Photo above: Origami Owl’s Founders Chrissy and Bella Weems accept the Bravo Growth Award Based on Percentage from John Fleming.
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IN THIS ISSUE:
One of the direct selling industry’s most unique stories has evolved into one of its growth rocket ships. Origami Owl, founded in 2010 by then-14-year-old Bella Weems and her mother, Chrissy, grew by 870 percent in 2013—its second year as a direct seller. The financial feat earned it the Direct Selling News Bravo Growth Award Based on Percentage.
With 2013 revenues of $233 million, the company premiered on the DSN Global 100 list in the No. 50 position.
The story began when Bella told her parents she wanted a car for her 16th birthday. Their response: You’ll have to buy it yourself. Try baby-sitting or start a business. Bella knew that she’d never find enough baby-sitting gigs to reach her earnings goal of $3,000 to $6,000 to buy a used truck. But she liked the idea of having a business, so she started brainstorming. She settled on a jewelry business that would sell lockets, but not just any lockets—Living Lockets®, jewelry circles of joy that reflect the wearer’s life and values. Her customers could customize a locket for themselves or to give to someone special as a gift.
Bella’s parents matched her $350 in savings, and she purchased some clear lockets and charms to go inside. She first sold them at house parties, church bazaars, and eventually at a mall kiosk. They were an instant hit. Before she knew it, she was making thousands of dollars, and demand was skyrocketing. As Bella’s business grew, so did her vision. She began to realize that Origami Owl, which she had named for her love of the origami that hung in her bedroom and her favorite animal, could be life-changing—not just for her, but for other women who could make money through it and also for people she could help through philanthropic projects. She decided to find a way to pay it forward.
With that goal in mind, Origami Owl adopted a direct selling model two years ago, and its already fast growth became exponential. It grew to $22 million in its first year of direct selling and showed no signs of slowing down. The Weems family ran the business, building a strong foundation of company brand and culture. But the young company’s explosive growth was almost overwhelming. At one point during 2013 the business grew so fast that it couldn’t keep up with demand for the components of its Living Lockets, and it was forced to stop adding members to the salesforce, which the company calls designers. But failure was not an option. In mid-2013 it hired a team of direct selling veterans, led by CEO Robin Crossman, to help the founding family team make the company more robust.
“The original team already had created the demand and captured a great idea. Then the team we brought in was able to scale the business and put an infrastructure in place so the company could continue to grow and keep up with demand,” Crossman explains. “Together we have a remarkable marriage.”
The first job: Take a critical look at all of the company’s systems, especially IT. Was it scalable? Could it keep up with the company’s massive growth? Within a few months, Origami Owl had put in place a new distribution system, a new fulfillment center, a warehouse management system, an operations management system and new financial software programs. Then they found additional vendors to add to the company’s original partner.
“We now have a supply chain system in place with multiple vendors and product specifications—the nuts and bolts of process and structure that let us keep up with growth,” Crossman adds. “At that point, we needed it yesterday. We had 23,000 people waiting to join last summer, and we didn’t have enough products or the infrastructure to support growth. Today we have no waiting list, and we’re bringing in new people every day.”
The result: Today Origami Owl has more than 60,000 designers ranging in age from 12—girls who join along with an adult—to over 55. As those numbers continue to grow, the company now has the infrastructure to support them, including staff members who each have a decade of direct selling experience and work directly with designers to model and mentor leaders in the field.
Secrets to Success
Crossman credits 2013’s stellar results to four things. First, the flagship product itself—the Living Locket. It’s a product with heart appeal, and it’s different for every person who wears one.
“Every time I ask someone about their Origami Owl Living Locket, they clasp it in their hand and hold it over their heart,” Crossman says passionately. “Most people tell stories with words, but we tell them with jewelry. For mothers, grandmas, aunts and girlfriends, it’s so personal! People give wonderful, personalized lockets to commemorate baby showers, to memorialize someone, to celebrate a birthday or wedding, or just because they want to say something special to someone.”
