Couple’s Passion for Colorado Inspires Apparel Company

by Kristine Hansen on August 20, 2014
beth norah and john

Lots of people love their hometowns — or the cities or states they’ve adopted as their own. But not everyone channels that passion into a business the way Beth and John Kelly (pictured), founders of Big Colorado Love, an apparel and accessories company in Telluride, Colo., have. They convey their crush on Colorado through beverage “koozies,” tote bags, T-shirts, hats, and stickers emblazoned with the same logo: a modified Colorado state flag with a heart where the letter “C” normally appears. As business owners, they’ve experienced nothing short of a Rocky Mountain high, including their marriage in 2012. The couple has a young daughter, too.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently caught up with Beth Kelly to chat about the challenges of running a startup.

ISBB: How do your previous careers help in your role as business owners?

Kelly: I have a journalism degree and experience in marketing and public relations for nonprofits. My husband has a finance degree and an MBA. It feels like everything we’ve ever done has led us to this business, although we had no plans to have this business.

While we designed the logo and had stickers made, we had no immediate plans to do any more. That all changed when, at our wedding two years ago, our friends surprised us by having 100 hats made with our logo, to give to our wedding guests. Right after the ceremony, our friends unveiled the hats and off we went on a bike parade through Telluride to our reception site. Imagine 100 people — including grandparents and a bride and groom — riding around town with Big Colorado Love hats on. For the rest of that summer, people were asking for hats.

Our friends basically gave us a small business for a wedding present! To pay forward their generosity, we donated 100 percent of profits from the first 100 hats to a Colorado nonprofit. It just made sense to make charity a part of our business plan after that.

Any tips for balancing family life and managing a startup business?

Never stop looking for ways to improve efficiency. This summer we moved our “warehouse” from our loft to a ground-floor location — no more hauling boxes up and down a ladder! We also decided on a new way to track sales that will give us more time to play with our daughter and less time at the computer.

How do you convey your love for Colorado through your products?

Our message is simple: Big Colorado Love. It’s heard loud and clear by anyone who can recognize the Colorado flag in our Big Colorado Love image. To everyone else, it’s just three stripes and a heart.

How do you entice tourists to purchase your products?

Ultimately, the quickest way to a tourist’s heart is through a local’s heart, and Big Colorado Love clothing is worn by Colorado locals of all ages. Most of our sales come from word of mouth — “Hey! Where did you get that?” — and love at first sight. Stores that carry Big Colorado Love [merchandise] always advertise our products in their windows. We often hear that Big Colorado Love is a best-seller.

In what ways do you set your products apart from other apparel companies?

Big Colorado Love apparel is screen printed and embroidered in Colorado. Most of the shirts are made in the United States. Ten percent of our profits go to Colorado charities.

What do you look for in a partner charity?

From local chapters of Toys for Tots to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, we love to work with organizations that serve Coloradans.

Kristine Hansen is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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