CINCINNATI -- When Caitlin Cliff-Perbix's husband, Chris, spent almost two weeks in the hospital in 2015, her apartment filled up with fruit baskets sent from well-wishers. There were so many that she couldn't eat all the fruit, and it began to rot.
That's when she first thought, "There must be something better to send someone to show how much you care."
To meet that need, she and friend Kelsey Nihiser started Paper + Petal, an online service for sending specially designed gift packages in the mail.
How does it work?
Patrons can pick out a predesigned gift box or put together their own at the company's website. Many of the gifts are made by locals, such as the owners of Handzy, a Covington gift shop and design studio.
One popular predesigned box is the Cincy Care Package, which could be sent either to welcome a friend moving to town or say goodbye to one who's leaving. It includes a greeting card designed by Lucca Laser Workshop in Cincinnati; a deck of Cincinnati Against All Sanity cards by Keep Your Shirt On, Covington; and a sugar cookie that looks like a bowl of chili.
That box retails for $55.
How big is the business?
Since they officially launched their website in December, Nihiser and Cliff-Perbix have sold a few boxes every week, with incremental growth as word about the business gets out. They put together orders, store inventory and operate the business from a spare bedroom inside Cliff-Perbix's apartment in Clifton.
Most of their business marketing comes via social media such as Instagram.
So far, they have bootstrapped the business using a few thousand dollars in savings and loans from family. Both have full-time jobs -- Nihiser as art education director for Baker-Hunt Art & Cultural Center in Covington and Cliff-Perbix with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati.
The founders plan to complete the fall Launch class at Aviatra Accelerators in Cincinnati, where they're getting help creating a three-year plan for the business. They're also devising ways to crack the market for employers giving employees gifts.
"They're on an excellent path, with some really creative and innovative marketing ideas," said Molly Berens, the founder of video production service Spotted Yeti Media and a mentor to Paper + Petal through Aviatra Accelerators.
She likes the fact that they're considering innovative ways to market their products, such as creating gift boxes for unusual occasions -- for example, when a friend has had a breakup.
"Today's consumer finds choices based on supporting local and socially conscious companies," she said. "They definitely fit that bill."
One day, Cliff-Perbix and Nihiser would like to have a bricks-and-mortar store, where they could help procrastinators, or those not good at gift-giving, to put together gift boxes.
"Ideally, we would like people to come into the store and say, 'We have $20, it's my mom's birthday, please help us,' " Nihiser said.
What's owning a business been like?
Both Nihiser and Cliff-Perbix were liberal arts majors who never planned to own their own business. Their parents are glad that they are now entrerpreneurs.
"I didn't have any expectations about it," Cliff-Perbix said. "I just thought, 'I'll be a business owner,' and one day, I was a business owner."