Second, the Origami Owl story. It’s the American Dream. A 14-year-old girl starts a business that becomes a huge success, which then spreads to her family and to other girls and women everywhere.
“It’s a story that just makes us happy,” Crossman says with a smile. “It started with a family filled with hardworking individuals. That alone is a wonderful story, and then the product demand was unbelievable.”
Third, the company’s culture is unique. Its goal developed quickly, powered by Bella’s vision, and is now articulated as “to be a force for good.” That force is with them, and it shows up everywhere in the corporate offices as well as in the field. People simply care. The staff is intentional about the culture, regularly recognizing everything from birthdays to completed projects to volunteer efforts in a fun way. They also make sure that designers featured on conference calls are role models for those values.
“Those pay-it-forward values are what we live by—the attitude of being a force for good,” Crossman says. “It’s the DNA of this company. When you walk into our building, we have a TV playing a looped video about our culture. We have a very caring corporate and field organization. Not a week goes by without someone holding a fundraiser for a tragedy.”
Finally, the company makes extensive use of social media. Its site managers respond quickly to questions about how to get into the business, but their “push” material focuses on lifestyle, fashion and fun, with some caring holiday messages that support the business thrown in. For example, Origami Owl Facebook posts and pictures in early May were about graduations and moms—reminders that personalized lockets can commemorate special occasions and special people. The strategy clearly works. The page is filled with supportive suggestions and comments from fans.
Designing Women—and Girls
Those fans, friends and followers reflect the makeup of Origami Owl’s designers. About a third of them are in the 25 to 34 age group; another third is 35 or older. But uniquely, about a third are younger than 24. Of that demographic, one group stands out: designers who are age 12 to 17. These teen designers are called Owlettes, and they join Origami Owl with a parent or other trusted adult as a partner. They’re part of the Owlettes Ambassador Circle (OAC), and they hold a special place in Bella’s heart.
Crossman told SUCCESS Partners University that the company originally admitted girls as young as 14, but lowered the age limit to 12 after hearing pleas from parents and foster parents who wanted even younger girls in their care to benefit from the life skills they could learn and the confidence they could build as a result of owning a successful business.
The Owlettes are especially dear to Bella, who leads the Origami Owl youth leadership program. 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, be confident and successful, and 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.”
Chrissy and Bella Weems
Being a force for good is as important to the rest of the Origami Owl team as it is to Bella. They sought out the perfect charitable partnership with a national organization where the company would be able to make a very big impact. Last year they found it in Childhelp, the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit advocating for abused and neglected children. With its headquarters in Phoenix, just a few miles from Origami Owl’s home base in Chandler, Ariz., the partnership was a natural and perfect fit for a company started by a teenage girl.
As a direct result of Origami Owl’s financial pledge, millions of students across the country will receive access to Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe, a comprehensive child abuse and bullying prevention education program. The donation will fund the expansion of the Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe curriculum from first grade through sixth grade to include pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The extended program is being created in conjunction with Northcentral University and is expected to be available for the fall 2014 semester. To make the program even more accessible to educators, Childhelp will launch a new virtual campus that will offer everything from the curriculum to facilitator training, continuing education opportunities and guest speaker lectures.
Origami Owl’s contributions will also cover the introduction of Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe to over 100,000 students throughout the state of Arizona in an effort to implement a large-scale adoption of the program statewide. The program currently is taught in about 40 percent of the United States. With the help of Origami Owl, Childhelp hopes that the success in Arizona will be the catalyst to achieving national adoption.
National success is just the start for Origami Owl. On Cinco de Mayo it launched its Hispanic market initiative in the U.S. and business in Puerto Rico. Next: Mexico and Canada, which also has a large Hispanic market. And with a group of young designers, of course they’re ready to launch a mobile business app to add to their already-upgraded designer back office system.
The company’s national sales convention will be held this summer in Phoenix, and Crossman says it will be full of exciting announcements that will make the Origami Owl opportunity even brighter, more valuable, and of course, more fun.
And in case you’re wondering, Bella got her car—a white Jeep she named Alice.