When Masey Kaplan’s son brought home a school fundraising catalog with wrapping paper made in China, and she didn’t want to buy any of it, she thought how nice it would be to have a choice of products made in the US. She saw friends with small Maine businesses, struggling in a down economy, and thought a catalog that carried only items made close by would be a way to help them as well as raise funds for schools.
She came up with the idea of creating “Close Buy Catalog” for school fundraisers. After months of researching and developing a business plan, Masey began to approach small Maine businesses to find products for the catalog. Jennifer and I were working at the New England Products Trade Show when Masey stopped and introduced herself. The first, experimental catalog called would go to four schools in the greater Portland, Maine area. There were plenty of skeptics, and I have to admit, I was one of them.
But, confidence and iron determination showed through her soft voice and pretty smile and convinced me that she could climb this mountain. So, in the spring of 2010, we took a chance and signed on, not knowing what to expect. I decided, even if we didn’t get any orders, Masey was so nice that it would feel good to support her.
Masey’s background in graphic arts allowed her to create the catalog and was one of the fun parts of the project. But there were the arduous tasks of managing all the data that came in from schools, distribution, and the finances. She put hours into planning and working out road blocks — things that can quickly turn the burning fires of enthusiasm to ashes.
The following October, when the orders came in, I was pleasantly surprised that we had sold forty items. When Masey stopped to see us this spring at the trade show, she said that she was expanding the catalog to 35 or 40 schools. Again, I wondered how successful the project would be, given the state of the economy. But in October, my skepticism again melted away as I learned orders for our Cozy Sheep and Hot Dogs numbered in the hundreds.
When I talked with Masey, she said they had to turn away about thirty schools who wanted to sign on in late summer. By that time it would have been too difficult to manage any add-on schools, as catalogs and samples had already been delivered. Next year!
With all of the attention her business requires she’s had to enlist the help of her husband. He now does morning duty, and she leaves for work about 5 AM. “He makes sure the kids are dressed, eat breakfast, school papers put in their backpacks, lunches made, and so on. I take over at 3 PM when they come home from school,” she says, “and he works until 6 PM. Then we have family time.”
She explains that this year, even with more schools, it is easier than last year because the management systems are set up. The first year was hard, but she says, “I am fueled by joy.”
Masey would like to expand Close Buy Catalog to other states, where she thinks people would feel the same way about buying locally. No longer a skeptic, I know if she sets her mind to it she will succeed. Masey has climbed a huge mountain pulling a heavy load, saying, “I think I can, I think I can.”
Check out the Close Buy Web site for more information, participating vendors and schools.