See it to believe it.

In this episode of Building While Flying, we talk with Jacquelyn Rodgers, Founder of Greentop Gifts. Greentop Gifts is a gift wrap and apparel brand that brings diversity to celebrations by featuring diverse faces and characters in their products and designs. Jacquelyn originally started Greentop Gifts in 2016 for her son, but as interest grew, she took the opportunity to pursue it further. 

My only regret is that I didn’t quit sooner, because it was the best decision I could have made.

Jacquelyn RodgersFounder, Greentop Gifts

Transcription

Speaker 1 (00:00):

Welcome to building while flying a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.

Julia Balick (00:11):

Hello, we are back on the building while flying podcast. This week, Maribel speaks with Jacquelyn Rogers, founder of Greentop gifts. Growing up, Jacquelyn remembers that her mother put Chris put Christmas trees in every corner of their house, painting angels and Santa figurines to look like their family for the holidays. They created memories from those moments and those memories are part of the inspiration behind green top gifts.

Julia Balick (00:38):

Greentop gifts brings diversity to your celebrations with apparel, home decor and stationary. They began in 2016 making Christmas products solely for their two year old son, and then continued to spread joy to thousands of other households across the us, expanding to other holidays and special celebrations. Their products have been featured on NBC news, people magazine and the Oprah magazine Maribel. I knew immediately when we got connected to Jacquelyn that I wanted you to speak with her. Um, I feel like her values and the root of green top gifts is so special and something we don’t come across every day in our work work. Maybe talk a little bit about what stood out to you about Jackie and, and green top gifts and, and what it means to you.

Maribel Lara (01:33):

Yeah. Um, I think what’s really special about what Jackie and her husband have created is that, um, it speaks to an emotional need, right? Um, we are living in a time and space where, um, there’s lots of conversations about people feeling included, right. And, and people feeling seen, and that is at the heart of what Jackie created. Right. We have products and services up the Wazu that meet all of our needs, but they’re not necessarily represented of like all of the different, you know, facets of identity that exist in society. And at our core as humans we strive to feel seen. Right. Um, and so, you know, it’s such a simple thing to want to, you know, see a character in a movie, in a cartoon that you feel a little connected to. Right. Um, we like, it’s just a, it’s just a human need.

Maribel Lara (02:45):

Um, and so she saw that, right? Like she wanted her son to have Santa wrapping paper where Santa looked like somebody in his family. Right. Like somebody like, you know, who he could almost see himself in. Right. Like when, when we see ourselves like physically in the people, around us, in the characters around us, like it creates the sense of aspiration of like, oh, you know, like I wanna embody some of those traits. Um, and so it was really like poignant special and not surprisingly something that other people wanted to see as well. Right. When she started to have those conversations, it was sort of a like, oh my gosh, yes. Like I’ve had that thought too, like, please do that. And please let me partake of that as well. So, um, that’s what makes it so special and that, to me, like what made it such an incredible conversation and, um, I’m excited for people to see like how she went about doing it. Cause you don’t just like overnight, <laugh> figure out how to do this thing that like isn’t even in your wheelhouse. Um, and then how she expanded on that concept.

Julia Balick (03:58):

Definitely. Yeah. I feel like something we discuss a lot is anybody can have an idea, but it’s, it’s that person who recognizes this is a gap and then goes for it and Jacqueline really went for it. And I’m so happy that it’s taken off. And I feel like it’s only onwards upwards from here. Um, well, let’s not keep our listeners waiting. Let’s dive into Jackie’s episode with Maribel,

Maribel Lara (04:28):

Jacquelyn. Thank you so much for joining us on the building while flying podcast. I’m super excited to have this conversation with you. So, um, getting to know your background from our producer was my introduction to green top gifts. And I’m telling you I’m gonna be buying from here on in. So for our listeners who may not know, um, the story behind green top gifts, or know of you personally give us the highlights.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (04:53):

Sure. Thanks so much for having me. Um, green top gifts really started with my son. I had him in 2014 and my mom growing up up always made sure we had, you know, paper or angels or Easter bunnies. Everything looked like our family in our house. So growing up, it was always a party. And my mom was really intentional to make sure we saw images that looked like us even in Santa Claus. Right. And so when I had my son, I started to look for products like that for to share those moments with him, couldn’t find in stores, looked all over and realized, okay, we are not being serviced. There’s a void here in the market and I’m gonna go to Kinko’s or FedEx and figure it out and make some for myself. And that kind of turned into a business. And then that turned into two pallets of paper being delivered to my garage. <laugh> and then it’s, it really grew from there, but that is what started it.

