah.” “We don’t go over the line,” said Pam Fink, who works on Jewish-themed cards for American Greetings. “We’re careful to make sure it’s lighthearted funny, but not too far.”
More serious messages are offered, too. One Hallmark card begins “Hanukkah and Christmas – two different holidays, but each a celebration of peace and joy, of love and family and friends.” Cardmakers say similarities between the two holidays, and the strong secular side of each is what makes combining them possible, something not necessarily true of any other season.
That hasn’t stopped Gompertz from floating around an “Easterover” idea, featuring a “Rabbi Rabbit.” Still, Gompertz thinks he’ll probably pass on that idea. “That threatens to push the levels of what’s acceptable,” he said.
The News & Observer
Cards Blend the Holidays
Raleigh Couple Sell Interfaith Greetings
Yonat Shimron, Staff Writer
Growing up Jewish in New York City, Philip and Elise Okrend celebrated Hanukkah without giving much thought to Christmas.
But suddenly everyone they knew was in an interfaith relationship. There was David who was Jewish, and his girlfriend, Pat, who was Roman Catholic — Elise’s good friends at the advertising agency where she worked. Then there were their classmates from Binghamton University — all intermarried. And their cousins. Even Elise’s brother.
The question, “What do we do about this year’s holiday cards?” became particularly thorny
An art major in college, Elise Okrend decided to draw an interfaith card — a Jewish star with one side resembling a Christmas tree. Inside it read “Happy Holidays.”
From that first interfaith card has grown a business. Mixed Blessing is an interfaith and multicultural holiday card company with about 50 designs.
Our business is about helping people find a solution for the holiday season,” says Elise Okrend, who runs the business out of her North Raleigh home. “We’re giving them a solution that’s dignified, fun and creative.
Nearly half of American Jews marry outside the faith, and sending a Christmas card or a Hanukkah card to an interfaith couple can be a recipe for offense. Sending a photo of a winter scene is safe but generic
The Okrends wanted to pay their respects to both faiths — recognizing each as valid and, beyond that, celebrating the tolerance they think makes this country great.
Cards Elise Okrend has designed over the years include this year’s best-seller — a family of penguins with a baby penguin holding a candelabrum and the other baby penguin standing beside a Christmas tree. Another card features three homes with smoke coming out of each chimney to form “peace.”
The Okrends started their business in 1989 with 1,000 copies of Elise’s original drawing, and they expect to sell 300,000 cards this year. The cards are available at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, at NoFo in Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood and online at www.mixedblessing.com.
The Okrends acknowledge their interfaith cards can be controversial. When they started the business, some Jewish groups accused them of promoting intermarriage or trying to blend the two holidays.
The couple disagree.
We’re not creating a new holiday,” Elise Okrend says.
She points out there are no baby-in-the-manger scenes and no action figures of the Maccabees, the heroes of the Hanukkah story. Instead, they emphasize the two holidays’ more secular qualities: Santa Claus and dreidels, cookies and latkes.
Still, the couple acknowledge the December holidays are a challenge. Christmas, with its trees, carols, gifts and home decorations, seems to overwhelm the more modest Hanukkah celebrations
How can you not like Christmas?” asks Philip Okrend, who works as a business coach helping professionals with their transition to new jobs
Hanukkah, which commemorates a Jewish rebellion against foreign rulers more than 2,000 years ago, celebrates the military victory of a band of Jewish guerrilla fighters who drove their Syrian overlords out of Jerusalem. They then rededicated the temple to the Jewish God after it had been defiled with a statue of Zeus.
It’s a festival that commemorates the rejection of assimilation into a broader culture,” says David Halperin, a retired professor of religion at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Yet it’s observed in a way that bears witness to assimilation. That’s the wonderful thing about Hanukkah. It conveys both messages at once.”
To the Okrends, the forcible denial of one’s faith years ago bears little resemblance to today’s need for interfaith acceptance.
Our goal is to move people to a place where we hope the world will go — tolerance and diversity,” Philip Okrend says. “Otherwise we’ll destroy ourselves.”
Tonight at dusk, the couple will gather in the living room of their home to light the first candles of Hanukkah and exchange gifts with their two sons, Jordan, 15, and Joshua, 11. They’ll make latkes, maybe even pull out the dreidel.
All the while, they’ll know they’ve made an effort to respect their many family and friends celebrating other traditions[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]