Inspirational Series: Ruth Labb, The Giving Tree

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Ruth Labb
Ruth Labb is the brainchild behind The giving Tree. This amazing company is focused on connecting smaller New Zealand based charities with customers through the customising of Christmas cards. At the same time, it champions local artists.

Ruth Labb. Click to enlarge

Ruth Labb. Click to enlarge

How does it work? “You support the cause that best suits your organisation and be a part of an act of giving at Christmas. The Giving Tree will give 50 cents per card to the charity of your choice and by printing a small message of support for your charity in your card you will also be increasing the awareness of your chosen cause to a wider audience.”

As the team at The Giving Tree would say, “Isn’t that what giving and Christmas is all about?”

We spoke to Ruth about how she began her business, her highs and lows, and her best tips for budding entrepreneurs in the craft business (or any business, for that matter).

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

What sparked your business idea?

Having worked with two large charities in the past managing their Christmas card campaigns, it wasn’t so much a new idea but more of a way of doing things differently. Colleagues and I had often pondered how we could be more of a ‘clearing house’ for Christmas cards that would also benefit more than one charity.

How did your idea become a reality?

I took a year off and just pondered. I actually wrote a business plan believe it or not. One wet day I sat on the bed and just started to write – all that I knew about the industry, what I wanted to achieve and why, and I surprised myself with 24 pages of notes – I still have them today in what I call ‘my bible’.

Once I put that all into some order, I then was recommended to talk to a branding specialist who talked me through, again, what I wanted to achieve and how I was going to go about it. With friends, I came up with a name, and my branding man designed my beautiful logo and he then recommended the web build company who, after only one meeting, understood the look that we wanted, and designed my fabulous website. One of my many goals, was to do all this set-up work locally, and we achieved that.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Next, of course, was to get the card designs. Again, I wanted to promote New Zealand art as much as possible and I went looking for artists. Last year I came across Gary Sanders from Hamilton, who created the beautiful Red Embers card (right). (Click here to read Gary Sanders’ story). This has been one of the unexpected joys of The Giving Tree, which is meeting these amazingly talented people who are painting away at home, and are so modest about their talent.

We also print the cards locally. Yes, I could go off shore and get this done cheaper, but this isn’t what we are about. On the website we talk about the circle of giving, and supporting New Zealand industry is just another part of that circle.

Your next steps?

Just to continue to grow our sales and even extend the range. I really want the charities who are on board with us to be able to rely on the money they get from The Giving Tree. I mean, how amazing would that be? These charities have to work so hard to get funding and it would be great if they can just think, ‘Oh, Christmas cards will take care of that.’  Our bi-line is ‘our heart is in the giving’ and that is truly what we are about.

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Click to enlarge

How do you get customers?

We get customers by just plain old hard graft – we sit on the phone and ring and steer people to the website. Although our cards are designed with corporate businesses in mind, really they are suitable for anyone, as they are completely blank inside. For every card sold we give 50 cents per card to the charity that they choose. One of my early conversations with my accountant was to work ‘how much’ we could afford to give away, not ‘how little’ to legitimise what we were doing, and I  am really proud of how much we do give and how transparent we are about it. 

What was your biggest challenge?

Getting over the fear. For two years I would wake in the middle of the night and wonder what on earth am I doing and will this succeed.

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Click to enlarge

What were your four best decisions?

  • Getting a business mentor.
  • Getting in my wonderful colleague to assist me with the telephone work as I am terrible at working by myself.
  • Being more disciplined with stock control and not keeping printing when you haven’t sold all of the previous years’ designs.
  • Spending the money to get the right look. It is so important to look professional.

Best tip/tips for start-ups?

When the going gets tough, go and find someone to talk too. Starting my own business is the hardest and most stressful thing I have ever done, and sometimes you just need to talk through all your uncertainties with someone that isn’t too close to you. My business mentor was great for that. 

Greatest achievement?

Sticking with it and watching the cheques get a little bigger each year that go to the charities.

Click through to The Giving Tree

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