Q&A with Ecommerce Business Expert Carol Gardner: She’s “Dog-gone” Smart

Plenty of entrepreneurs want to learn more about ecommerce and how to be a successful ecommerce businessperson, and as such, I thought it would be a good idea to interview an ecommerce expert for this blog. But where to find that person?

Little did I know, it would be at the car wash.

About a month ago I was, yes, getting my car washed. I love this particular car wash for the great job they do, but also for one other reason: They have the best assortment of greeting cards anywhere. It’s weird, I know, but true.

Anyway, I was in the middle of getting my car washed and shopping for a card for no good reason when I came across a very funny card of a bulldog dressed as Superman. It was silly, but funny and memorable. So imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, I happened to meet Carol Gardner. It turns out that Carol is the woman who invented the line of cards I was admiring at the car wash. The line is called Zelda Wisdom (Zelda being her beloved bulldog), and it is a brand that has grown into a multi-million dollar business, both online and off.

Given Carol’s immense success, I thought it would be a good idea to ask her to sit down with me and tap into her (and Zelda’s) wisdom regarding entrepreneurship and building an ecommerce business from the bottom up. It turns out that Carol’s story is fairly amazing. But I’ll let her tell it in her own words:

Strauss: So Carol, how did you get started in the greeting card business?

Gardner: I was 52 at the time, in the middle of a very expensive divorce and needed a job. But at that age, no one was going to hire and pay me what I needed to make, so entrepreneurship was my best option. I took stock and looked at what I was good at and what I didn’t like to do so much. I decided a greeting card company was for me, and I then started to do my research.

One thing I discovered was that 97 percent of small greeting card companies fail within the first two years. And they fail because of “sameness.” So, we worked to be different from the start. No one had ever taken a live dog, dressed it up and branded a business around it. Our cards were funny and not just the generic “Congratulations on your graduation.”

I am going on and on, but this is actually the secret to our success.

Strauss: That is what we want to know!

Ecommerce business owner, Carol Gardner, poses with her bulldog, Zelda, the namesake for her multi-million dollar greeting card business.

Gardner: When starting a company, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur – whether that is an ecommerce entrepreneur or what have you – your idea has to be daring and different. Our funny, bright, Zelda bulldog cards were just that.

You also have to be smart. To be a successful businessperson, you need to do your research and test the market. That is what we did. We conducted test marketing in Oregon and Washington and figured out what was going to work best. That is where “smarts” comes in. You’re your own market. Different, daring and smart – those are the keys I think.

Strauss: What about passion for the business? When starting an ecommerce business, how big of a role should passion play? It looks to me like you saw a market need and filled it and maybe passion was less important.

Gardner: I am a big believer in passion. Passion led to the business, and passion is what allowed me to get my eventual partners excited about joining the business. But remember what I said about “smarts.” Passion has to lead to smart decisions.

Strauss: So you thought big from the start?

Gardner: You bet. We wanted to create a global brand, and we did. Thinking big is important.

For more inspiring stories, check out our online business success stories page.

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