Ballet Gift Shop, now in its 11th year, is a family-owned and operated company situated at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Centennial, Colorado. With the goal of helping ballet companies raise money for their performances, Ballet Gift Shop is dedicated to providing dance-inspired gift items at reasonable prices so that ballet companies can truly profit.
So, how did all of this get started, anyway? Michael and Cheryl met in graduate school while pursuing their Master's Degrees in Industrial Design at NC State University. They knew they wanted to start a business together, but doing what? Freelance design work was always an option, but with a mutual passion for seeing designs from start to finish, they knew they wanted to produce something themselves for the sake of a greater purpose.
A volunteer for a non-profit ballet company who helped to organized the group's Nutcracker boutique fundraiser was frustrated that it was hard to find anything "different" out there to offer to audience members or dancers year after year. She felt like she rarely had anything that felt truly special to dancers playing lesser-known parts in The Nutcracker. She had even considered making some little mice and mother ginger ornaments herself. With our background in design and creative thinking and being fortunate to have a handful of tools at our disposal for prototyping, we knew of more efficient methods than creating every item by hand. With our combined background in dance, design, and business, Michael and Cheryl were excited about this opportunity to use more than one of our passions. We were also excited by the idea of helping support the arts with our design capabilities.
In less than 2 months, we had conducted many rounds of materials testing, designed 36 characters from The Nutcracker Ballet, created line art for laser-engraving based on Cheryl's original sketches, and full-color paintings of each character were digitized and prepared for printing. Each character design was based on Cheryl's personal experience in performing in 7 years' worth of Nutcracker seasons while growing up. Her mother had been a helper with costumes backstage so she took notice of other dancers' costumes a bit more than the average dancer. Her background in a variety of dance styles has given the designs at Ballet Gift Shop a true authenticity of form, line, and costume. The paintings of each character would be printed on charming collectible 2-1/4" pin-back buttons (and later note cards). In October 2007, we kicked off the Nutcracker season by shipping over 500 samples of our (now retired) poplar and mahogany ornaments to non-profit dance companies all over the United States to get our name and product the the hands of our market. What started out feeling like another design school project became not only our Master's Thesis, but a fun long-term business model too!
As time and experience in running a "maker business" educated us, we found better materials to use in making our ornaments and other laser-engraved products, improved our process of making our products and organizing our orders, and sourced products made by other Americans that would interest our customers. We strive to add new products and/or character designs every year to help keep our product offering fresh. We often invite customer feedback on what they want to see from us next. We have also extended our capabilities into gift design for pet lovers and sports enthusiasts all with the potential for non-profit fundraising.
Now, over a decade later, we feel a bit like Santa's elves. When January rolls around, we start stocking our shelves with ornaments, photo frames, and bouquet tags for the upcoming season. Spring performance season brings a flurry of interest in our not-so Christmasy items. We continue to carry out the tradition of mailing samples to Nutcracker-performing dance companies every Fall as a friendly reminder that, "It's that time of year again!" We typically hire a handful of seasonal helpers to assist us in getting orders prepared and out the door in a speedy fashion. We haven't shipped any customer service or production of our products overseas and feel proud of all we have accomplished.
So, is everything on our website Made in the USA? No, not quite. We recognize the fact that Nutcrackers do sell well at Nutcracker performances and fundraisers. Being the name-sake of one of the most famous ballet performances in the United States, why wouldn't they? Why are our nutcrackers more expensive than our competitors'? We acknowledge the fact that we are not in the import business. We work with other companies who oversee design, production, and importation for us so we can keep our primary focus on creating unique, personalized products in-house. These Nutcrackers along with a handful of collectibles and ballet plush items are the only product lines we sell that are not made in the USA. We take pride in keeping as much sourcing and production as possible in our home country.