Who said a bar of soap can’t be personal? Not Dawn and Mike Lancaster, that’s for sure. The couple always wanted their own business, Dawn Lancaster said. Initially the dream was to own a sign shop.
However, about 10 years ago, after a conversation about that sign shop with a friend, the idea came up to carve names into soap. “It seemed like a silly thing, but one thing led to another, and Mike made a mockup of what the soap would look like,” Dawn Lancaster told Gifts and Decorative Accessories. “We created a personalized bar of soap, and the recipient loved it.”
|Carved Solutions uses their proprietary personalization technology on a variety of materials.|
It all started with a dream and a bar of soap, still the company’s best-selling category.
At the start of Carved Solutions in 2006, Mike was an engineer and Dawn was in business development. As such, they were surprised by that gift recipient’s reaction. In Mike’s position as an engineer building multi-million dollar machinery, the response from a custom gift was much better validation than the more stern “this better work” response he was getting in his job. So, he put his engineering skills to work and created proprietary equipment to engrave soap, and then candles, and now products across many categories, including glassware, plastic dinnerware, unbreakable beverageware and wood carving boards, signs and serving spoons, to name a few of the categories the company has entered.
The Lancasters incorporated Carved Solutions on Valentine’s Day 2006, 20 years after their very first date, and they moonlighted through the fall of 2008, just the two of them, personalizing soap. They put up a website— after much trial and error—and set about learning SEO and Google analytics to get their company and products out to the masses. They also hit the tradeshow circuit to promote Carved Solutions and its personalized soap.
In the beginning, Mike continued in his engineering job. Orders were really beginning to come in steadily, Dawn Lancaster said. It was becoming difficult to keep up with orders, and one day, Mike came home and said he’d quit his job. Dawn knew it was time to really step on the gas. “I had quit my job already. His was our only source of income, our health insurance, but that was the start of us being in business full time together,” she said.
Fortunately, the orders continued to roll in, so family rushed in to help through the holidays. There were 10 employees working out of the Lancaster house seven days a week. Eventually those employees were living in the house because it was too dangerous to travel in Vermont in the winter. “Our house was totally taken over by the business,” Lancaster said. “Our neighbors’ garages were filled with inventory.”
Because all products are personalized, the holiday season was critical for Carved Solutions. As they began to grow, the Lancasters realized they were not the first to create something like this, so they decided that theirs would be top quality.
Camp signs are one of the newer items in the lineup.
|Mike and Dawn Lancaster, founders of the company, with their dog, Shadow.|
They also committed to stellar client care. To this day, turnaround time for Carved Solutions personalized products is 24 to 48 hours. The Lancasters also offered versatile personalization options, such as monograms, names, initials, logos and graphics.
The company’s dedication to quality and service paid off for Carved Solutions, Dawn said, and by 2010, the company was bursting at the seams.
“In 2010, we knew it was time to move the business out of the house,” Dawn said. “Our employees [who were or had become family] wanted one last season though. It was amazing.”
After that last Christmas, it was time to move, so the Lancasters subleased space to get a handle on their needs. “Subleasing was not for us,” Dawn said. “You can’t bring your personality into the building. We think about how lights and music affect us.”
So they moved again, to the 7,000-sq.-ft. warehouse they now inhabit. “It’s great to be in our own area. It allows us to be ourselves and grow without any hindrance,” Dawn said.
That’s important to the Lancasters who, early on, decided that behaviors they didn’t like in their previous careers would not make it into the Carved Solutions culture. “We were doing something different. Employees are really loved here,” Lancaster said.
|Employees are treated like family. Claudette Jarvis handles fulfillment and quality control; Brian Bothwell is senior coder/operator.|
Plastic tableware has become a growing category for the company, which chooses to stay away from melamine formulas.
Engraving technology, developed by Mike Lancaster, is used across several materials, from soap to candles to wood and glassware.
The Lancasters also value their retail customers and strive to provide something unique for their customers in a timely turnaround. In addition, they offer point of purchase programs and a luxury brand. “The key [to success] is supporting your retailer. It’s really important that they know they can depend on us,” Dawn said. “We connect with them. We know our retailers, and we know who’s walking through their doors.”