Welcome to Behind the Box, our interview series to introduce you to exciting sellers on the Cratejoy Marketplace! Each of these small businesses has a unique, important story to tell, and we’re eager to help spread the word.
Today, we sat down with Dane, the founder of Celebrate States, a subscription box to “travel” the United States with local foods, artisan goods, and more from one featured state each month! Learn more about what inspired Dane to launch Celebrate States below.
Tell us your story! What were you doing before you started your business, and what inspired you to launch your box?
I started my career as a teacher of special education students. My undergrad is in emotional behavior disorders and my M.Ed. is in Visual Impairment. Later, I worked with English Language Learners. I left teaching to work on for a non-profit educational materials provider, consulting with schools to help them choose curriculum. Currently, I still work with a non-profit in the area of college and career readiness, helping students, mostly the underserved population, to become college- and career-ready.
As a former educator, I realized how many of my students had never traveled out of the small town they lived in. Even being 30 minutes from Atlanta, many had never even been to the city, much less seen a beach or the mountains. Their only view of different cities and states came from the T.V. and movies. On a personal level, I am an avid traveler and have traveled the U.S. working with school districts in many different states. I love going to local markets and fairs where small businesses sell their handmade goods. From all of these experiences I had the idea of, what if I could create a box that allowed individuals and families to "travel" to different states?
I knew there must be a fun, educational component to any box I created, but also one of value for the products within the box. We all know how important it is to shop local and to support our small businesses. What is more fun than a box that "celebrates" states and local businesses in those states? Living now in Florida, I decided to start with my home state. What types of products are natural to Florida? I found teas, honey, and goat’s milk products all over the state! The process of finding the best small business products for my box really opened my eyes to just how much goodness is in Florida!
Now four states in, I am delighted every day doing this work and meeting and learning from all the artisans, food producers, and craftspersons in the different states. My goal with the Celebrate States boxes is to provide my subscribers with items and information that they may not know existed in the state. I don't put in the "typical" items you expect. You won't see much about theme parks and places everyone knows exists. I really try to bring to my subscribers a U.S. state box that helps them see the people and the heart of each state, not what their preconceived notion about a state might be. Each box includes fun items for kids to learn geography and some even include a treat for the family pet. Each box is customized by a quiz at checkout.
As my business is growing, I still get to know each of my subscribers. Recently, I had a subscriber with a visual impairment. So, I created a product card with large print and a sharp contrast––black font on bright yellow paper––so they could easily read about the small businesses in my box, just like everyone else. This is the level of service I aim to give to each of my subscribers. I also have some gluten-free and nut-free subscribers so I search out items specifically for them. I love every minute of the special touches I create so that my subscribers have the ultimate experience that was created just for them!
Why this subscription box –– and why now?
Now is the perfect time for a subscription box that allows people the opportunity to "travel" without leaving their home. My subscribers get to experience travel information and receive a mix of lifestyle products from small businesses. Celebrate States answers the needs for families and individuals that aren't able to travel (either due to the pandemic, or other reasons) but want to experience and learn about other places in the U.S. Many of my subscribers tell me they subscribed because they can't travel right now, but plan to take a vacation in the future, and this box is helping them determine where they want to go and what they want to see when things open up again!
How do you decide what goes into the box for your customers? Where do you source your products from?
First, I map out my states for each month. For the Florida box, since I live here, I visited outdoor markets, researched through Etsy and other sites, and personally met with each of the business owners for that box (some in person and others by phone). I also look online for fun interactive educational items.
For the Nevada box, we took a fun short vacation to Nevada to really get the feel for the state and what it had to offer. I researched online for handmade products. Many states have websites where they promote local businesses, and I found many on there. For North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, we took an extended weekend road trip. We traveled across the three states collecting travel information and visiting small markets that carried local goods. I really like to visit each state before I put out a box [to] feel the heart and soul of that state. Also, as I have become friends with different small business owners, they have connected me with other quality small business owners across the U.S.
For most of the small businesses I use, I order samples from them, and my family will try each of the items to determine if we like the item and if the branding and packaging match the look we want. Then I contact the owner and get to know them. I find out their "story" and how they came about making the item that I am purchasing for my box. It is extremely time-consuming, as I have to have multiple different products to customize for my subscribers, but it is actually my favorite part of this business.
What are some things that you’d like readers to know?
At Celebrate States, we really do care that our subscribers have a one-of-a-kind experience that feels customized for them with each box. Also that, by subscribing to our boxes, they are supporting small businesses across the U.S.