Maribel Lara (05:46):

So you created a product, right? Green top gift started with your creation of a product in a category that you weren’t experienced in it wasn’t like you were working for a gift wrap company and you were like, I see an opportunity to design my own and here I go. So I would imagine there was a lot of education that had to happen in probably a speedy amount of time. Like tell us about that process. Like where do you, where did you even know how to start?

Jacquelyn Rodgers (06:12):

You know, I’ll say all the time, Google, I knew I love stationary. I lot tons of stationary. I bought tons of grading cards and wrapping paper, and I love any celebration. You can ask my friends if it’s, if it’s a holiday in a moment, we celebrate it in my house, but I knew nothing about how to manufacture gift rep. And so I got on Google, I found some videos, I learned enough of the terminology to dangerous. Okay. And then I called up some manufacturers and asked about getting some designs done. And a few were like, eh, we don’t do that. And one took a chance on me and I, you know, I, I kind of act like I knew what I talking about and he was going along with it. And he’s like, are you gonna sell this? Are you just gonna give it away? I was like, no, I wanna sell it. And so he was kind enough to be very patient with me and explain the parts that I didn’t get from YouTube. And, uh, from there, I’ve now have learned a ton about the industry and about manufacturing and how it all works. Um, but in the beginning I knew nothing, but I knew what I,

Maribel Lara (07:16):

So you had this vision, you had this vision of, of Clarence clause and what your wrapping paper would look like. You were undergoing this process of creating wrapping paper to sell from the get go where you like, is this something, did you know that this was something you wanted to sell and eventually make into a business that you could transition to working at? Full-time because you were working a full-time job and it’s now, um, this is now your full-time job, as I understand it. And you’re also working with your spouse. Was that the vision from the get go? And if not, like, how did that vision evolve

Jacquelyn Rodgers (07:52):

From the get go is really, I just wanted it for my son. I was gonna like, make it on Photoshop, print it and just write his gets in it. And then my husband has a background in finance. I started talking to friends in a focus group and my friends were all saying, well, if you make whatever you’re making, I think I want to. And so from there I was like, okay, there are other parents that are looking for items like these mm-hmm <affirmative> and who are looking for diversity and representation. And then as I was, you talked to my husband about it and we talked about investing in it. He was like, well, what’s the size of the market. And so once, you know, I said, it was an $8.5 billion industry. Then he was definitely on board at that point. <laugh> um, and working with a spouse to answer your question.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (08:36):

Um, it, I have learned to communicate very effectively and I’ve learned when to cut it off and when to start talking about it. So we, we, we figured out the right times and the wrong times, um, and you know, we’ve been married a long time and I would say that it’s definitely, you learn how to communicate with your spouse when you’re a business with your spouse. Um, and yeah, working my background was in CPG. So I say I double Dutch for a long time. Um, I worked in, you know, in sales and marketing and it’s for some, you know, huge brands I worked for like Nestle and Morris Wrigley. And so I was selling products into large retail stores, but they weren’t my products, obviously they were house names. People were very familiar with and loved. Um, so I use a lot of that experience to help me with growing and scaling, uh, my own company.

Maribel Lara (09:22):

So I don’t wanna just quickly move past that because that can, that decision right there can be tremendously scary. Right. And in my opinion, that decision right there is the thing that differentiates entrepreneurs from folks who are not because you, you had the safety, right. Well, there’s never a hun something that is a hundred percent secure, but you had a significant amount of security in your career. Having been very established, working for large consumer packaged good companies. And you walked away from that. So one to me, that’s the boldness, right? Um, that makes you an entrepreneur. How did you make that decision?

