As a retail manager in the North Loop, Laura Waldman found herself collecting stories about Minnesota's makers — and impressed with their products.
"The story is I started to meet a lot of really talented makers in the community. They had just beautiful, high-quality products," Waldman said. "I was finding I had never heard of these products, and I have lived here my whole life."
This was 2016, when boxes of products started becoming popular. She thought about starting a subscription service of Minnesota goods but settled on gift boxes partly because she couldn't find a company offering those.
"But mainly because Minnesotans overall are generous people," Waldman said. "You might feel bad about treating yourself. People have a bit more fun gifting and showing their gratitude."
So in April, May and June, she started building her business. She landed on Minny & Paul as the name, bought the web domain, worked on the logo and website design and organized a focus group. She tested her theory by putting together a beta box she successfully sold to friends and family for Father's Day that year.
A friend's mom saw the box and brought it into work, where the company was trying to figure out a gift to give out at a conference. The company asked Waldman if she could customize a box with the company's logo. The answer was yes, and she received her first 100-box order.
"Boxes were everywhere," as she and family members fulfilled that first order out of her south Minneapolis duplex.
From there, she started building her maker base for the business — and securing credit, necessary in a retail business since you need to buy products before you can sell them. She scoped out farmers markets and art fairs to find makers, and the company started growing.
"It's the most fun part about the business, the relationship-building and finding and learning about these products and the makers' stories," said Waldman, who grew up in Edina.
By October, she was ready for her business to get its own address, and she started sharing space at the Northrup King Building in Northeast with three other female entrepreneurs, including a bridal consultant.
The business hit profitability the first year, and by the second monthly sales had doubled year over year. "We were bootstrapping it. We have no investors at this time," she said, pointing to Bridgewater Bank as a key partner in her business.
A year later, Minny & Paul moved into a larger suite in the building. "We can settle in and grow," she said. "We are doing more events in our space. You could build your own box. We're looking at opening up weekends to do retail experience."
But Waldman said she's not interested in following a traditional retail model. She holds pop-up events such as one coming up from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Hewing Hotel in the North Loop and still participates in select art fairs.
"I'm honestly overwhelmed," she said. "There's so much stuff going on in Minnesota. It's so hard to choose from the products."
The Minny & Paul boxes are wooden with the company logo on it (or a customized business logo for group orders) from WAAM Industries. Inside are a collection of matched items from a mix of the more than 40 artisans she now buys from.
"The process of curating a box is really fun and is a lot more complicated than what people might think," Waldman said. "They need to be general, but also have an impact and creative feel."
For example, for the holiday season, she created the "Cozy" box with a KISA Peshtemal towel, which she said can be used as a scarf or throw. Then she added Thumbs glitter cookies, a mini Mademoiselle Miel honey jar, a Wacks & Co. Alpine candle, an Illume matchbook and a card from Maddko Illustration. The cost for the limited-run box is $98.
Other retail boxes offered right now range from $48 to $108.
The company has created partnerships with TEDxMinneapolis and Squarespace, and its corporate customers include Land O'Lakes and RBC Wealth Management. The plan for next year is to expand the corporate and group order business, using larger vendors that can turn orders more quickly, Waldman said.
Minny & Paul also will create more limited-edition boxes featuring some of the smaller "hidden gem" artisans who don't have the capacity for larger volume orders, she said. These might be more heavily promoted on platforms such as Instagram.
Meanwhile, Waldman is getting married in February in Mexico.
The bridesmaid favors? A variation of the Minny & Paul boxes, of course, using tote bags because of the traveling.