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Wedding Bags: A marriage of a former Kroger bagger and a crafty, entrepreneurial business sense

Bridesmaid gift business enjoys long honeymoon
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Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-19 10:22:46-04

Meaghan Dunklee has always loved making crafts. It took her a while, however, to find a craft that others wanted to buy.

The Loveland resident started by making journals and other literary items and selling them on at Etsy.com. But it wasn’t until she made a bridesmaid bag for a friend, and posted it on Etsy, that the business took off.

Now, her rebranded business, Wedding Bags, sells about $40,000 worth of goods a month, most of them personalized gifts for bridesmaids.

Earlier this year, she completed the LAUNCH class at Bad Girl Ventures, an accelerator for female-owned businesses, and won its pitch competition plus a $25,000, low-interest loan.

Dunklee has all the qualities that Bad Girl Ventures looks for in an entrepreneur, executive director Nancy Aichholz said.

Wedding Bags makes personalized gifts for bridesmaids like the ones these models are holding.

“We were really impressed with her [business’s] scalability and her grasp of business concepts,” Aichholz said. “She’s a great spokesman for herself, she has a ton of energy and she’s a great role model for other women entrepreneurs.”

How did she get to this place?

The Seattle native worked for The Kroger Co. as a bagger in high school. After college, she took an analytics job with the company, and she moved to Cincinnati in 2011 after she was promoted. 

Until she started selling bridesmaid gifts, she didn’t realize how large that market was. She resolved to keep her products inexpensive but well designed. Bags retail at www.weddingbags.com for $15 and robes retail for $22.

“Most of the bridesmaid’s gifts I was seeing, you would pay a fortune for them, or it was something that was not cute or well designed,” Dunklee said.

Dealing with the pressures of a part-time business, her full-time Kroger job and a new son, she quit Kroger and went full time with Wedding Bags in the summer of 2014. In November 2015, she took it off Etsy, launched her own website and hired her first employee.

“Previously, I had done it all myself,” Dunklee said. “I very quickly reached burnout.”

In January, sales were about $6,000 a month, but they grew quickly. Dunklee has reinvested all the profits to help grow the company, she said, and has had no investors other than Bad Girl Ventures.

What fueled sales growth?

A robust digital marketing plan through Facebook, Instagram and a bit of Pinterest contributed to the growth of Wedding Bags. Every dollar the business spends on paid Facebook advertising returns $4 in sales, Dunklee said.

Those ads get the business in front of her target demographic -- women 24-35 who’ve been engaged within the past three to 12 months.

Money spent on digital advertising amounts to about 20 percent of sales, she said.

Dunklee said the Wedding Bags website gets about 7,000 hits per week and about 12,000 unique visitors per month.

What’s next?

Dunklee plans to use the Bad Girl Ventures loan to buy more equipment for her office in Springdale, including a new printer, as well as to enlarge her inventory.

Over the next six months, she’ll hire two part-time workers, with the hope that she can eventually step back a bit from daily operations in favor of doing more design work.

She’s only scratched the surface of the market for bridesmaid gifts, she said, and would like to start making T-shirts, tank tops, swimsuits and hats.

“This could easily be a multimillion-dollar business,” she said.

The business sells to several English-speaking countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and England, but it could sell to more, Dunklee said. Shipping costs are a barrier, so the company subsidizes the cost for international orders by offering flat shipping rates.

What’s the best thing about owning her own business?

Dunklee said she enjoys working with brides to create personalized gifts for their bridesmaids, and she feels like she is a part of their big day.

“My favorite thing is getting emails from customers with all their bridesmaids and robes,” Dunklee said. “I still never get over someone using or loving something I’ve made. I have to pinch myself every time.”