It’s Christmas all year round for The Ornament Girl, Staci Ann Lowry, who turned an old-fashioned hobby into a business creating handmade, no-sew, fabric-covered ornaments.

No one is more surprised than Lowry, whose journey began when she was 15 and her mother taught her how to take fabric scraps and pinch, fold, and pin them into quilt-like designs around foam balls. The ornaments look complicated, but are deceptively easy to make, says Lowry.

Not so easy was turning her hobby into a business.

The seed of Lowry’s business began with her early efforts to sell her handmade ornaments on eBay, and has slowly grown to an enterprise that now employs 10 people and has expanded to include patterns, kits, and more.

The Ornament Girl has come a long way, despite having no business plan and a learning curve with more ups and downs than a rollercoaster.

The Ornament Girl, Staci Ann Lowry.

Photo courtesy of Staci Ann Lowry

“I started making ornaments just for fun,” Lowry says. People liked them, and around 2004, when her late husband was in the Marines “and we were broke,” she listed some of her handiwork on eBay “to try to make a little extra money.”

She listed her first ornament for $6.83 and had one bid. She listed a few more and, much to her surprise, more people were bidding, and asking for more.

She sold more and more ornaments as Christmas drew near, “but then sales would fall off. Also, I had a lot to learn about selling online, including finding a better payment system than using PayPal.”

Monthly ornament kits come in a variety of colors and patterns, including the snow globe pattern such as the cardinal ornament or the pinwheel pattern.

Photo courtesy of Staci Ann Lowry

Her husband’s 2007 death in a motorcycle accident upped the urgency to create a business, since she had two children, then 7 and 3, to support. 

She set up a website and a blog, did a lot of social media outreach, and by early 2012 or so her blog was picking up momentum. When her ornaments were featured in a few magazines, including Southern Lady and The Quilter, people began asking how she made them, especially how she managed to get such straight lines and beautiful design symmetry in the quilted patterns.

“At first, I worried that if I taught others to do this I’d put myself out of business,” she says. “But it was just the opposite.” So she started selling patterns as well as kits that came with all the necessary materials: a foam ball for the ornament base, pins, pre-cut fabric, and detailed instructions.

Again, there was that high learning curve. “I had to learn not only how to write clear instructions, but I had to learn how to deliver them,” she explains. “I made PDFs for the first patterns. If people wanted the pattern, they emailed me and I sent the instructions.”

Staci Ann Lowry working in her Florida studio prepping kits for Ornament Girl monthly kits.

Photo courtesy of Staci Ann Lowry

Much to her surprise “we sold a couple hundred patterns in one afternoon. I spent the rest of the day individually emailing the pattern to everyone who ordered. This was before I knew about automated digital downloads and I thought, ‘there has to be an easier way.’”

The next evolutionary step was to figure out how to progress from a mostly seasonal business to something that sold year-round.

“Even as the business was growing, it was feast or famine because it was seasonal,” Lowry says. “I wanted to make it more consistent. I thought of doing an ornament-of-the-month club, but wasn’t sure it would work. I posted the first kit in November 2015. It sold out in a few hours. I had made 250 kits and sold 340. I rushed to make another 100 or so kits. I had to run around to retail stores, trying to find extra material.”

Amid the rush to get that kit out, she realized she still had to create the December kit. “The first months were hairy. I didn’t think it through. I dove in head first and was not prepared.”

And she was still using that dang PayPal button, “which was OK when it was just a few people ordering” but inefficient from a business standpoint. “I had a lot to learn about selling online.”

She took some online business classes, read some books, learned about payment options, automated digital downloads, video tutorials, and more. “I made mistakes as I started growing. I didn’t plan for the growth (in orders). But I didn’t beat myself up over mistakes. I just went back and fixed them.”

She decided on a kit-of-the-month membership model and limited membership to the number of kits she felt she could produce each month. “We make our kits completely by hand,” she explains. “I have a small team, just two other gals and myself, cutting and preparing the fabric and embellishments for each kit.”  

Last year, the gold and white enchanted pumpkin kit and the tropical pineapple kits above were her top sellers. 

Photo courtesy of Staci Ann Lowry

Her Ornament Girls Club offers two options: a $29 a month VIP membership, which includes a complete ornament-making kit with all the needed materials, plus instructions, video access, shipping, even a private Facebook page, which now boasts about 2,000 members. The $13 digital membership offers all the perks except the kit. Her website also offers individual, pre-made ornaments, patterns, supplies, and more.

These pretty baubles are not just for Christmas anymore, either. There are ornaments for Easter, Halloween, and special events, such as breast cancer awareness. While she usually offers four or so traditional Christmas ornaments during the year, her best sellers in 2018 were a gold and white pumpkin-shaped ornament, and a summer pineapple design.

Offering digital downloads of patterns, instructions, and video tutorials was a game changer for Lowry. “My instructions are in-depth, and full of big, top-notch, step-by-step photos,” she explains. “They are more than just instructions – they are full-on eBooks. Providing them digitally means I can make them as in-depth as possible without huge printing costs. I can also make the instructions specific to each ornament, which would be impossible to do on a monthly basis if I was having them printed. Plus, they would be insanely expensive.”

Lowry has come a long way since those early eBay days. “I still don’t have a written business plan but I’ve become more strategic in planning,” such as sourcing and buying material way ahead of her needs. Also, she has hired people to help with other aspects of the business, including bookkeeping, payroll, even some production and design.

In fact, she says with a laugh, she has evolved “from trying to figure out how do I grow this to make the most revenue, to how do I make it sustainable, to how do I not work all the time. In the beginning, it was all about ‘how can I make more money, how can I make this work?’ Then it became, ‘I’m making money but I’m not sleeping.’”

“I’m constantly working on that (life/work) balance.”

Yes, the Ornament Girl has come a long way.

Lowry offers complete kits (including fabric, pins, instructions, video access and more. Those wanting to use their own fabric can order just the digitally offered patterns and instructions.

Photo courtesy of Staci Ann Lowry

It’s Always Christmas for the Ornament Girl
Roberta G. Wax

Roberta G. Wax

contributor

Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader.   www.creativeunblock.com

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