Amber: Hi I’m Amber Ambrose and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Today we’re coming to you from Seattle, Washington at ATLAS Workbase and my guest is Lee Rhodes of GlassyBaby. So welcome to the show Lee.
Lee: Thank you, thanks for having me.
Amber: What is GlassyBaby?
Lee: GlassyBaby is a 3 ¾ inch tall votive candle that you put tea lights generally. Some people use it for all kinds of different things but that’s how we sell it.
Amber: its intended purposes from your standpoint.
Lee: Yeah, and we have over 400 different colors and each color has a name and a love story. And some of them have giving partners that we give directly to the affiliate of the color itself, 10% back, otherwise 10% of the revue goes to the White Light Fund and it’s distributed from there.
Amber: Okay, getting to that model of you have a product – and I know it’s specific to Seattle, let’s talk about hat in particular – how it’s made and why it’s so very much a Seattle product.
Lee: Well it started here; we’ve been here for 17 years and we make them in the Madrona neighborhood, which is a small neighborhood above Leschi near Lake Washington. We made them in Green Lake before that but originally I sold them out of my garage, so we are that story that started then.
Amber: Yes, the startup out of the garage.
Lee: There are a lot of glass blowers here in Seattle, mostly because of Dale Chihuly and the whole group of glass blowing at Pilchuck, which is up north. And so luckily for us we have a lot of people to help us with the production of. And we make between 700 and 800 here in the Madrona studio and then we have a big studio in Berkeley where we make the same number.
Amber: So 700 to 800 a day?
Lee: Yeah, a day.
Amber: How many glass blowers does that take?
Lee: 16 per shift. It takes 4 people between 6 and 9 minutes to make each GlassyBaby and they each move around doing different jobs.
Amber: Is it around the clock?
Lee: No, it goes from 7:00 in the morning to 9:30 at night.
Amber: And I noticed – my husband is a brewery person.
Lee: Lucky him.
Amber: So we’re definitely in the you walk into where the product is made but you guys have an element of that at GlassyBaby.
Lee: Yeah, in our Madrona and Berkley stores. We have stores elsewhere, but in both those places those are our manufacturing sites as well. It’s beautiful; there are very few things that are made by hand anymore, certainly in Downtown Seattle, so it’s really exciting to be part of that and be supporting artists and giving them not just living wages but benefits and making sure that we take care of them as much as they take care of us because they make what we sell. And we’re thrilled that we’re not doing overseas, it means a lot to be made in America here.
Amber: How many actual votives have you made yourself?
Lee: Oh I’m terrible, like 4 or 5. We used to have one in each store but I guess we can’t because we don’t have that many anymore.
Amber: Sure, that makes sense. So obviously you sell product and it has a very big giving aspect that you addressed shortly just before this; I would love to know more about the 10% that you guys give.
Lee: We do something very uniquely at GlassyBaby, we give 10% of revenue away off every single GlassyBaby that leaves the front door. We have 450 partners; I think right now we’re trying to cut them back just a little bit to just a few less, but we have wonderful partners. At our airport store we give to the inflight services that take cancer patients around the country for treatments and then we support animals, we support the environment; anything the makes the world a better place or helps people heal is really our sweet spot.
Amber: And that is because – I would love for you to tell our audience about the story of how you unintentionally came up with the idea and founded GlassyBaby.
Lee: I’m not sure if it was an idea really but I was in the middle of chemo rooms – I had lung cancer – and I had 3 young children at the time and someone made a little hand-blown vessel and it was sitting on the kitchen counter with all the stuff you have on your kitchen counter. Oftentimes we have candles out there, so I was dropping tea lights into votives and I dropped one into this little colored cup and it lit up. It lit up the way GlassyBaby light up. And it was beautiful and it was definitely something that had an impact immediately on me. It kind of just made me stop and take a deep breath and recognize that in order to do anything well, or to get well, you need to just take a moment and breathe deeply and center. and that was the impact it had on me immediately.
And so at that point I was in chemo rooms a lot, a lot of the people I had chemo with didn’t return – that was kind of the name of the game in those rooms – and at the same time I had everything I needed. I had help and I had family and friends and food and oftentimes people have to choose between getting well and staying functioning; paying bills and taking care of the children and making sure there’s food on the table, basic survival and I had never really had that inkling.
And so it was important to me when I discovered that to try to figure how to make that difference in peoples’ lives. Not cancer research but really just that healing place; how do people get a hot meal? How do people get money for parking, it’s $16.00 an hour? These are not small; these are insurmountable obstacles for a lot of people going through cancer. So at the same time I dropped the candle in the little tea light thing and then I was going through chemo rooms, it just came together that maybe some people would feel the same way about the little experience I had and maybe I could just sell it and try to figure out how to help people along the way. And so the very first GlassyBaby unit we sold we gave 10% away.
Amber: The very first one?
