Smile Politely

CUltivating growth for local women owned businesses

“I think that women are in a space that are creating real change in our community. They are strong movers and shakers” says Laura Edwards, owner of CUltivate Central Illinois. “They found something that they were passionate about and were brave enough take a leap of faith.”

CUltivate is a new business that connects local women makers to consumers through the fun of a mail delivery service. Laura Edwards is the passionate doer behind the local crate subscription service, having always been “passionate about female empowerment and super passionate about natural products, items made locally instead of being made in another country or with questionable ethics.” Edwards recalls the Sunday she came up with the idea. After attending the farmers market the previous day, reminiscing of all the wonderful vendors, Edwards thought “how can I combine all these passions that I have: of women empowerment, supporting small local businesses, subscription services, into something that I would want to buy? Why doesn’t someone start a local subscription service? I would totally buy it. That someone should be me!” Edwards piloted the idea with 10 crates to see if there was interest and sold out in a few days. Come summer she tried 24, in the fall 40, and then earlier this winter she went up to 60, and continued to sell out each time.

Each seasonal crate comes with 7-9 items and they are always different products. Edwards explains, “I don’t feature the same woman more than once in a year, in order to give time and space for the other women.” Edwards continues, “I also am sensitive to the fact that the consumer wants to experience new and different businesses every time.” Each seasonal crate includes a poem, as she doesn’t want to “exclude artists in the written form.” They also include a list of all products with list of name, and store front, website, retail value, and town. You can also find a directory on CUltivate’s website of local women owned businesses. Crates can be ordered up until a few days before the delivery date, but they do sell out fast! Seasonal crates are delivered in January, April, July, and October and are inspired by the season, so come spring you can expect a “spring, spring cleaning, fresh start” vibe to the crate including cleaning Spray, a planting set from a woodworker, soil and seeds, and a potholder from a quilter.

In addition to the seasonal crates, Edwards also offers her services for custom crates. Perfect for a birthday gift for a friend. The customer will provide information about the friend, what they like…even as simple as a color, or flavor. Then Edwards will create a box just for them. “They are really fun to do!” Edwards exclaims. This is also a great idea for a business professional who wants to gift their clients a great selection of local products handpicked for each client.

Occasionally they will have a special addition crate — last November they had a “host crate” of about four items, and Edwards just shipped out a date crate. The date crate included a painting kit for two, a CD of love songs, Aromatherapy spray, dark chocolate raspberry cake, a conversation game, a beverage, and a candle. 

“I try not to put anything too gender specific,” Edwards explains. This becomes tricky as “I think that when we focus too much on gender neutrality, we can sometimes forgo women makers and women businesses that will benefit from being featured, and that I think that the community wants to learn about. So if a man orders a crate and they get a necklace that they don’t feel comfortable wearing, then I think that most men know a woman that they could give it to.” Edwards continues to explain that “I have heard from some of my customers that they will buy a crate with the sole intention to gift everything in it.” Having gifts on hand makes sure you never miss a friend’s birthday again.

Edwards recognizes that the crate concept can leave out women who provide local services. “I can’t put a service in a crate. There are many service providers out there, so I am exploring ways to support local service providers that are both useful to the consumer and the business.” Edwards hopes to get a co-op direct mailing out to crate purchasers in the next few months. She explains that for these women owned businesses it’s not always a great use of their money to send out thousands to postcards to the C-U area. By using the CUltivate database of customers, “you know that your direct mailing is going to, mostly, local women who have already expressed interest in supporting local women owned businesses.” For the business owner interested in participating, it only cost one hundred of your postcards or pamphlets, and $25. “On our own, $25 doesn’t get you very far, but when you pull resources, we’re able to do a more efficient direct mailing to people who already support women owned businesses,” Edwards explains.

More than a subscription service, “its about connecting people to women owned businesses and connecting businesses to people who support them,” says Edwards. For being such a young business itself, it’s already come full circle giving what profits are made and putting them back into women empowerment ventures. Edward proclaimed that she’s “not in it to make a profit really. The idea, my dream, if it makes a profit, I’m thinking about doing grants, small business grants and supporting local owned businesses in financial ways.” Edwards has already started off by hosting a gathering of women who run small businesses in the area explaining that is was a “camaraderie time for women to connect with others who are fighting the same battles as they are running their own businesses.” Edwards also explained that there were women there from local businesses providing legal, financial, and strategic planning guidance. Edwards has a Women Owned Business Retreat planned for January of 2020 at Allerton Park. She explained that by being a coop retreat and having the women contribute to and at the retreat it would bring the cost down, “It’s hard for the women to spend $800 on themselves (the cost of a big fancy retreat) so this would be $100 or less.”

So whether you want the products for yourself or to gift to others, you can be assured you are part of a great community of women following their dreams and passions. Says Edwards, “I’m a firm believer women are taking over the world and this is one small thing I can do to support women in my community, and I think that it’s a mission a lot of people can get behind.” 

The Rundown:
Seasonal Crate- $39.99
Custom Crate- $49.99
Annual Subscription- $149.99
Local Women Owned Business Directory
Check website or FB for upcoming special addition crates and info for direct mailings.

Photos by Kwamé Nyerere Thomas

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