By Jamie Siebrase | May 07, 2016
Greeting Cards, Handbags, Jams
Employees: 2, plus a few independent contractors
Gramzinski was heading up the interactive department at Factory Design Labs -- "I was more or less the account and creative director," she says -- when she received her unexpected supply of nostalgic slides.
The gift was sentimental, but it seemed relatively useless at first -- until, that is, Gramzinski figured out how to configure some of the slides into a handbag. "It was crude," Gramzinski says. "But," she adds, "I got a great response, and decided to try to find a way to make the bag more sturdy."
Gramzinski worked with a plastics company that specialized in waterbeds, and could bond two pieces of vinyl using radio frequency welding. "That was key because if you used heat to bond the slides together, they'd melt," Gramzinski explains. The plastics company produced sheets of slides and die-cut them into shapes that Gramzinski sewed together on an old 1928 Singer.
"I was making these handbags, and I got such immediate and amazing feedback that I quit my job," Gramzinski says. She began making laptop bags, too, from the slides, vintage car upholstery, and retired seatbelt clips from airplanes.
In 2005, Gramzinski took her product line to a trade show in Las Vegas, and it was picked up by small gift boutiques, including Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Getty Center in Los Angeles. "At that time local wasn't cool, and I had more success in stores outside of Denver," Gramzinski says.
"It was expensive making these handmade, quirky, weird art pieces," continues Gramzinski. When the economy tanked in 2008, the bag maker decided to find a new way to use her grandparent's slides.
"Some of the images from the slides were too good to be used in bags, anyway," Gramzinski says. "I started making greeting cards out of them," she explains. The irreverent cards sold at a significantly lower price point, and they "took off," Gramzinski says.
In 2011, Gramzinski took her cards to a trade show in New York. "I went with something like 18 designs. It was barely anything; I don't know why I was there," she says. Gramzinski made a splash, though, by setting up an interactive, immersive booth staged like a vintage motel room.
The greeting cards -- sold under RedCamper's U.S. HWY 89 Correspondence line -- were picked up by an array of paper stores and Nordstrom, too. "We also picked up a licensing deal with Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, and were placed in Target, Walmart, and gas stations nationwide," adds Gramzinski.
Gramzinski's cards features images from her grandparents' slides, and the pictures are augmented with original writing. "My grandfather was a total jokester with a dry sense of humor," Gramzinski explains, divulging that he'd randomly place a picture of a naked woman in every slideshow he shared with the family -- just to make sure his viewers were awake! "I couldn't include the naked lady in the greeting cards," Gramzinski says, "but I wanted to pay tribute to her and that sense of humor."
"Greeting cards are tough to sell online because of shipping," Gramzinski continues, noting that moree than 95 percent of her cards are sold wholesale. "We sometimes sell at local markets, but again it's difficult to sell enough cards to cover booth costs," Gramzinski says.
That's hardly the case with RedCamper's Picnic Supply line. Gramzinski had been making jams since moving to Denver in 1999, into a home with two mature peach trees. In 2012, a RedCamper intern encouraged Gramzinski to sell her Colorado Whiskey Peach jam at the Denver County Fair. "I did, and it won," Gramzinski says, adding, "I was so excited that I decided to do a short run of jams."
Gramzinski got food safety certified, found a commercial kitchen, picked peaches, and made 500 jars of Whisky Peach jam that RedCamper released in early November. Four weeks later, the jam was sold out. "We got into Tony's Market, and had people buying cases at a time," Gramzinski recalls.
When she was ready to do another run of jams, it was winter. "There weren't any peaches around," Gramzinski says, adding, "We thought about using frozen peaches, but decided this was a Colorado product, and we could only make it once a year." While waiting for her Colorado peaches, Gramzinski decided to experiment with other recipes, and formally launched her Picnic Supply line at the Cherry Creek Fresh Market in the spring of 2013 with two citrus flavors: Absinthe Orange and IPA Lemon Poppy. RedCamper has since augmented its boozy line of preserves, branded Deliciousness, with Tequila Jalapeno, Strawberry Limoncello and Colorado Bourbon Cherry jams. In collaboration with St. Killan's Cheese Shop, RedCamper released a Cherry Fig Mostarda.
For three years, Gramzinski focused almost exclusively on farmer's markets. "Now," she says, "we're working on special events, like Denver Flea and the Horseshoe Market." RedCamper has also seen success with wholesale; notably, the jams are currently sold at 13 regional Whole Foods Markets and multiple cheese and specialty stores.
Looking back to when she first started hawking handbags, Gramzinski says, "It's a completely different experience. There's been a switch, and now we try to focus on local as much as we can, through ingredient choices, marketing, events, and targeted stores."
Challenges: "Both of these industries have low margins, and it's difficult to grow and maintain enough staffing and energy to get everything done," Gramzinski admits. "It sounds like we're doing well, but it's yet to be an endeavor that supports the lifestyle I'd like for myself and my employees."
Opportunities: Gramzinski sees ample opportunity for spreading her jams through the hospitality industry. Hyatt Regency Denver, the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, and the Crowne Plaza Denver currently use RedCamper jams in their banquet divisions. "This year," Gramzinski says, "we changed the sizing of our jars with the intention of targeting markets through different segments." RedCamper moved from 12-ounce jars to nine-ounce jars, and added a tiny 1.5-ounce variety that's suitable for picnics and airplanes. "We'd love to get into more hotels and B&Bs with those little sizes," says Gramzinski. "Hospitality is big part of our Colorado economy, and we'd like to be the Colorado jam."
Needs: "I need somebody who is good at sales," says Gramzinski.