In the fall of 2016, I was a freshman at East Carolina University majoring in Interior Design. I had a hobby of calligraphy and crafting, but I never thought my passion would become a business. I made gifts for friends and family with my crafty skills and decided to make an Etsy shop called “TDHDesign” in December of 2016. The shop sold vinyl decals with my lettering on them. I would make and ship orders from my dorm room with the help of my now-husband, Nick. There were storage bins in my dorm closet filled with supplies and machines stores under my bed to make it all happen. Needless to say I'm lucky I had an understanding roomie when I needed to crank out orders on the floor in our room! As people found out about my new business I quickly became known as “sticker girl” around campus, selling my decals in front of the Dowdy Student Store at ECU.
By May my Etsy shop TDHDesign had 500 sales. Over the summer of 2017, I continued to expand the business's product line. When I decided to start selling more than just decals, my first thought was gift boxes. I designed and launched “Bridesmaid Proposal Boxes” in June that summer and they took off. I saw the numbers and knew I was on the something. I called ECU and changed my major from interior design to business that same month and decided to pursue the business as a long-term career.
Come Fall of 2017, Nick and I were back at ECU, and while walking on campus saw a sign for the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge. The Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge (PEC) is ECU's signature business pitch competition, kind of like Shark Tank. We didn’t know anything about how to pitch our business, but we decided to enter anyway. On the day of the first round of the competition, TDHDesign became Simple & Sentimental. As the we proceeded through the inaugural three round pitch competition, we made it to the final round. In February of 2018, Simple & Sentimental walked away with 1st place and seed capital to invest in the business. The craziest part- the night before the final round, I had entered another pitch competition to practice for the Pirate Challenge the following night. We won first place in that competition too, taking home another first place win less than 24 hours before the PEC. Over the course of 24 hours, Simple & Sentimental received over $18,000 to kickstart the business.
By April of 2018, the funds were used to sign a lease on a new office space in an incubator in Greenville and hire our first 3 employees. One month later we expanded the office to keep up with orders. Engagement boxes and gifts became a staple for S&S. Christmas season came along before we knew it, and the volume was more than we could have ever imagined. In November, we expanded again to 2,600 square feet to allow for higher order capacity. Simple & Sentimental quadrupled its revenue from 2017 to 2018. The investment and mentorship from the PEC and Uptown Greenville and hard work from the S&S team made that possible.
In early 2019 the S&S team moved into our first office outside of the business incubator and hired our first full-time employee. We signed the lease, renovated a little, and moved in by March. At the time we had 4 part-time employees, 1 full-time employee, and Nick and myself. Nick and I were students at ECU at the time. Those were two big moves for us especially still being in college. It's crazy to think we had to skip class to go to our own ribbon cutting! In true S&S fashion, Nick and I both graduated college, got married, and started working full-time together at S&S all in 2019. We like to do things all at once if you can't tell, whether it's scaling a business while in college or saying "I do" the same month as graduation. It can be stressful at times, but we wouldn't have it any other way.
A few short years later, Simple & Sentimental is now known online for our personalized gifts, most notably our gift boxes, tumblers, and cake decorations. I strive daily to create a company that serves our customers well, but also a great place for our team to work that gives back to our community.
It wasn't easy, but nothing worth doing is. I hope our story encourages you to persevere through times of trial, motivated by what might be on the other side. No matter what, we always try to have a positive outlook even in the most grim of situations.
If you enjoyed our story and want a more detailed version, click the link below to be taken to my personal website where I have a more in-depth post on our story with lots of photos!more s&S story