www.uccellino.com and the generosity of great mentors

Posted by on Aug 20, 2012 in Blog, Susan LeVine

in 1997 I made my first box of wishes for two of my best friends birthdays. They were so touched by my gift that I decided that I wanted to make things that touch people and helped them in some way, whether it was to lift  spirits, open  hearts or enhance the celebration of life. Though I have made 29 products through Uccellino I have a lot of designs that I haven’t made in 3D yet and I do hope to make them one day. I am one of my best customers. I pick one egg with my left hand and one with the right and I think of  those words to guide me during the day. Thoughts are powerful and a positive thought can make the difference in one’s day. When I first started my company I made everything by hand. I hired students from the Art Institute to come to my house at nine at night after my daughter had gone to sleep. We would work together until two in the morning hand painting every box in an assembly-like fashion. It was cool in the beginning but you can image it got tiring. Also, few stores could really afford my  hand made prices. I often fell asleep with a paint brush in my hand!

One day my friend Peter said,”Why don’t you call Recycled Paper Greetings and see if they will make your boxes?” I don’t think that Peter thought that I would do it, but I called RPG. I asked to speak with Phil Friedmann, one of the presidents of the company. I used my friend Peter’s name to get me through to his secretary and then I insisted that I had to talk to Mr. Friedmann. I asked Phil if RPG would make my products for me. Phil said,” Artist go through the art department and decisions are made there.” I knew that my products would get lost in the shuffle and I convinced Phil to see them. He sent me to the art department and guess what? Melinda Gordon, a true art angel, loved them. Phil asked me to sign a contract to be an exclusive artist with RPG and agreed to make my boxes for me! I was thrilled to say the least!

It turns out that I loved making greeting cards! Melinda, the art director gave me a list of cards to make. There were ten of this twenty of that etc. I got busy and when I was finished I filled a huge box  with my cards and brought it to her. Melinda was shocked when she saw me. She said” the list I gave you was the amount that I needed for the entire company!  I only expect about ten or twenty from each artist.”

Well, I guess I had a creativity spout that was clogged for a while and now it was gushing! I couldn’t stop myself!

Then, I met with the other president of Recycled Paper Greetings, Mike Kaiser. Mike was wonderful and saw that I needed some guidance. What a gift he was to me. Both Phil and Mike were amazing mentors. Mike generously offered to meet with me every other week. He would look at my cards and tell me which ones would be successful and which ones were too out there. I had a lot of cards that were too esoteric or flowery.  Sometimes my drawings were too primitive. Mike patiently helped me to deliver clearer messages and he told me to look for other companies to work with as well because my well of creativity was over flowing!

At this point I was anxious to get my boxes manufactured. Phil kept his promise and made my boxes in China. He took a chance on my vision and because of this I learned so much about the process of making things. Melinda helped me create the right boxes and Mike told me to create a marketing sampling to see how well they would do in the market. I had never done this before, obviously! I put something like ten or twenty boxes in about twenty stores in the Chicago area. After two weeks if they sold any boxes they would pay me for them and if they didn’t I would take them away, if they wanted me to.This was marketing 101! I learned that my boxes sold better in high end stores but not so great in car washes and lower end stores. Recycled Paper Greetings was not interested in making my boxes they just wanted my cards. But this is the very coolest thing about Mike and Phil, they were so generous! Phil gave me his contact in Asia and so I started making boxes myself and Uccellino,Inc. was reborn!