Jacquelyn Rodgers (10:10):

I wrestled with it. I did not come easy. I had worked for my whole life since I could get a work permit, right. Outta high school, I was working and then right outta college, I worked. So for over, you know, 13 years I had a corporate job, you know, I traveled, I had, you know, you had to fly, you had a company car, you had insurance, all those important things. Right. A, a check every two weeks that comes consistently and a bonus. Yeah. Um, and so to give those things up, I struggle with bit, you know, and my husband was like, oh, you know, we have two incomes here. You can quit focus on the business. I think it’ll be good for the business if you focus on it. And I knew in order for partnerships, you know, investors, anyone we working with to take me seriously, I had to commit to the business full time for that to happen.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (10:55):

Um, but it’s one of those things where, you know, so far so, so good. But my day job got a lot busier and the business was growing and I knew for the business to continue to grow. And for me to take part of these opportunities, opportunities, I couldn’t do both. And there were, you know, accelerators and programs for startups, you know, that I wanted to apply for, but I couldn’t do it cuz it was during, you know, working hours. And so once I quit in February of 2020, my only regret is that I didn’t quit sooner because it was the best decision that I could have made. Um, you know, that the year that I quit, yes, it was the beginning of a global pandemic. So that was stressful. Um, but we got great opportunities in partnerships from FedEx and from Google and from the visa and beyonce.com. So all of those things could have never happened. Had I still been working

Maribel Lara (11:44):

Amazing. Um, another thing that I wanna dig into that you called out, right? So your husband had experience in finance and that sounds like it definitely helped to get you asking some really important questions about market size and feasibility, right. And understanding like how you could grow, what revenue could actually look like in building this particular type of business. But it sounds like you also more broadly like reached out into your network. Um, so, um, you’re a member of alpha CAPA, alpha sorority. I UN I understand that love I’m part of a Latina sorority myself. And so I understand how deep those networks and those really family ties can really go. And it sounded like you’ve reached into that network and, and your friend network more broadly, talk a little bit more about that. Cuz I, you know, I, again, of the decisions that entrepreneurs make or that people who are starting businesses can make, you know, you can decide I’m gonna go on this on my own and I’m not gonna bring other people in. Um, or you can decide to pull people in to support you on that journey. And it sounds like you took that path. So talk to us a little bit about that.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (12:52):

Yes, definitely. I say our network played such a role under the launch of our company. Um, obviously like you mentioned, sorority sisters, my dear friend, and one of my sorority sisters, um, helped me with PR when we first launched. Cause I couldn’t afford PR. Um, so she helped me to write the press releases to pitch us for projects. And that was a, you know, a great help to us. Uh, lot of, a lot of friends and college classmates that did focus groups for us and sorority sisters and moms to understand, okay, what’s the cost for this products here? What are you looking for? What’s the price point you wanna pay? What other products do you want? So a lot of focus groups with them, um, you know, our attorney, he went to an H B, C U with my husband. Um, we, we do a lot of work with H B C U students that are current students with, um, having them as brand ambassadors, during homecoming to get our products and our get out to our audience kind of build brand awareness. So our network, our, especially our H B C U network really played a large part in our business. And I’m so thankful for it because they shared it with others. I won’t say our first launch went viral, but people shared the video and the excitement from it. It really helped to get the word out. So they played a big part for sure.

Maribel Lara (14:05):

Well, and I’m gonna give you credit there, right? Because networks don’t just appear like we have to foster them. We have to build to them. We have to be willing to ask for their support. The other reason I think you deserve tremendous credit is you didn’t just think about launching a product. Like you were meeting a real need. You were meeting a need for a community and people, people were passionate about it, right? Like people were willing to support you. I would imagine I’m putting myself in their shoes. Right? Like we support people who are building brands that mean something to us and mean more than just a transaction or just a particular item. Um, and so that really, that leads me to my next question, which is, um, right on your website and some of the content that I’ve seen you talk about green top gifts, bringing diversity to celebrations.

Maribel Lara (14:56):

Um, and I think you do so much more than that, right? I think you bring a sense of belonging to people, um, especially children who to rarely get to see themselves reflected, um, in their, their ethnicity, their culture. Um, right. Um, we just don’t all see that around us. Right. Or we just see it in spurts. Um, and so this greater purpose, in my opinion shines through and everything you do, like every interview of yours that I’ve watched. Like it, that just seems so clear. I feel like that can be an inspiration, can be really intimidating. What is it for you?

