Q+A: Kelly Lester
As a creative mom who knows how to makeover a lunch box, performer and entrepreneur Kelly Lester created a solution to a problem, resulting in a thriving company. EasyLunchboxes was born out of Kelly’s innate ability to do things efficiently while on a shoestring budget, and the desire to send her three daughters to school with simple, healthy food with little to no extra packaging or ingredients.
This is my first year sending my son to preschool, and I actually just bought a pack of EasyLunchboxes to use for packing his lunch every day! They work so well for busy moms. What gave you the idea to create them?
Well, I guess it sounds a little odd coming from “The Lunchbox Lady”, but I’m really not a huge fan of food prep and packing lunches! The truth is, I’d rather be doing almost anything than cooking. As much as I love to eat well, I don’t love all the effort that goes into it. But with three school-age daughters and an aversion to unhealthy school cafeteria food, I was loathing the daily struggle of packing lunches. And what a struggle it was! After I’d figure out what to pack, then came the puzzle of HOW to pack. Dealing with three different sized cooler bags, a myriad of small containers and mismatched lids, flimsy baggies, and the occasional thermos, nothing ever fit exactly the same, and it frustrated me daily. When something bugs me repeatedly, I try to find a solution. So that’s how I came up with my streamlined, compartmentalized containers and the cooler bags where everything would fit.
Had you ever launched a business before? What was the most challenging part in the beginning?
I did have the experience of running another company that I launched when my first daughter was only two. It was a line of decorative light switch covers, called Art Plates. I started selling them in local craft fairs, and within a few years, they were carried by hundreds of stores across the country. I also sold them online via my company’s website. I sold Art Plates in 2006, and it’s still in business today.
The biggest challenge I found in launching EasyLunchboxes in late 2009 was that the whole online landscape had completely changed from just three years before. When I started Art Plates, most companies didn’t even have a website, and if you searched “switchplate”, my company would be the first or second result returned. But fast forward a few years and now EVERY company has a website. There was a lot of competition, lots of results for any key word you searched. There was also something called Facebook and, oh, yes, Twitter. And what was this thing called “social media”? Oh, so much to learn! But I dug into all of that and started reaching out to bloggers to do reviews and giveaways of my EasyLunchboxes so that they would link back to my website and the word would spread. After being pretty much invisible–not even coming up in the search engine result pages–slowly but surely, within about six months, EasyLunchboxes.com started coming up on the first or second page of Google when you searched for “lunch boxes”! By then I was working non-stop to grow and encourage the positive word of mouth. It’s paid off. I haven’t had to spend any money on advertising! Social media, while time consuming, is a priceless marketing tool.
You’re mom to three girls. What do you think is the hardest part about parenting in general? The hardest part about raising young women?
Parenting isn’t easy but I also don’t think it’s hard. It’s just what we do. Although there’s sometimes a bit too much “girl drama” going on in our house, generally my girls are pretty self-sufficient and able to tackle their schoolwork and other obligations on their own.
I’ve either been working in theatre or working on my businesses, so my life is not solely focused on what my kids are doing and where they need to be next.
I know many parents struggle with children who have special needs, so it seems petty to admit that, besides some often intense sibling rivalry, perhaps the “hardest” part about parenting, for me, has been juggling their activities with mine and my husband’s. I’ve either been working in theatre or working on my businesses, so my life is not solely focused on what my kids are doing and where they need to be next. Every day is different and needs a new solution for who’s going where, etc. The constant juggling of all that is one of my least favorite parenting responsibilities. As for raising young women, it’s a push to instill an innate sense of class and modesty into young women today when the media is pushing the opposite on them. Anywhere and everywhere. That frustrates me no end.
I love the silly and adorable web series “Let’s Do Lunch” you created and the way it ties right into the EasyLunchboxes! What gave you the idea to market your product in this way?
When I created EasyLunchboxes, I didn’t want to stop performing, even though running my company is pretty much a full-time job. I always intended to put myself “out there” as the face of the brand. Singing is my real passion, so it wasn’t a big leap to come up with something that would incorporate song and dance AND lunch-packing! Video marketing is so important these days and YouTube is at the center of all that. With the creative help of my husband, Loren Lester, who wrote and directed the videos, I wanted to put a unique spin on a commercial for EasyLunchboxes by aiming for ‘productainment,’ that highlight my skills as a performer.
You’re really involved in the online and social media world, and I see blurbs about your business popping up all over the place. Do you enjoy the online component of marketing your business or is it something that feels like a chore?
Communicating with someone, whether they’re loving my lunch boxes or having an issue that needs assistance, is my opportunity to show them that there’s a real person behind the brand.
It’s the part I love most about running my business! I’m a people person. I like talking to them. My strong online presence allows me to connect directly with those who are using my products on a daily basis. Communicating with someone, whether they’re loving my lunch boxes or having an issue that needs assistance, is my opportunity to show them that there’s a real person behind the brand. Also, I’ve made many close friendships with people I’ve met online, both in the lunch packing/bento communities I’m a part of and also with other mompreneurs I’ve come to know, who are also growing their companies via online marketing. Social media is about sharing. It’s not a chore when the results are so supportive and rewarding.