Natchez — Want a business that is portable if you move? A business that can be operated out of your home, allowing the convenience to work around your family’s schedule?
For Michelle Leising, the answer to those questions was an Internet gift shop she named The Twiggery (www.thetwiggery.com). Leising was living in Little Rock, Ark., working for a wholesale gift company when she decided to open up a shop on the Internet.
“At the time, I was a single, but I was planning to get married and start a family,” Leising said. “I knew after I got married, we would probably be moving. I wanted a business I could take with me. And once I had children, I wanted something that would work around my family schedule. I looked at Internet businesses, and found that would probably be the best fit for me.”
The Twiggery was born three years ago. When Leising got married a year ago and moved to Natchez, the business came with her.
Her focus is on gifts that have special meaning behind them.
“My niché is a product line that focuses on tradition and meaning — not gifts that collect dust on the shelves, but gifts that keep on giving,” Leising said. “When I was in Little Rock, the wholesale gift company I worked for sold a lot of unique gifts that had stories behind them. For example, they sold a friendship ball based on an English tradition where you pass the friendship ball back and forth between friends throughout the years.”
Friendship balls are one of her favorite gifts. The small silver-hinged balls can be filled with items such as chocolates, potpourri or votive candles. You put something inside to give to friends. They take it and use it, refill it, and give it back to you.
Another item that makes a meaningful gift is a teardrop memory ornament. It is blue crackled glass ornament given to someone who has lost a loved one. The idea is that you hang the ornament in the window. As the sun shines through the glass, you are reminded of a warm memory of someone who has passed on.
“The blue in the glass represents the hurt you feel, and the crackle represents the broken heart,” Leising said. “It is a very meaningful gift. It brings people comfort. A lot of times you don’t know what is appropriate to say when someone loses a loved one. But that is a special gift they can cherish longer than a card.”
Leising didn’t want to be tied down working weekends at a traditional storefront gift shop. So, she works out of a spare bedroom in her house.
“With the Internet, you are open 24 hours,” she said. “While I’m on the phone or running to the post office, my shop is still open. And I’m not paying a clerk.
“If you have a traditional gift shop, you are expected to be open Saturday and sometimes Sunday. I didn’t want to work weekends all the time. I wanted flexibility to live life.”
She markets the business by placing ads in magazines like Southern Lady, Teatime Magazine and Romantic Homes.
“The subscribers for those magazines seem to be the people who would appreciate the products I carry,” Leising said. “I have also used Google adwords to market my silver cake plateaus for weddings. Go to Google and search for wedding cake stands, and my business should come up. The silver cake plateaus make a very elegant presentation for weddings and anni-versaries. I also just added a line of brass cake plateaus.”
Leising said many people have misconceptions that if you just create a Web page, customers will find you. That is rarely the case. Once you build a Web site, you have to follow through to attract the types of customers who will enjoy the products you offer.
She said it is important when making a business Web page to have high- quality photos of products and very descriptive copy. The company she used to help her build her Web site was www.bigstep.com.
“For anyone who is interested in starting an Internet business, that would be a good starting point,” Leising said. “They specialize in helping small businesses develop a Web site. They offer a number of prices depending on what you are interested in. As the business grows, you can add more options to your package.”
She has been pleased with the growth of the business, and feels she is right on track for what the business should be doing in its third year.
“Business has been growing at a really good rate,” Leising said. “Christmas season sales have been strong.”
In response to ads in Southern Lady, people called and wanted to visit her shop while in Natchez. As a result, Leising rented a booth at the antique mall in downtown Natchez.
“So if people visit Mississippi and are interested in my products, they can go to the Antique Mall on Franklin Street in Natchez,” Leising said. “I have rented a booth there. That gives me the flexibility to be at home processing and shipping orders, but also gives me some type of retail presence in the Natchez area.”
Originally she and her sister, Robyn Capps, who is a partner in the business, wanted to start a business making floral wreaths and wall decorations out of flowers. They came up with the name The Twiggery, and found that the unique name resounded well with family and customers.
Gourmet foods are a big part of the business. Leising just placed an ad in Taste of the South magazine promoting her praline pecan products. Another popular offering is concentrates that can be used to flavor cream cheese, whipping cream, sour cream or butter.
“You can make gourmet butter by adding praline pecan concentrate,” Leising said. “It is a very unique product. There is only one company in the U.S. offering this kind of flavoring. We have a variety of different flavors. The praline pecan won first prize when added to cream cheese at the Atlanta Gourmet Food Show. It makes an incredible dip. They come in jars that cost $4. The contents are added to cream cheese, and served with pretzels.”
In additional to gourmet food, The Twiggery also offers scented candles, room sprays, scented lamp rings with oil and tea party accessories like scone mixes and gourmet teas. Customers are from across the U.S. and Canada, and even some from England.
In trying to decide what product lines to offer, Leising recommends choosing unique products you are excited about.
“If you are enthusiastic about your products, then your customers will be excited about your products,” Leising said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.