Jacquelyn Rodgers (15:35):

For me, I would say it’s an inspiration, but there are moments where it can also be intimidating. Um, for me, I want children that don’t see themselves to see themselves. If you walk down the aisles, you know, they’re not different skin tones, they’re not shades. There’s not a lot of difference in the hair texture. And when we work with illustrators on designing this products, there are lots of calls about just hair. Like, okay, well what does this hair look like? Is it curly enough? Is it the right length? Is there enough texture? Is it the color? Right. Um, skin tones to make sure that there’s diversity in the skin tones, if it’s a gap in the teeth, if it’s freckles it important, I think for children to see images that look like them so they can connect with them as a source of self pride.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (16:19):

And I love when I hear from people that tell us, oh, my daughter saw this in diversity. She said, is mommy, that looks like me. Or he has, you know, locks like me. And so hearing children, seeing that, having that self self-reflection and that source of self pride is so important. It’s a huge part about the products that we are creating. Um, but it’s also tricky because we wanna make sure that we do it in a really authentic way. And as we’ve expanded and have products that feature children that are Latina, or they are, you know, um, Indian, uh, you like for Chinese, excuse me for, um, lunar new year, we did, you know, a, a post and talked about that and, you know, going through reviewing it quality control, making sure it’s right, because cancels culture is so real. Right. And so you don’t wanna ever offend someone.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (17:06):

You wanna make sure that it’s authentic and it’s, um, bringing its, uh, representation and celebrating their culture and other people’s cultures as well. And so that part does give me a lot of anxiousness because we wanna do it in a really, a really authentic, honest way and bring, um, awareness to people so the kids can understand it. And our household is super important. I’m always talking to my kids about other moments and other families, traditions, um, cuz I think that’s what builds children to have this acceptance and understanding of other people and what they experience and what they celebrate in their homes.

Maribel Lara (17:39):

They are tough waters to navigate, but so incredibly important waters to navigate because if we don’t have these conversations, like we don’t move forward as a society, right? Like it’s so important for us to have these tough conversations for our kids to learn from them. Right. For us to learn from them. Um, like I, I’m such a big fan of what you’re doing, right? Like I’m a grown woman about to be 45 years old and it still brings me to tears. I see characters on screen that remind me of my own upbringing. Right. Like I can still count on fig fingers, how often those op how often I see those images in a given year mm-hmm <affirmative> even right. Like, and, and so, um, I recognize that not all of our listeners will connect with that personally. So I hope that these types of stories also help them see the other side of it.

Maribel Lara (18:32):

Right. Like it’s just like, if you’ve never had to think about that, then that is a privilege to never have had to think about like, not seeing people who look like you or, or families that represent the things that your family like celebrated. Um, so thank you. On behalf of folks who haven’t always been seen, um, you talked about how difficult it is, right? Like, uh, we, you know, in terms of like critique, it’s very right. Like it’s, it’s just so common, right. People will be like, this is great, but right. Like why didn’t you X, Y, N, Z. And, and I did hear an interview with you where you talked about like how hard it is to not take that personally, because you know, this is, this was a personal project, this was a passion project. This was your creation of something to fill a void for you or family. Um, and for your extended family and friends, how have you, like, what’s the balance? What does that look like now? Because right. Cuz critique can also be in an incredibly powerful thing. Like feedback can be so important as you develop a brand as you developed new product offerings or improve existing product offerings. So how do you manage that? Now?

Jacquelyn Rodgers (19:43):

I managed a lot better in year six than I did in year one. Um, you know, when you have a startup, it’s your baby, your business is like, it says your art is the something that you hold dear and you’ve invested your time and your money. You know? So for me in the beginning I took everything personally and I would be so upset or so worried if somebody’s ordered it. And if it wasn’t exactly what they wanted or if it didn’t arrive on time or if they just didn’t like it or they didn’t like the quality and I would take it to heart. And then I learned to like dial back, don’t look at reviews every day we get them. I don’t dive into them every day. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Um, and there’s a customer service team now, so I don’t know having responding to customer service.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (20:21):

Um, but for the most part, I would say the good, always the bad people definitely tell us, you know, I haven’t seen anything like this, my children connect with it. Um, they’re so excited to have it. I’m a parent, I’m looking for the representation or I’ve adopted a child of color or, and they I’ve looked for, I’m looking for this stuff. Now I’m a grandparent. So hearing those things definitely are encouraging, but you know, you also have to take some of the feedback. Our customers wanted a larger role of paper. And so we answer that need, you know, um, there are always things, they want new product, they wanna see different things. And um, so some of the feedback is good and then some of it is just, you know, you can’t please, everyone. Everyone’s not always happy. Um, and I also have learned that I can’t serve every, some people are just not my customer. So I think it comes with time.

