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Like most seniors in high school, 17-year-old Bella Weems is weighing her options. “I’m definitely going to college,” Bella says. She has yet to choose a school or a major, but she’s excited about the possibilities. “Wherever my journey takes me will be an amazing opportunity,” she says.
Her journey has already taken her places most people don’t go in a lifetime. Just three years ago, she was a typical 14-year-old. When she told her parents she wanted a car for her 16th birthday, they said she would have to buy it herself. They suggested she start a business, which she did and named Origami Owl.
Bella’s parents matched the $350 she had saved in babysitting money, and with the funds she purchased some clear lockets and charms to go inside. Her goal was to earn $3,000–$6,000 to buy a used truck. But Bella’s Living Lockets caught on. Wherever she took them—to house parties, church bazaars, and eventually a kiosk in the mall—people couldn’t get enough. She was making thousands of dollars, and there was no end in sight to the demand for her lockets.
By 2011 the Weems realized Bella’s Living Lockets were more than a passing fad. They adopted a direct sales model to help them grow the company in a way that aligned with their mission: to be a force for good. Rather than providing people with minimum-wage mall jobs, they could offer people the opportunity to own their own businesses and achieve their own dreams.
Since then, Origami Owl has grown exponentially. In a little more than a year, the company has gone from fewer than 5,000 designers with a waiting list to join to over 60,000 designers. They’ve moved their fulfillment into an 80,000-square-foot building, and the corporate office will follow. Their earnings for 2013 are projected to hit the $250 million mark.
So how did this small family-run company so quickly become a force in the direct sales industry? About a year ago Bella’s mother and Origami Owl’s co-founder, Chrissy Weems, saw that Origami Owl was outgrowing its family management team. She contacted Robin Crossman, who has extensive industry experience, having worked with a roster of well-established companies.
Crossman began consulting, and within six months had joined the company as its CEO. Immediately, she began adding expert staff to help manage the company’s rapid growth. Crossman also began working to get Origami Owl’s infrastructure and processes in order. “We’ve recently opened a state-of-the-art distribution center, and our throughput increased threefold immediately with an accuracy rate of 99.7 percent.”
Supporting the Field
Once Origami Owl’s infrastructure was in place, the company was able to let all the designers-in-waiting officially join Origami Owl. As the numbers grow rapidly, the company now has the necessary resources to support them.
One of Crossman’s hires was Ann Raulston, Vice President of Field Sales. Her plan for continued growth and retention of the field includes the addition of regional directors. “Currently we have a team of four, and their job is to model and mentor leaders in the field,” Raulston says.
This takes many forms: team meetings, larger meetings with team field leaders, individual meetings with leaders to help them maximize the career plan, and supporting them as they’re moving forward through the career plan. The regional trainers have a minimum of 10 years’ experience in that corporate role. All have been distributors at some point as well.
“It’s very important to have walked the talk, because then you have the heart and understanding to walk alongside these leaders,” Raulston says.
Additionally, Origami Owl recently upgraded to a new back office system. Along with the usual training videos, the back office has tools that enable designers to improve their businesses. “They now have access to a back office ‘coach’ that helps them to understand how they can maximize their earnings every month, and that’s motivating them,” Raulston says.
The company also is planning to roll out a mobile app soon.
For Raulston, there are two important keys to keeping the field engaged. The first is to keep the field in touch with the mission and culture of the company. Every week in her webinar, Raulston makes sure she’s not only giving updates and information, but also focusing on how the field is connecting to the heart of Origami Owl: “I try to make sure that I highlight a leader or designer who is exemplifying the ‘force for good’ model,” Raulston says.
The second is to spend time in the trenches and really listen to the field. “I’ve seen it before, where you get so engrossed in the corporate machinations and in where you are going as a company that you lose touch,” she says. “We can’t forget that our field is who we are. We have to go out and listen to their stories and ask, ‘How can we better help you?’ ”
“One thing I’ve talked about [with young entrepreneurs] had to do with building your brand and being able to stand out in your community not only for dressing well and looking good, but also for being a force for good.”
—Bella Weems, Founder
Owlettes Ambassador Circle
A unique feature of Origami Owl is its focus on developing young entrepreneurs. Girls ages 14–17 may join the company with a parent or other trusted adult as a partner. These young teen designers are called Owlettes and are part of the Owlettes Ambassador Circle (OAC).
This program is especially dear to Bella, who leads it. Once each month she connects with these girls on a training call that lasts 30–60 minutes. The goal of the program is to inspire the girls to be strong leaders within their peer groups and schools. It teaches them finance, how to run their own businesses, how to be confident and successful, and to realize that, like Bella, they can reach their dreams.
