Getting to know Shelli Gardner, founder of Stampin’ Up!
If you know anything about Stampin’ Up!, you likely know the name Shelli Gardner. She’s the co-founder and CEO of this impressive craft business that has been helping others earn incomes through its flexible direct-sales business model while also putting rubber stamps, ink, paper and other crafting goodies into the hands of creators for nearly three decades.
I actually had the unique opportunity of working for Shelli for nearly three years in the public relations department at Stampin’ Up!, and I can say she is as passionate, dedicated and hard working as any I’ve had the pleasure of coming across in my industry experience. And I never thought I’d say this, but my respect for her has only grown since leaving the company nearly a decade ago. You see, I’m now a working mother, which, as many of you know, is no easy task, and I am so impressed by Shelli’s dedication to keeping her family first and allowing her employees and demonstrators (sales force) to do the same for their families, all while successfully running and growing a global company. (I think she must be part Kryptonian or something.) 😉
And while I may have worked for Shelli, occasionally spent time with her in her home, and even traveled with her from time to time, I can tell you that most of what she shares here, I did not know. I feel honored to be able to share those things with you today and so grateful Shelli was able to take this time to connect. But, enough from me. Let’s get to know more about the talented and creative Shelli Gardner.
Q: It’s one thing to have an idea. It’s quite another to take that leap and go from idea to action. What gave you the courage to take the idea of Stampin’ Up! from concept to reality? And what were you most afraid of as you took this giant step in your life? How did you overcome that fear?
A: They say ignorance is bliss, and I’d say that was definitely true as we started Stampin’ Up! We weren’t really afraid of anything—we wanted this in our lives, and we simply believed that if we wanted this, why wouldn’t others want it too! It felt right to “take the leap” from the very beginning, so there really wasn’t any fear.
Stampin’ Up! has come a long way since the early days
of doing business from Shelli’s small living room.
Q: Fast forward a couple of decades, and you’re now running a global company. What do you find the most rewarding about such a position? The most challenging?
A: Without question, the most rewarding part of what I do is the people whom I work with every day, as well as the many people I meet through Stampin’ Up! And the biggest challenge for me is likely one of the biggest challenges that we all face in just about everything we do: balancing it all. . . balancing all the things we have to do in our days, things that are important and things that need to get done, and then choosing which ones to do first. And which ones perhaps won’t get done, even though they may seem important.
A pajama party dinner at Shelli’s home with Stampin’ Up! demonstrators.
Choosing those priorities has changed through the years for me. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis several years ago, so taking care of myself physically has become more important. I want to do so much more than I am physically capable of doing, and that’s been a challenge. But I’m learning…just like we all do.
Q: In the position you’re in, you’ve seen this amazing industry of ours evolve a great deal over the years. Knowing what you know, what predictions do you have for what’s to come? And how do you see Stampin’ Up! fitting into that view of the future?
A: I’ve said this before, and I genuinely believe it: We live in such a fast-moving, hectic, high-tech world that I think people are starting to miss the simplicity of creativity, the experience of touching and feeling things and creating things with their hands. We’re already starting to see that in the crafting industry—a yearning to get “back to the basics,” to slow down, connect with people in a personal way, and create something simply and personal.
Stamps, ink, and paper are our core products at Stampin’ Up!—and the core products needed to provide this kind of experience to people. So I think we’re right where we need to be to offer what people are looking for.
Q: You recently announced the introduction of Project Life into the Stampin’ Up! offering. How exciting! Tell us a bit about this.
A: When you talk about getting back to the basics, Project Life by Stampin’ Up! definitely fits that description! It’s memory keeping at its easiest. I’ve watched scrapbooking go from pretty simple to taking days to complete a single spread. And there are still artists among us who enjoy the scrapbooking journey as much as the destination. But for those who want fun, simple scrapbooking, Project Life by Stampin’ Up! is exactly that! You can customize and personalize it, you can add textures and layers and accessories—but you don’t have to! Either way works great!
Becky Higgins joins Shelli at the 2014 Stampin’ Up! convention
to announce the launch of Project Life by Stampin’ Up!
Q: Stampin’ Up! definitely has a little something for every style. That being said, we all have our personal preferences. How would you define your style when it comes to papercrafting?
A: I’d say my style is eclectic; I don’t always stick to one look and feel. I do always like layers and textures! Whether I’m creating a project with a vintage look (which is one of my favorites) or a bold graphic look, I’ll likely always add at least a couple of layers and textures.
Each month, Shelli spends time making birthday cards for her employees.
These are two of her most recent birthday greetings.
Q: As a new(ish) mother, I must say my hat is off to you, Shelli. You’ve managed to raise five bright and successful daughters while also running your business. Being a working mother isn’t for the weak. How did (and do) you manage to achieve that work/life balance and keep your sweet family your top priority while also maintaining and growing a successful business?
A: I think every parent, regardless of what they are doing, faces this challenge—particularly mothers. And I admit that I didn’t always do such a great job. Our girls have turned out “bright and successful” because they’re awesome girls and not so much because of anything I did! I believe that when parents fail—and we will—God can make up the difference. I’m so grateful for that.
I have learned a lot about priorities by making mistakes, just like we all do. And I do much better job now than I did at the beginning. We all have wake-up calls in our lives that cause us to step back and let some things go, and I’ve certainly had my share of those. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect in every aspect of my life, that I could delegate some responsibilities, that I could let some things go and do other things differently and simplify. Life experiences have taught me that people—and my family particularly—is really what matters in my life, and that’s what needs to come first. I’m not trying to be superwoman anymore; I’m just trying to do my best.
