Duluth business built on making people feel special turns 12
In more than 3,500 gift stores and drugstores, you'll find displays for a series of magnetized messages called "Special Thoughts." The palm-sized displays represent a 12-year-old Duluth business built on making others feel good. "They love it," s...
In more than 3,500 gift stores and drugstores, you'll find displays for a series of magnetized messages called "Special Thoughts."
The palm-sized displays represent a 12-year-old Duluth business built on making others feel good.
"They love it," said Cindy Hedlund, owner of Pam's Hallmark, as both a seller of the product and a buyer herself. She routinely sees people circling her store's display of "Special Thoughts."
"It's all the words that are hard to say. She says them for you," Hedlund said. "My refrigerator's full of these."
The business began serendipitously 12 years ago in Des Moines, Iowa.
Pam Elifritz was going from business to business with a box, trying to sell her creations: initially hand-painted pillows with inspirational sayings, and later little matted palm-sized cardboard easels with magnets, so they could be stuck to a refrigerator or stood on a table like a little picture frame.
One day she wandered into a Hallmark store in Des Moines with her box of easels. It was a Winslow's Hallmark shop, a group that's based in downtown Duluth.
She pitched her magnets to Des Moines manager Tim Sailstad, who says someone stopped by every few months hoping to bend his ear about a homemade product. Normally, he'd politely decline.
"This was different. I thought this could sell," he said. He was right.
"Right away, the customers responded to them," he said. They immediately stood out because the artwork was far superior to many of the homemade products others pitched, Sailstad said.
She couldn't produce enough to meet demand for Winslow's Iowa stores. So Sailstad and his uncle Rick Sailstad, owner of Winslow's Inc., struck a deal with her to manufacture the easels in Duluth.
Elifritz then got to focus on drawing and painting the pictures and coming up with the perfect phrases.
The statements range from funny -- "I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. ... Tomorrow doesn't look too good either!" -- to the heart-warming: "Mothers hold their children's hands for a while -- their hearts forever." Each phrase is accompanied by Elifritz's detailed artwork.
Within three years of production, Winslow's went from selling the easels in 15 Winslow's stores to 3,500 gift stores and drugstores in all 50 states, and added 24 notepads to the collection.
Elifritz eventually moved to Duluth.
She dreams up about 18 phrases and drawings twice a year, which she and Rick Sailstad then whittle down to the dozen or so that are produced and released twice a year.
The goal for him was to make sure the production of the cards didn't lose that homemade feel, and that even includes not using computerized fonts for the lettering. Elifritz hand-writes the originals, and each easel is hand-glittered.
"If they don't have a hand-touch, they don't sell," Rick Sailstad said.
Elifritz gets her ideas from watching what's selling, noting what people are talking about, and contemplating the kinds of messages she'd like to receive.
Little has changed in 12 years of production in Duluth. Even the 12-person staff has remained virtually the same.
Winslow's, which owns Hallmark stores in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, recently moved from two buildings in downtown and Lincoln Park/West End to under one roof at 112 E. Second St.