What a Difference a FedEx Small Business Grant Makes
Winners share how far they've come
In 2017, we're celebrating the 5th anniversary of our FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. Every year, we give business owners, nationwide, the opportunity to tell their stories and engage their fans for a chance to win as much as $25,000 to help their business grow.
Since the contest launched 5 years ago, we've gotten to know some amazing entrepreneurs, ranging from butchers and dairy farmers to inventors and creators — all with a true passion for what they do. Their stories and motivation for starting their businesses captivated and inspired us all.
For many of our winners, their companies and their lives have changed a lot since they won their FedEx grant. Some have grown substantially; others have parlayed their skills into a second, or even third, business. They've moved into new offices, expanded their inventory, and hired their first employees. The stories are all different, but each, in its own way, is a small-business success. Here's what three of our winners have accomplished:
When Nik Hawks and Lee Selman started on a Paleo diet, there was only one thing they missed: dessert. So they turned their collective sweet tooth into Paleo Treats, a California-based small business that now ships delicious, caveman-friendly desserts to people all over the world.
Starting out, their shipping boxes were plainer than plain. Their retail displays were functional enough, but the utilitarian containers did little to catch the hungry eyes of shoppers passing by.
"When you're a small-business owner, you have to set priorities. Plain wasn't us, but plain cost less," Hawks said. "So, we stuck with the basics."
All of that changed when Paleo Treats made the top 10 in the 2015 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, and won a $5,000 grant. The dull boxes were sent packing.
"We created a new 12" x 12" shipping box for our direct customers, and a new display box for our wholesalers," Hawks explained. "The shipping box makes us look more like a ‘real' company — we get lots of compliments. It also fits with our mission to bring quality, beauty and joy to the world."
Their display boxes recieved a makeover, too. The pink-and-white graphic gives Paleo Treats a visual pop in retailers' refrigerated sections, attracting new buyers, while showcasing the company's sense of fun.
"When your display stands out, you sell more — and that's been true for us," Hawks said. "We've tripled our sales at one local store. While I can't say that it's all because of our new display box, it definitely played a part in that growth."
The Wok Shop
The Wok Shop — a fixture of San Francisco's Chinatown for nearly 50 years — was one of the first mom-and-pop retailers with a functional, optimized e-commerce site, and its online store took off immediately when Tane Chan launched it in 1999 with the help of her son.
"Orders that come in by 3 p.m. are still shipped the same day," Chan says proudly. "And all the fulfillment is done from our basement."
But Chan — a 2016 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest winner — is eager to grow her international sales. To do that, she needed more help.
"The day I found out I won, I went out and hired a part-time webmaster to make improvements to our website, and make it more user-friendly," Chan says.
With her FedEx grant money, she's been able to hire a specialist to focus just on the website so she can grow her international business.
"We want to ship more products worldwide," she says. "We want to connect to more people. With the grant, and with someone focusing on our site, I think we'll be able to do that."
Darn Good Yarn
The first-ever grand prize winner of the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest was Darn Good Yarn founder Nicole Snow, who says that her contest win has had a lasting impact on her business.
"With the grant money, I used it as a working line of credit," she says. "For a whole year, I just used it to buy new product lines [and] develop new product lines, and I was also able to employ more women over in India."
Snow's small business works with materials that are handspun and dyed by women's groups in Northern India and Nepal, who are provided with a marketplace for their products, as well as much-needed wages for their families. Since its win, Darn Good Yarn has been able to create more than 300 safe and sustainable jobs within some of the poorest regions in India.
In the meantime, the grant also helped Snow broaden her passionate customer base, many of whom discover her environmentally sustainable products through social media. Since her grant contest win, Snow's Facebook following has grown from about 8,000 to the more than 140,000 fans she has today.
"Winning the contest has helped me gain exposure in social media, for sure," Snow says. "That can make or break sales days for me, so that's been extremely important."
Beyond the grant money, Snow says it's ongoing support from FedEx that's helped her build on her success. She's now selling through different channels — including a new website just for her wholesale customers — which all filter to one inventory management system that handles all of the shipping.
"The grant money was definitely part of our growth," she says. But, she adds, it's also the commitment of FedEx to support small businesses like hers that fuels her confidence to take on new challenges.
"It was having their backing that made me feel like I'm a ‘big girl' business now," she explains. "It gave me the self-esteem and motivation that this huge company believes in my little business, so now I can really go and run with it and let it flourish."