Home business ‘Blossoms’ for Anchorage entrepreneur
Kelly Dyer and her daughters, Josephine Dyer (left), and Delphine Dyer are seen showing off their Blossom products that won the inaugural innovation award at the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago.
Courtesy Kelly Dyer
Kelly Dyer was surprised when she received a letter from the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago letting her know her product was a finalist in the tabletop category.
Dyer believed she had simply entered her colorful trivet, Blossom, into consideration to be shown in a new product display.
Once at the show in March, Dyer’s surprise turned to shock to find herself the winner of the first annual International Housewares Association Innovation Award in the tabletop category. She had to be reassured by her daughter Josephine that their company name had been called and not one of the multi-billion dollar companies they were up against.
Although Dyer was surprised to win, it wasn’t the first honor she and her Anchorage-based company Spice Ratchet have received. Dyer was a finalist in the kitchen and countertop category of HomeWorld Business magazine’s Housewares Design Awards this past January.
Kelly Dyer’s business began because of family. Her children were growing up and she wanted to make the transition from full-time housewife to career woman. Dyer’s brother, in China, needed help promoting his products in the American market. So, in 2007, Dyer figured she would take the plunge.
“We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have a marketing background or sales background,” Dyer said.
Her daughter and right-hand woman, Josephine, admitted, “there was no testing the water. We just jumped in.”
Born in Taiwan, Dyer has moved around the globe a few times. She lived in Sweden for two years, then Dallas, where she met her husband. After her two daughters were born, the family moved around Asia and the U.S. for several years before settling down in Alaska in 2008. Because of her exposure to many different cultures, Dyer says she has a different perspective that helps her within the business world. She also uses her experience as a housewife when judging products.
“How can we make life easier?” said Dyer. “I want something that is useful.”
Dyer attended a gourmet house ware show in Orlando, in May 2007. It was her first big show in America and she was promoting Danish designer Kenneth Ammitzboll’s New York style grinder, which is manufactured at Dyer’s brother’s factory in China. While at the show, Dyer found Harold Import Co., based in New York.
Harold Import Co. works with vendors to promote and distribute products. It took Dyer a year of “trying to knock on the door and persuade them to ‘please consider this grinder’… and establish a relationship of trust,” she said.
Dyer highlighted her strong work ethic and ability to have prompt quality control over manufacturing. Due to language barriers, there are often problems with manufacturing in China. There is also a stigma associated with the words “made in China.” Dyer managed to combat this issue by working closely with her brother.
Once she won over Harold Import Co., Dyer arranged to market the grinder under her own brand.
Dyer says she is very lucky to have been teamed up with Harold Import Co. so early due to their ability to promote products to specialty house ware stores.
The grinder differs from the more common mills you might see at restaurants or in kitchen stores. It is smaller in stature, clear, can grind practically any spice you wish, is easily washable, and grinds from the top rather than bottom (this feature eliminates the dust normally found under grinders). The product’s ability to ratchet while grinding inspired Dyer to name her brand Spice Ratchet.
Despite the grinder’s advantages, Dyer ran into problems. She found that while the product and ones like it are used frequently in the homes of Europeans, she couldn’t get Americans to take one home with them.
Josephine Dyer said customers remark that the grinder is an interesting idea, “but then that’s it. There is no follow-through.”
That’s when Dyer decided to expand and think beyond one product. Dyer takes biannual trips home to China to check in on production and find new ideas at shows in Hong Kong.
“We are always meeting new people and people with new designs. A lot of the time we meet designers who have this idea but they don’t know how to really market it, or [the product] only has one purpose,” Josephine Dyer said.
That’s where they stumbled upon the idea for Blossom. After seeing a trivet shaped like a poinsettia flower, ideas for improvement started flowing.
The women wanted something that could be flat and formed to a square or circle, but also has the capability to become a three dimensional object. It needed multiple features to make people say, “I have to have this.”
After some trial and error with designing — originally there was to be a metal clasp involved, but the clasp could be easily lost, children could ingest it, and it eliminated microwaving capabilities — Blossom arrived in July 2010.
Blossom is, at it’s most basic, a flexible silicone trivet in the shape of a flower, but it can be refashioned to serve many purposes. Units can be linked, interlocked, stacked, wrapped around other items, and used decoratively.
“It allows our customers to be creative, which was different,” said Josephine Dyer.
Originally, the Dyers had hoped customers would be enticed by the grinders because they could come up with unique spice mixes. The idea proved to be too involved for most shoppers, though.
With Blossom, all customers need to do is buy several sets. Dyer says one of her goals is to provide customers with a useful product that still seems “designer.”
“We had five functions in mind, but it turns out our customers are even more creative,” said Dyer. A woman in Portland, Ore., discovered she could use Blossom while canning to keep the glass from rattling and breaking. Another woman let Dyer know she was using Blossom to decorate flower vases.
“When I designed the packaging, some of the last words are ‘get creative!’ and I really had no idea how creative people would get,” Dyer said.
Dyer has had to be careful in how she markets her products. It was a conscious decision to sell at smaller locations because she didn’t want to compromise quality in order to mass-produce cheaper items for large chain stores. Dyer especially likes the friendly and individualized service provided by smaller house ware stores.
Sales people on the floor are more likely to point a customer towards a new and different product like the ones Dyer sells. Josephine believes the small house ware stores are part of Spice Ratchet’s foundation.
“They are just like us, I’m one of them. I want to take care of them,” by supporting their businesses, said Dyer.
Currently, you can buy Spice Ratchet products in Anchorage at Allen & Peterson, Habitat, Metro Home, Saturday Market and online.
With an Alaskan market in mind, Spice Ratchet now carries Blossom mini, an impressively sturdy collapsible silicone bucket and camping teakettle.
Come 2013, Spice Ratchet plans to debut a collection of multifunctional spice jars and a new seed mill.