Jackie Rodgers and her husband, Shaun, built a business off of need — her own need to find a Santa Claus of color to wrap her son’s Christmas gifts.
“I knew I wanted wrapping paper for my son and I looked for it and I couldn’t find any,” Jackie says. “And I reached out to friends and asked them to look in major cities that have a large population of African-American people, and no one could find any.”
So she emailed her illustrator and communicated her idea of how she wanted her Santa to look — his complexion, his eyes, his beard, his hair. Every detail was important because Jackie wanted him to be not just an illustration on paper, but become a character in his own right.
“The very first draft that he sent back to us was perfect,” Jackie says. “I made no changes to it. … It was exactly what I wanted. He made it come to life.”
Clarence Claus was born — and so was Greentop Gifts. The new family business was able to appeal to other families, and with Jackie’s marketing background and Shaun’s finance background, it was able to provide the customer experience that other families were also seeking. A huge part of that experience is the company’s storytelling, and that often involves their own family.
“(Other families) want images their children can see, and I think we’ve been very intentional about our story and sharing,” Jackie says. “Sometimes, I’m hesitant with being so personal and putting pictures of my family in our boxes that we send out. But I think it makes us relatable … and I think that’s kind of what has helped us stand apart.”
Of course, not every customer has expressed pure love for Greentop’s products. And not letting negative critiques affect her personally has been a tough lesson for Jackie.
“When you start a business, you’re super passionate about it — you love it, but everyone else may not love it as much as you do,” Jackie says. “And in the first year, any time someone complained about the paper or they thought it wasn’t enough paper on the roll or they thought he was too chocolaty or he wasn’t chocolaty enough, I took all of that to heart. I would be so upset about it, but my husband and friends (told me to) let it go. You can’t take one person’s upset email and let it ruin the entire business.”
Jackie and Shaun’s goal for this year is to expand their business by offering products for additional holidays. And their money-making mantra? Multiple streams of income. And that’s a philosophy that runs in the family.
“The phrase my husband and I talk about often is: How can we have multiple streams of income?” Jackie says. “My father was a serial entrepreneur from the time he was a small child. … Growing up, I always saw my dad as an entrepreneur and he never worked for anyone his entire life. So seeing that and growing up in a household where our livelihood depended upon him every morning and him figuring it out, multiple streams was just something that I was always inspired by.”
This interview is part of a Black History Month series highlighting black business owners. You can find more here.
Top image: Courtesy of Greentop Gifts