Nutmeg + Honey is an online gifting boutique featuring curated boxes of Connecticut-made artisan products. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Co-Founders Jordan Abbott (pictured left) and Claire Bastian (pictured right) to learn more about how and why they launched their startup during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NAN PRICE: How did you come up with the idea to collaborate and form a startup?

CLAIRE BASTIAN: Jordan and I have been friends for more than five years and we’ve been toying around with starting a business together for the last few years. We both wanted to do something we’re passionate about. Every time we got together, we’d throw out ideas, but none had stuck.

JORDAN ABBOTT: We came up with the local gifting idea in October after seeing many requests from people on the Friends and Neighbors of West Hartford Facebook group page asking how to support local small businesses.

The group has almost 20,000 members and every time the question was asked members would post 50 to 100 different responses. Going through the list was overwhelming and many of the small businesses people suggested didn’t have a great online presence. We thought: What if we made it easy for people to give gifts and support four to five small businesses at the same time?

We wanted to showcase things from Connecticut because it’s where we live, but it’s also a really unique state that’s small but very populous. No matter where you go in Connecticut, you’re not going that far. We thought it would be a good place for this type of gift box concept because there’s a sense of neighborhood, a sense of togetherness we have from being in a small state.

It’s not a unique concept; it’s been done in other parts of the country really well, but when we did some research, we found there’s nothing like it around here. We started brainstorming and looking into items that are made in Connecticut to figure out what companies we could support. And we found so many! It was really exciting to discover great products and start talking to the owners and putting them together.

NAN: Is there a specific niche you’re featuring in the boxes?

CLAIRE: We’re starting with 12 themed boxes with products from 33 local businesses. The boxes have various themes ranging from new baby to housewarming to pamper and even a few for men! There are so many more businesses we hope to include down the road; it’s an untapped resource. Our boxes are also manufactured in Bridgeport, so we are really keeping it local. We’ve tried to bring in businesses from all the different regions of Connecticut. It’s also important to us to support women-owned and minority-owned businesses.

JORDAN: We also wanted to bring together both established businesses and new entrepreneurs. For example, in one box we have a kitchen notebook from well-known Hartford Prints! and artisan salts made by The Salt Shaker, a business that launched during the pandemic.

CLAIRE: Each box also includes a handwritten card with a personalized message from the buyer. Our website has a Meet the Makers Page featuring all the small businesses whose products we source. Our hope is that both gift givers and recipients will find new items they like and purchase more products from these businesses again in the future.

NAN: Do either of you have a business background or have you tapped into any local resources as you’ve been building out the business concept?

CLAIRE: Jordan’s background is in law, so she’s been helping with the legal side of things and we’ve been utilizing the state resources to answer other questions. My background is more in marketing, so I have that aspect.

It’s been a learning process for us and we’ve done most of the research on our own. We’ve been able to utilize some local resources, including Annisa Teich from the Small Business Collective. And, some of the businesses we’re featuring are also newly formed, so we’ve received some good advice from them.

NAN: How are you marketing? 

CLAIRE: To start, we’re tapping into social media. A big part of our business is pictures and presentation, so engaging photography is essential. We’ve already created our Facebook and Instagram pages and posted some teasers, so we gained a couple of hundred followers before we even launched.

JORDAN: We have all these partners, like INI Sips, who have thousands of followers. We’re trying to work with the vendors we use to have them build up the hype once we launch.

NAN: I’m a huge advocate of riding the coattails—there’s nothing wrong with that! It sounds like marketing won’t be too challenging, so what are the challenges you’ve been facing?

JORDAN: One challenge is money. With these types of products, you need to have inventory before you know which boxes will be the most popular. Right now, we have enough to sell 30 boxes for each of the 12 themed boxes.

The other challenge is, we’re dealing with small businesses, which many times can’t produce items quickly—particularly if they’re handmade. So, we need to have enough lead time to know exactly how many items we’re going to need and have enough grace period to receive them.

CLAIRE: Supply and demand is definitely going to be a big challenge. But also, we’re starting this business by putting only our own money into it. Hopefully, once boxes start to sell, we’ll be able to put all that money back into the business and perhaps utilize more marketing. But we definitely have to start small.

NAN: What’s next?

We launched the second week of March. If everything goes well, we want to offer more themes, add more products, and hopefully include more businesses.

JORDAN: In the near future we’ll offer  corporate and wedding gifting. Once that gets launched, it’ll change the business a little bit, but we want to get our feet wet doing basic gift giving and then go from there.

We’re starting this small business for ourselves, but we really feel good about it because we’re supporting and plan to draw attention to many other small businesses in the state. It’s especially important because of the impact the pandemic has had on small businesses. We both feel passionate about our business because we know how challenging the past year has been for all small businesses and we’ve created a new way to showcase them.

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