Shelli and her daughters—From left to right: Sara, Shelli, Shanna, Sage, Shalae, and Megan
Q: You offer a fairly unique business model, taking a direct-sales approach to getting your products into the hands of crafters worldwide. What made you decide to take this approach? What do you find the most rewarding about this way of doing business? The most challenging?
A: Like I mentioned before, we really didn’t even consider any other business model. As mothers of young children, this was what we were looking for, and if we wanted this, there had to be others who wanted it too, right? Others who were looking for the opportunity to have a flexible, work-from-home opportunity that could provide all kinds of rewards, including personal growth, strong relationships, and financial opportunities.
The most rewarding? Watching that business model work for so many people, offering them the opportunities to create exactly what they needed in their lives. The most challenging? Our work force is voluntary, so they get to do exactly what we wanted them to do—choose when and how to do their business. Sometimes members of our sales force choose to take a step back, and there’s not a lot we can do about that. There are challenges that come with managing a company that way, but I wouldn’t trade it. I believe in the model for us.
Women and men from all over the world join Stampin’ Up! for their annual business conventions.
Q: Now for the real tough question. Ready? If you had to pick a single favorite stamping technique, what would it be and why?
A: Easy—embossing! It was magic the first time I did it, and it’s still magic every time. Embossing will always be my first love; I emboss almost everything!
Q: What’s your favorite storage tip when it comes to organizing a craft area?
A: Do what works best for you. I love antiques, so through the years, I’ve found several beautiful antiques that work perfectly as storage pieces as well. For me, it’s important to combine style and functionality in my craft area. I love that my stamping studio reflects my personal taste and style yet still stores and organizes everything in a way that works for me.
Q: Beyond stamping, what other creative hobbies do you enjoy?
A: Is horseback riding creative? I don’t have a lot of creative hobbies—stamping takes up what little free time I have. I do like decorating, especially holiday decorating.
Last year, Shelli was in a very serious horseback riding accident that nearly took her life. This shot of her getting back in the saddle again was a big moment and a long time coming. So happy to see she’s recovering so well and able to enjoy this passion again.
Q: Take us into your day-to-day life. What does a typical day look like? What is your favorite part of the day and why?
A: Someone else asked me this recently, and I realized that I don’t really have a “typical” day. I travel about one week out of every month. Then on days that I’m home, I may be working in the office some days and working from home others; I don’t really have a set schedule.
It wasn’t always that way. I’m definitely a Type A personality, but I have learned to be more fluid and flexible in my life—and in my schedule. While my days are definitely full and busy, I have learned the value of being flexible. For instance, just a few weeks ago, I had been working at the computer all day and mid-afternoon, I decided to take a break. I was heading out the door to run a few errands when my granddaughter texted me: Grandma, are you guys doing anything? I wanted to come and say hi.
Well, I changed my plans that quickly and got to spend the most wonderful afternoon with my granddaughter. We ran errands, ate French fries, and simply enjoyed being together. That’s why I don’t schedule my days as full as I used to—because once in awhile there will be a spontaneous opportunity that I want to be able to take. I love that I can do that!
The Gardner Grand, an annual tradition for Shelli and Sterling and their grandchildren, is a multi-day adventure they enjoy together. This shot, taken from their most recent outing, is from a trip to Utah’s Heber Valley Historic Railroad. All Aboard!
Q: Everybody loves a little escape from the everyday from time to time. Where is your favorite place to vacation and why?
A: As a family, we all look forward to one family vacation every year—our annual trip to Lake Powell. That is a sacred time for us. We also enjoy camping in the mountains, and we do that whenever we can.
A snapshot from Shelli’s 2014 Lake Powell vacation.
And one of my favorite times is night-time. Now that our girls are raised with their own families, the evenings have become my time to spend with Sterling. I love to snuggle and visit with him. I also love early mornings—that’s my time to focus, organize my day, do yoga if I’m feeling up to it, focus on my things.
Q: Favorite way to spend a Friday night?
A: Because we’re empty nesters, we don’t treat Friday night any differently than any other night. All our evenings are pretty much the same—a time to quietly connect. When the girls were at home, though, Friday night was definitely a special night! It was our date night, and it didn’t matter what we did—grabbed a quick ice cream cone, went out for dinner, watched a movie—we tried to make that our time as often as we could.
Shelli and her husband Sterling, enjoying an evening out.
Q: Favorite design trend or style at the moment?
A: I don’t know that I have one. Like I said—I like lots of different styles and trends. For instance, I liked the chalkboard look when it was trendy, and I love the golds and metals that are in right now. (I’m definitely a bling girl!) But my favorite things change. . .
- Cooking or cleaning? cleaning
- Cards or scrapbook pages? cards
- Pie or cake? cake
- Four-wheeler or snowmobile? Four wheeling
- Lipstick or mascara? Mascara. Unless you’re asking about lip gloss or mascara. If it was between those two, it would definitely be lip gloss.
Thank you, Shelli, for taking time to share a bit about yourself and what you do. Your words are wise and clearly come from a place of unique experiences and life lived. I love that I’ve had this opportunity to get to know you better. (You’re a cake girl, huh?) 😉 As someone who does as much as I know you do, your taking the time to be here with the SCT family today means a great deal to all of us. We can’t wait to see what you and Stampin’ Up! do next!
Would you love to leave a comment for Shelli? Feel free to do so below!
~ Megan Hoeppner, Editor-in-Chief, Scrapbook & Cards Today magazine
For more on Shelli’s life adventures, check out her blog, SoShelli.com!