Lee: The very first ones right out of my garage. So it’s always been our motto, we didn’t come up with it afterwards. We’re mission-based because of the authenticity of the beginnings of the story of GlassyBaby, but keeping it going is really challenging and it’s getting harder as we give more money away, and it’s also getting more exciting. We’re getting a really professional team into GlassyBaby, which is really great for me because I am absolutely not a great business person, I’m all heart.
Amber: That’s why we surround ourselves with people that can help us with our weaknesses.
Lee: That’s right. So finally I think we’re at that stage where we’re going to be able to really grow and make the difference that we want to make in people’s lives that truly are choosing between a hot meal and a bus ticket.
Amber: That sounds great. What would your advice be to someone that may be going through the rough spot right now that, you know, a lot of uncertainty; what would you tell them?
Lee: I think that people just need to remember that that’s real and that you can’t ever understand cancer unless it’s you. Just remember that everyone that loves you loves you so much but you need to also surround yourself with people who also are in battle because no one knows what it’s like to go through cancer unless you’re going through it, I think it’s just one of those things.
So one of the big things to do is really just make sure you have a support system that includes people who have been through or are going through at the same time so that you’re not constantly having to explain or feel the pressure of the process. Because it’s hard mentally when you’re faced with things that not everyone is face with and it’s not fair to them. It’s not fair to you; it’s not fair to them and so that one of my messages always is to surround yourself a little bit of the time with people who truly understand the language you’re speaking because it really helps you.
Amber: I know you started in Seattle and then you also have some manufacturing in Berkeley, California – did I get that right?
Lee: Yeah you did.
Amber: Awesome. But what is your distribution like as far as is it just local, is it store fronts, is it online? What are the methods that you get it to the people?
Lee: We do service our customers nationally because we have 7 stores in the Washington and Northern California area, but we also bring roadshows around the country. We also do an enormous kind of corporate gift, you can get whatever you want kind of engraved on the side or you can just choose a color by the name. A lot of people – a lot of corporate gifts are around the name and the story and they start collections for their employees and friends and we’ve huge success with that and that’s been great. And then we also are in 4 different cities with Prime Now, which is the 1 to 2 hour delivery part of the Amazon Prime delivery, which is just fantastic for us.
Amber: Oh I know it well.
Lee: Well it’s pretty great. It’s really fantastic and we’re selling tea lights really well off of it and GlassyBaby, but it’s interesting to see what’s happening with that partnership. We hope to be national soon.
Amber: So you’ve got a lot of new marketing efforts going on; what are some of the things that you’re doing now?
Lee: Well we started to share a lot more on Facebook and Instagram. We share people’s stories, we share how our products are made which is actually really interesting, a lot of people don’t know anything about glass blowing.
Amber: It’s super visual.
Lee: It’s really hard. Unlike painting you can go back, once you’ve made something in glass it’s in glass and so it’s a very difficult art form. But we’re growing a lot in both of those storytelling, social media channels because I think people really like the hear where our money is going; how effective it’s being. This year we’ll give over $2 million away. So it’s really a story, it’s a big story now because a lot of foundations don’t give that kind of money away. So for us it’s really phenomenal to watch our audience grow around what we’re actually giving and it helps reinforce the authenticity of our story and of the fact that we do give 10% of revenue back.
Amber: You have one product that you sell, how have you been successful for 17 years with literally one single product?
Lee: People say that to me all the time and what I say is we have 400 different colors of one thing and we offer between 150 and 175 at a time. Every single time you mix two together it’s a different product; you mix three of them is a different product. And when you line up 11 of the same color and put a tea light in them, because of the way they’re handmade by a lot of different people at a lot of different times, they all light differently. So we actually make millions of very unique and very individual products that all look the same as they present but they’re actually very different and very individual.
And I also think that 99% of what GlassyBaby is is a community around kindness and around kind of trying to do something different and I think that people love that. There’s nothing like walking into a beautiful, clean, white GlassyBaby store full of colors and all you have to do is choose one. You can never be wrong; you can’t ever give anyone a wrong color, there’s no such thing. They all satisfy, they all stand up to all kinds of abuse, dishwasher included and I think that in our world of crazy communication and crazy intense processes and store experiences, certainly shopping experiences, we are uniquely situated for someone who just wants to do it differently. And wants to participate in the community and also have the experience of going in and choosing a color rather than having to choose an actual product.
Amber: Not being overloaded.
Lee: And it’s addicting. Even now, 17 years later for me, it’s the most incredible experience to go in and choose a GlassyBaby for someone that I know and love.
Amber: If you go to the store and watch them being made you’ll see the birth of a GlassyBaby.
Lee: Exactly. Thank you.
Amber: On that note.
Lee: Thank you.
Amber: You’re welcome.
Lee: It’s a pleasure.
Amber: Once again this is BusinessMakers USA, I’m Amber Ambrose, and thank you once again for joining us Lee Rhodes of GlassyBaby.
Lee: Thank you for having me.
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