“We’re training them by our mission statement,” Bella says. “Every call has a theme. One of the last ones that I did was about confidence and building your brand. One thing we talked about had to do with building your brand and being able to stand out in your community not only for dressing well and looking good, but also for being a force for good.”
Mother’s Day Challenges
With Origami Owl’s rapid growth, there have been some bumps along the way. As an example, nothing could have prepared the company for Mother’s Day. That week, the company received double the orders it had in the previous year. “I’ve worked with the finest forecasters in the field of direct sales, and no one could have predicted that. We were in trouble with our IT, and we crashed our server,” Crossman says. “We were backordered on products as well. Our team reacted quickly and was able to implement a new party tab in record time.”
Origami Owl also stopped adding new designers for a few weeks, and when they began adding again, they did so slowly to make sure that they were supporting the growth. “Never underestimate the power of the field,” she says. “And make sure you have extra capacity beyond what you dreamed you might need.”
A Product with Heart
Origami Owl has added a TAGGED line that utilizes tags and dangles in addition to the lockets, and it recently launched a bracelet line. But the Living Lockets remain the company’s most popular products.
Taryn Gosch, Origami Owl’s Public Relations Director, thinks that’s because of what the lockets symbolize. “We have a product that allows people to create their journey in a piece of jewelry that’s their own legacy, that they can proudly wear,” she says. People choose charms that represent them—from birthstones to tiny fashion item like shoes and purses, to hobby items like a tiny football or knitting needle. There are literally hundreds to choose from.
“We’re not asking people to come to a jewelry bar and buy a piece of jewelry. We’re saying, ‘Come experience a jewelry bar and create a piece that’s going to inspire you or others.’ That’s why I believe it does so well,” Gosch says.
This desire to inspire others is at the heart of the company and its culture. “Origami Owl’s culture is what drew me to the company,” Gosch says. “We take culture so seriously that we actually have a VP of Culture, Yvette Dickson. Her team’s main job is to make sure that employees are well taken care of and inspired to live out the Origami Owl mission.”
Raulston agrees. “It doesn’t matter what position you hold within the company, there’s this incredible warmth and joy and thrill about being a part of it. You come through the door, and you feel it.”
She says, “The desire to share this culture with the field is so strong that members of the culture team are part of our training. We call it ‘Love From the Nest.’ It’s a very important part of retention and keeping people connected.”
Country Music Awards
It’s not unusual to hear someone singing as you walk through the headquarters of Origami Owl. Bella loves to compose, sing and play her own music, and that has permeated the company culture. Origami Owl just culminated a yearlong partnership with Big Machine Label Group. During the course of the year Origami Owl created limited-edition tags for two of the label’s bands, Rascal Flatts and The Band Perry as part of their TAGGED collection.
And in November, Origami Owl co-sponsored Big Machine Label Group’s after-party at the Country Music Awards in Nashville. At the party, stars were invited to make a personal keepsake locket for themselves, as well as one to give to a child in the hospital. The following day Bella went to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and donated 250 necklaces, accompanied by handwritten notes from celebrities.
A Force for Good
That culture of giving, of paying it forward, comes naturally to Bella. She didn’t spend her 17th birthday celebrating with friends but rather chose to spend the day giving back. She took toys to a couple of centers for abused children, then went to a local children’s theater and spent time with the children there, pledging to help provide for the program for the next six months. After that, she sought out a designer who shared her birthday and surprised her at her home with a gift. “She’s somebody who thinks about others all the time,” Gosch says.
This spirit of giving is such a part of the company culture that Origami Owl is constantly seeking ways to be generous. “Origami Owl is so blessed, and we want to share with others, especially those in need,” she says.
While this has included lots of opportunities for employees and designers to give within the community, the company wants to give back in a much bigger way. “In the new year we are excited to announce a new charity partnership with a national organization where we will be able to make a very big impact,” Gosch says. “It is important that we continue to be a force for good and spread the love.”
Already, Origami Owl is beginning to receive recognition for its success. The company was recently honored by Chandler’s Chamber of Commerce and, more notably, ranked No. 35 on Inc. magazine’s Hire Power List for creating 341 jobs in the past 18 months. They expect to break into the 2014 DSN Global 100, as well. In the future, Origami Owl plans to expand into other countries.
And what about Bella? As she looks ahead, she sees herself with Origami Owl. “Or maybe I’ll be helping other businesses grow,” she says. “I know that I definitely love being in business and I love direct sales, so I see myself in the direct sales industry for a very long time.”