Wisconsin in a box
WiscoBoxes celebrates Wisconsin’s homemade and hard-to-describe vibe.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
What makes Wisconsin special and often tough to leave? That’s the question serial entrepreneur Sarah Botham contemplated prior to launching her latest e-commerce venture, WiscoBoxes LLC.
The Beaver Dam native concluded that the answer probably has a lot to do with our sense of place. “There’s a spirit here that is more than a tangible. Wisconsin is a friendly, welcoming place. People love our traditions and heritages. They wonder, what’s a supper club? What’s an Old-Fashioned, or a Friday night fish fry? We have some very interesting and unique traditions that have been passed through generations.”
In 2016, Botham launched WiscoBoxes to share the state’s rich heritage through elegantly packaged, Wisconsin-made gift boxes for any occasion.
She’s no stranger to entrepreneurial ideas because she comes from a family of entrepreneurs. “I’m not good at being told what to do,” she admits. “I function better when I can make my own decisions.”
Thus far, it’s paid off. Botham has run several companies, including her bread-and-butter public relations and marketing firm, Botham, INK., and Acala Farms, a gourmet cooking oils company. She also shares her communication and marketing skills as a faculty associate at UW–Madison in the Department of Life Sciences Communication.
But the idea for her most recent e-commerce venture took root several years ago as she admired her husband’s success as the owner and founder of Botham Winery & Vineyards outside of Barneveld. “I just felt there was an opportunity to celebrate the iconic and artisan makers that represent the spirit of Wisconsin in an elegant way,” she explains.
True to her word, every product available on the WiscoBoxes website, from the deep red, decorative boxes made in Fond du Lac to the paper the company shreds on site for packing, is Wisconsin made. “We don’t use any Styrofoam peanuts!” she adds.
Botham considers the elegant packaging a particular source of pride. She could have saved money by ordering lesser-quality boxes, “but I wanted everything made here, so we searched high and low and are so glad we did,” she explains. “They’re beautiful and sturdy and can be reused for other occasions.” Every box is hand-wrapped, as well, and come with handwritten gift notes.
Since “going live” with WiscoBoxes in early 2017, the company has sold build-your-own or curated (pre-packaged) gift boxes to customers across the contiguous 48 states and Alaska. Producers include 73 makers representing more than 45 Wisconsin communities and run the gamut from an assortment of food, to Botham wines and Acala Farms gourmet cooking oils, to candles, soaps, socks, and T-shirts. “You may find things you never knew existed in Wisconsin,” Botham hints.
WiscoBoxes shares a renovated house on Mount Horeb’s Main Street with Botham’s PR firm. Two employees handle the day-to-day operations for WiscoBoxes, while three others work for Botham, INK. At busy times of the year, it becomes an all-hands-on-deck effort.
Online gift box sales have been averaging between $75 and $95, plus shipping. The smallest curated gift box, a Mini Wisco Sampler, currently sells for $35, while the most expensive, a large, Something Blue box for a wedding or wedding shower gift, runs about $160.
Is the business profitable?
“Is any startup profitable in the first two years?” Botham quips. “We’ve made some mistakes, but we’ve also reached enough targets to make it worthwhile to continue, and I see a lot of opportunity ahead.”
The marketing plan she put together early on was “naively off in some places and right on with others,” she admits, and she’s learned a lot, especially about inventory and cash flow, but she’s encouraged by the company’s upward trajectory. “The longer we’re here, the greater our growth curve will be.”
Five years from now, she’d like to be retired. “My end game is to sell this,” Botham says, “but I’m not in a hurry either. I love what I do. I can’t imagine not working, but I can imagine doing something else.
“I just wish there were enough years in my life yet to do all I want to do.”
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