In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Kristin Mangelsen, VP of Marketing and Merchandising of Touch of Nature. Touch of Nature sells fairy garden miniatures, is based in Omaha, Nebraska, and has been in business for twenty years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start Touch of Nature?
Kristien: My father, Hal Mangelsen, started the business in 1999 and just celebrated our 20th year of business in August. I came to work for the company in 2013, started at the front desk, and worked my way up to my current position.
Touch of Nature is one of our brands within my dads’ company and it is what all of our fairy garden miniatures are under. I grew this line from just a few pieces to now over 500 pieces.
Right out of college I went to work for another company for a few years before I decided to come work for my dad. I chose this business because it’s what I know and it’s what I grew up knowing. My dad has 3 brothers and all 4 of them grew up and started their own businesses.
It’s what I’ve come to love and why would I do anything else? Now by running Touch of Nature I plan to grow this brand more over time and have us be the place everyone goes to get their fairy garden miniatures.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
K: Our miniature line under Touch of Nature started with metal furniture; which in the beginning was very popular. Later it moved into wood pieces and expanded on the metal. Now we are 90% resin miniatures and are in the process of moving out of the metal furniture because the resin is what most customers are buying.
I have found that we can do so much more with resin through the changes or variations of size, colors, designs, shapes, etc. I have worked on several items that are exclusive to our company so this helps set us apart from the competition.
R: How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
K: Our products are made by a manufacturer, but a lot of them start in house with myself and/or my designer. We pride ourselves in making unique items!
Our fairy garden miniatures are the best on the market by far (that is my opinion of course), but we have loyal customers that tell us we have a great selection and they hope that we do not stop selling miniatures because they aren’t going anywhere.
Our exclusive items start with an idea, then we usually will make inspiration sheets to assist our suppliers to understand what we are looking to create.
I will typically give them a target price too if needed, so we make sure to hit what our customers are looking for. After the idea and inspiration is sent to the supplier, they get to work on having their in-house designer draw up sketches for us to review.
Once those are approved by us, it moves into the molding phase. The molds are then approved and made into white bodies so that they can be painted. I usually let my supplier’s artists decide on what color to paint them unless I have specifications from a customer. After the items are painted, I receive photos for final approval and then samples are made and sent to me to show customers.
This process usually takes 3-6 weeks depending on how many items they are working on for us. I love working with suppliers to create unique and exclusive products and watch them come to life from an idea, to a drawing, to a mold, and finally to the finished product.
R: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
K: My day always starts with a cup of coffee so that I can prepare myself for what the day might bring. On a typical day I may have 50-200 emails come in first thing in the morning; but I like this because it makes my morning go fast.
I work with both the customers and the suppliers which I love because it gives me a good mix in my day. My favorite part of the day is when I can help our customers find the right product at the right price. My least favorite part of the day is when I am stuck in meetings and away from my creative work.
R: Do you have a favorite miniature?
K: I do; they are the llama and fairies assortment. I designed these and they are by far my favorites.
R: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
K: The parent company started in 1999 and it started with 3 people investing; my dad, my uncle and my dad’s business partner along with help from the banks.
Touch of Nature was already an established brand when I started working for the company, I’m just helping to make it more well known. I invested into Abound after John Clark’s webinar because I believed in what he was saying and I wanted to grow our brand.
R: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
K: My uncles store, Mangelsen’s, was probably one of the first to start carrying our fairy garden miniatures. It’s a retail store located in Omaha, Nebraska.
To this day, they continue to buy our new designs to put in their fairy garden miniature section. Our line continues to grow because of our customers who continue to like our designs.
R: What places do you sell your product at now?
K: Our miniatures and home décor are mostly in mom and pop stores across the United States with a few customers internationally. We have garden centers, gift shops, and e-commerce stores that buy our miniatures and home décor.
Many have asked if we were going to keep our miniature line because other vendors were discontinuing theirs. Customers love what we have to offer and love that we are always coming out with new designs.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
K: I do believe we have a great line of fairy garden miniatures. We have everything from gnomes and fairies to doors and houses and everything in between. We have several themes including zoo, fairy tale, trolls, beach, pirates, produce and travel.
