FORT MILL – On many afternoons in 2004, you could find Rebecca Stickels hunched over a computer desk with daughter, Caroline, cuddled in a Baby Bjorn on her chest.
That year as a new mom, Stickels asked her husband for $300 to start a small web-based business. This week, Stickels’ “small business” becomes Fort Mill’s newest retailer.
The Palm Gifts opened Monday behind Lowe’s Home Improvement, next door to Living Art Salon on Carolina Place Drive. The gift shop sells monogrammed gift items of all sorts, from jewelry to scarves and tote bags.
Among the shop’s most popular items is the design-your-own tote bag, which allows the customer to choose their own ribbon from one of 52 ribbon choices, as well as coordinate the monogram to “suit the age and style of the person,” Stickels said.
“I want to be Fort Mill’s monogramming shop. The customers dictate what they want. I want them to come in and I just say, ‘What do you need and how can I help?’“
In the beginning, Stickels sold small gift baskets and corporate gifts via the website. She taught herself about running a web-based business by printing off pages and pages of information about Google Search Engine Optimization, and read the pages while she cared for her first daughter and then, later, her second.
Eventually she expanded the website offerings to include other gift items, always sticking with products that she herself liked and would buy.
Three years after she started running the website, Stickels had more orders and work than she could keep up with. She and her husband Dave decided to take a leap of faith (not their first or their last.) He quit his job and the two began to run the business full time from their Baxter Village home.
“It was a crazy idea at the time, but we just had this hope it would work,” she said.
They brought as much of the business “in house” as they could, purchasing a monogramming machine and other equipment. They used a spare bedroom, hallway and dining room before converting the garage into an additional workspace.
Business grew and grew, and they added two more employees, Dave’s mom and a friend of the family. It was the perfect scenario for raising a family, Rebecca Stickels said.
“We worked more hours than a regular job, but it was more flexible,” she said.
When they didn’t have any room to move around the house anymore, they decided it was time to move the business to a place where they could continue to fill orders for the website, but also open a small retail operation.
The store is open Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., closing each day in time for the couple to pick up the kids from school.
Even though The Palm Gifts has moved out of their home, it’s still a family affair. Caroline, now 9, and Anna, 7, have helped decorate the interior. They’ve enjoyed making signs, though Stickels jokes that not all of them have been spelled correctly. On a recent weekday before they opened, a friend stopped in to drop off framed chalkboards she’ll be selling in the shop while another of Stickels’ friends helped manage things in the stockroom and Dave Stickels worked on the monogram machine.
“This is just everybody chipping in here,” she said.
Stickels is too modest to crow about her own accomplishments, but she’s eager to talk about the quality of the products she sells and how they are loved by celebrities and regular folks alike. She’s monogrammed tote bags for Jenny Craig to give out Craig’s daughter’s 50th birthday party and cosmetic bags for actress Jami Gertz. The Palm Gifts has also created products to appear in “Southern Living” and “InStyle Wedding.”
From the name of the business it’s not hard to tell that Stickels has a thing for the beach. She loves to vacation there and she’s brought a bit of the beach into the store’s decor. The interior is a bright green and a palm tree, that lights up, stands behind the checkout desk. The checkout desk itself is an old buffet painted pink and distressed with turquoise accents. Even the break room has a Margaritaville vibe, with patio table and chairs with brightly colored cushions.
From the placement of the gifts to the prices to the furniture they are displayed on, it has all been a labor of love.
“I’m putting my heart and soul into this, hoping I have something to pass on to the kids, and then retiring at the beach with a drink in my hand.”