Maribel Lara (21:11):

Amazing. Um, so it’s been six years since you started this journey. Um, I, I didn’t give you this question in prep, but uh, I don’t think I’ll be stumping you here. Like how, how has this changed things for your family? Right. Like I would imagine, um, for children to see parents building something from the ground up and something that’s so personal can be so empowering, like what a wonderful lesson. So, so what does this mean for your family?

Jacquelyn Rodgers (21:39):

Uh, it is so important for our family. My father was an entrepreneur. He, you know, worked for himself his whole life. Um, my grandfather was an entre. So, um, coming from that and now being able to share those moments with my own children, it brings me so much joy, um, kind of keeping on our family legacy of entrepreneurship. Um, my grandfather had a restaurant bar called green top and that’s kind of how we came up with the name of paying Amish, him and our family started entrepreneurship. So it was a place to celebr in our community. Obviously I didn’t get to go to it cuz it’s a long time ago. Um, so for me it’s so important because my children get to see it firsthand. You know, my dad took me to every meeting and every zoning court, wherever he went in his entrepreneurship journey, he took me along and it really helped me to see all the things he did and a workings and how hard he worked.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (22:29):

Um, and now my son is seven and he asked me every day when he comes home, I mean, what did we sell today? Um, and so he’s totally into it. And he understands that we have a business on a website. And I think that also comes from me dragging him to the warehouse or him going with me to see, you know, the stuff being, putting in production or picking up stuff. You know, when I tell him at night, okay, you have to go to bed. Cuz I have a call with China and I have to talk to people <laugh> so he’s always listening and understanding. And my three year old thinks, anytime I am on my phone, if it’s, if I’m recording her, she thinks she’s on Instagram live. She’s like, hi green top. So it it’s hilarious. <laugh>

Maribel Lara (23:08):

Amazing. So what’s next? What do we need to keep our be on the lookout? Um, in terms of what’s coming next for green top gifts,

Jacquelyn Rodgers (23:16):

We have some exciting partnerships, uh, that I cannot talk about yet, but the inks almost dry on the contracts, uh, that are coming up. So there’s a lot of fun partnerships in the back half of the year. Um, and some places that you, you can shop us, that’ll be new and I can’t wait to, to email and share those with you soon. Um, so, but for right now on our site, we do have all of our baby shower products. That’s kind of the last thing that we just launched and I’m super excited about those. So there’s some new stuff coming down the pipeline.

Maribel Lara (23:47):

All right. So we’re gonna have to have you back on to talk about those new announcements once they’re public and we can celebrate them. Uh, but I think it’s a really good, um, example of how like things are always changing, right? Where the business and how quickly things can change. So next time we you’re gonna have so much more to talk about.

Jacquelyn Rodgers (24:07):

Yes, can’t wait to talk about it.

Maribel Lara (24:09):

<laugh> amazing. Uh, Jacqueline, this has been fabulous. It’s been really wonderful. Um, to get to know you a little bit better, I did not know the story about the name green top gifts. And so I’m gonna tell you to share that more, uh, so much opportunity for you to share that and content and on your website, cuz um, like I saw the information about your dad being an entrepreneur, but the, the connection to the name. Yeah. Talk about that more. I think that’s a wonderful, um, homage to your dad and, and to have him grown up in an entrepreneurial household. So thank you for sharing that piece with us. Of

Jacquelyn Rodgers (24:43):

Course. Thank you.

Maribel Lara (24:45):

All right. Um, everyone like go check out green top gifts, learn more about Jacqueline and let’s stay tuned for all the exciting updates that are coming.

Speaker 1 (24:56):

Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Speaker 6 (25:08):

If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode and if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building while flying across brands, businesses, marketing and more

Speaker 1 (25:22):

Original music by Fulton street music group.

 

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Bringing Diversity to your Celebrations. 

In this episode of Building While Flying, we talk with Jacquelyn Rodgers, Founder of Greentop Gifts. Greentop Gifts is a gift wrap and apparel brand that brings diversity to celebrations by featuring diverse faces and characters in their products and designs. Jacquelyn originally started Greentop Gifts in 2016 for her son, but as interest grew, she took the opportunity to pursue it further. 

Other in-flight topics:

  • How Greentop Gifts was started (and what it’s named after)
  • Working with your spouse
  • Strength of networks
  • Deciding to leave a full-time job
  • Meeting a need within a community
  • Importance of representation
  • How to handle feedback about your product
  • …and more!

Links | Connect with Jacquelyn 

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA