You might say St. Louis startup company greetabl® owes its early success, in a roundabout way, to St. Louis-born actor Jon Hamm.
The year was 2011, and greetabl® founder Joe Fischer, who was working in the finance industry in New York but had decided to move back to his native Missouri, was recovering from shoulder surgery and was, as Fischer puts it, “watching ‘Mad Men’ episodes until four in the morning because I couldn’t sleep.”
“I had a couple of very good friends’ weddings coming up. For me, a wedding gift was always a check and a written note that I would put in an envelope. I had this thought that it’s a lot more fun to get a gift than to get a note in an envelope. So sitting there, watching TV, that was the start of the idea. I told people about it and they loved it.”
Fischer soon moved from concept to prototype: a really, really ugly prototype, he adds. “But I brought them to a couple of weddings and people really loved them. They really resonated. That’s when I got the inkling that maybe this is something I should be pursuing. That’s where it kind of turned from a concept to a company,” he says.
A greetabl®, says Fischer, “is basically like any other premium greeting card (when purchased). It’s individually packaged in cellophane. When you open it up it’s kind of flat. Where ours is different is it includes a little ‘how to’ card on the inside that gives you some instruction. You write a message in the appropriate place and then you fold along the scores and it pops into itself and forms a little gift box. You pull off a couple of adhesive strips to hold it together, you can add a gift. It’s a simple little way to add a gift.”
Further validation for the concept came when Fischer decided to see if his prototype was “road worthy” — that is, able to withstand the rigors of the U.S. Postal system. “I grabbed a cereal box and made a greetabl® out of it (the heavy stock of a cereal box is similar to the very heavy recycled paper used in Fischer’s product) and sent it to my mother via regular mail. It worked perfectly.”
Not only that, says Fischer, “the woman postal carrier wrote a note on the box that said, ‘too cute’ and included a little smiley face. I had a pretty good sense then that it was going to work.”
Fischer’s partner in the business is graphic designer and Wash U. alum, Zoë Scharf, a New York native. After meeting through friends at Startup Connection, a St. Louis innovation sh0wcase and resource fair, Scharf contracted the early design work before coming on board as a partner about six months later.
A two-and-a-half inch cube when assembled, a greetabl®, says Fischer, can accommodate a gift card, placed diagonally in the box, as well as items such as candy pieces and jewelry. He says the product can also accommodate some larger items such as women’s scarves and men’s neckties as well.
greetabl® is currently available at a number of St. Louis area retail outlets, including Left Bank Books, ArtMart, and Ladue Pharmacy, Café Osage in the Central West End, Style House on Cherokee, Lusso in Clayton, the Mercy Hospital Gift Shop, and Fern & Sycamore in Washington, Missouri. greetabl® is also carried in one location each in California and Australia.
To say the greetabl® is American-made is an understatement. They are manufactured by The Chest, a promotional products and packaging firm in Fischer’s home town of Washington, Missouri.
This May, greetabl® was awarded a $50,000 Arch Grant, which elevated the profiles of Fischer and Scharf, who are looking to expand the brand nationally in years to come.
That fact notwithstanding, one idea that recently was floated on the greetabl® website has “hometown St. Louis” written all over it: sending a friend a greetabl® that contains a toasted ravioli.