We also have holiday and seasonal themed items including spring, Easter, fall, Halloween, and Christmas. I want to be able to share our miniatures with all garden centers, craft stores, gift shops, and so many more. I think stores big and small will benefit from our line.
I want to have national placement in stores that everyone knows and the small family owned businesses with 1-2 store fronts. I really believe that we have something for all stores.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business?
K: Our marketing is very important. I believe that there are more and more users on social media every day. We need to reach these new customers and social media is a great way to get our brand out there.
Who would have known that a hashtag can do so much for your business? You can hashtag just about anything and you will find new followers from those. I am a proud aunt of three amazing little kids (all four and under too) and my favorite hashtag is #oneproudauntie.
Right now, we are on both Instagram and Pinterest, building our brand by posting inspirational and lifestyle photos of our fairy garden miniatures. Each day we are getting more followers and I think this is just going to continue to grow as we expand and make Touch of Nature a more known brand.
R: Do you have a personal connection to miniatures?
K: When I started here, I had no idea about fairy gardening and now I am constantly filling my houseplants and yard with miniature pathways, doors and fairies. I used to think it was silly and not for me.
Now I’m hiding mini doors and fairies in my niece and nephews yard because it blows their minds on how they arrived there. Their imaginations run wild. It’s fun. It’s magical. We are passionate about it because of what people make with these things and the imagination that comes with it.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with your business?
K: The most frustrating challenge has been not knowing what is going to work. You have to learn to not be afraid to try new things. This is what I love because it forces me to be creative.
Another frustration is when my emails, phone calls, or text messages go unanswered. I get we are all busy and we all have 100 things on our plate, but the simplest reply goes a long way.
I try to do it all from sales, buying, sourcing, product development, and managing my staff, so it is hard to find time for myself. I guess that’s one of the parts of being so invested in your business; it’s hard to find a time to turn the business off sometimes.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
I would say some of my greatest achievements have been traveling overseas and experiencing all that the world has to offer. Previously, I traveled with someone else that had been overseas many times so they knew the ropes.
In 2017, I did it all by myself; traveled to 4 different international cities. Upon returning home, I had such a sense of accomplishment traveling on my own. I know this isn’t necessarily a business achievement and more of a personal achievement within my business, but it was still a big thing for me.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
K: My advice would be to follow your dreams; don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you believe you can do it then you can. If one person tells you no about your products, then move on to the next and the next. Just because one representative or one company doesn’t like your stuff doesn’t mean that’s how it’s going to be with everyone.
It only takes one to get you going and to get in front of the right people. If you work like me, I work harder off rejection. When I’m told “No, I’m not interested,” or “You will never be able to do that,” it makes me work harder to prove that I can do it and to prove I’ll find someone that is interested. Keep your head up and keep fighting for what you want. Don’t give up.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
Some of my favorite quotes actually come from Abound’s Instagram. One of my favorites was “Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning.” By Robert Kiyosaki.
But one that I have been really living by lately is by Sam Walton. “If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you – like a fever.”
I believe this is true and this has been me every day for the last five years since I have been working for my company. But it’s been even more true over these last 8+ months because I am trying to learn as much as my brain can possibly hold onto.
I’m learning more about marketing and how it is changing daily, as well as learning that stores are not buying the same way they were a year ago. At the end of the day my brain is on overload, but I am loving every minute of it.
My advice to anyone is never stop learning and don’t give up because you never know when that one person, that one chance, could change your life forever. Keep going!
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
K: I am actually not the owner. My dad Hal Mangelsen is the owner; I am learning to take over the company once my dad retires. But being in the position that I am in, I would say my favorite thing is being my own boss and being able to come in at noon and leave by 3pm; not really 😊. But don’t we wish that really were the case?
I would say my favorite part of being an owner is being able to see the business grow and to see how things come to life. I am in charge of all of the product development, buying, and sourcing, and it’s so rewarding watching the ideas in your head come to life in a product.
I also love working with my vendors; they are a second family and I always look forward to seeing them when I am in China. They are more than just business partners, to me they are friends and family. I wouldn’t change a thing.