We know that there’s a story behind every product. It’s that of an emerging designer just introducing her work to the world; artisans working collaboratively in a low income country; or a seasoned artist crafting each of his pieces by hand. With your help, we’re building a community of passionate people who love our products and connect with the stories behind them. We’re growing not only our artist family, but also a strong following of customers who celebrate artists and delight in surrounding themselves with creative design.
In 1999, our founder Dave Bolotsky visited a Smithsonian Museum craft show in Washington D.C. and was captivated by the variety of unique handmade goods and the talented people behind them. He saw there was a significant public demand for beautiful design. At the same time, he realized that the artists working to make those pieces were often traveling great distances in order to sell their wares at the show. Inspired by his experience, Dave had a vision to create something that had never existed before—an online marketplace to connect makers and their creations with individuals looking for truly special goods, regardless of the physical distance between the maker and the shopper.
Dave turned this idea into UncommonGoods. He continued traveling to craft fairs and trade shows, meeting artists and finding stand-out merchandise, while running the business out of his home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Before long, the company had outgrown Dave’s apartment, and moved through three successively larger offices in downtown Manhattan, eventually settling in our current location in Brooklyn, NY.
Of course, in the struggle to build a viable business, there are always bumps in the road along the way. When the internet bubble burst, we faced unforeseen hardships —funds were dwindling, and we were forced to cut back from a staff of 35 to just five full-time employees.
Around this time co-founder Thomas Epting joined us as a photographer. Thomas worked tirelessly to help ensure the company’s survival, steadily expanding his role to encompass all creative, technology, and warehouse operations. Times were tough, but thanks to the guidance of Dave and Thomas, we managed to turn the business around, becoming profitable for the first time in 2004.
Our focus is on building a business for the long haul. We’ve worked to create a sustainable business in all its aspects. We attempt to minimize our environmental impact, working with our artists to use sustainable or recycled materials whenever possible, choosing environmentally friendlier packing materials, and printing our catalog on Forest Stewardship Council [FSC] certified and recycled paper. We’re building relationships with non-profit organizations through Better to Give, a program we created that allows our customers to choose a partner for us to donate $1 to with every order. And a concentration on strong financial health allows us to maintain independent ownership and stay true to our values.
Our team has grown steadily over the last decade, from just 5 to over 100 year-round employees. The entire business now operates out of the historic Brooklyn Army Terminal on the scenic Upper Bay in Sunset Park. Keeping the business under one roof helps us monitor a “triple bottom line,” keeping an eye not only on financial, but also on social and environmental outcomes. Our business grows dramatically during the winter holidays each year. Thousands of packages ship out every day during these months, so we expand our workforce to hundreds of employees. We try to never lose sight of an inverted pyramid business model, meaning that the needs of the people closest to our customers, our customer service and warehouse teams, come first. As part of this model, our lowest paid hourly seasonal worker makes 50% more than minimum wage.
We’re still growing, but what’s important to us hasn’t changed. Sustainability is, and has always been, central to what we do. In 2007, we became a founding B Corporation, which established an independent third-party certification of a company’s sustainability. The Certified B Corporation seal means that a company has undergone and passed a comprehensive screening questionnaire, which evaluates areas including company governance, environmental practices, and impacts on the local community. As we maintain our certification as a B Corp we’re also driven to continuously evaluate and improve ourselves, while raising awareness of the program. To date, more than 1,000 companies have become certified B corps.
Along with sustainability, supporting creativity and the artist community is extremely important to us. Today our assortment has grown from a collection of Dave’s trade show finds to a plethora of products handpicked by a full-fledged buying team, who scour the web for the latest in creative design and, just like in our early days, hit the road to bring back treasures from around the country. Thanks to our community of artists and designers, we also discover many unique pieces through online product submissions. Additionally, we’ve grown an in-house product development team, who work hard to create new goods sure to make even seasoned design junkies swoon.
An Uncommon Future
As we enter a new age of business, we’ll remain focused on our commitment to sustainability and creative design. We’ll never stop working to provide a remarkable shopping experience to our customers, make our company our team members’ favorite place to work, celebrate craftsmanship and innovation, and support our community of artisans, designers, and creative thinkers. We have a feeling the future will be uncommonly good.