By Emily Stevenson
That’s what most people would say when they couldn’t find the holiday gift they wanted to send. Not Lindsey and Matt Ballenger, co-founders of Charleston Shucker Co.
Lindsey had planned to give all the males in her family a personalized oyster knife for Christmas but couldn’t find anywhere that sold high-quality engravable knives. Instead of finding an alternative gift, she found a new business.
“We decided there was a missing market for this,” says Lindsey. “My husband put a basic website together and through word of mouth it started to grow, and Internet sales started coming in.”
That was in 2007. Since then, Charleston Shucker Co. has taken off. When they began, the company personalized knives sold by other businesses. Now, they manufacture their own knives, as well as a line of other products such as steamers, specialty gift baskets, and apparel.
In 2016, the Ballengers began selling their products on Amazon.com. They were also featured in the 2016 Southern Living Holiday Gift Guide, an annual feature of the publication highlighting locally made products.
“It was a huge thing,” says Lindsey about the Southern Living publicity. “Our sales went through the roof.”
In addition, Charleston Shucker Co. was featured on Top Chef when the popular cooking show filmed a season in Charleston: they used the company’s oyster steamer, and one of the chefs used a Charleston Shucker Co. knife.
“Last year we got a lot of great press, so it was a huge year of growth for us,” says Lindsey.
In 2017, they launched a new website as well as a new product: a folding oyster knife with a built-in bottle opener. Sales are up overall, although Lindsey says that corporate sales have taken off the most.
“That’s where we see the most growth,” she says. “We work with corporations for marketing products and corporate gifts.”
For instance, Charleston Shucker Co. recently completed a big job for a winery in Seattle. The winery was debuting a new white wine that they were marketing with seafood, making an oyster knife the perfect promotional item. The Ballengers engraved the winery’s logo on the knives.
But Lindsey says that despite the growth in the corporate marketplace, holiday gift-giving remains their largest sector. The company also works with brides and wedding parties to provide personalized oyster knives to groomsmen or to attendees of showers or rehearsal dinners that may include an oyster roast.
Although her background is in nonprofit fundraising, Lindsey easily transitioned into owning a business full-time after the birth of her second of three daughters. As the sole full-time proprietor of the Charleston Shucker Co., Lindsey has had to do it all, from engraving to taking orders to working with her shipper to troubleshooting packages that are stuck trying to get out of the country. She says that having worked with small staffs in the past has helped prepare her to run a business.
“Those skills that I have learned with fundraising and marketing have helped me in this business,” she says. “I was never spoiled by working in a huge corporation. It was a good transition.”
Lindsey wants to help others have good transitions as well. She has worked with many women, especially mothers looking for a more flexible career, to start their business.
Her biggest advice?
“I would tell them to start small,” she says. “You may have a vision of the way you want it to be, but if you wait until that all comes together, you may not start it or it may be too late. Start with where you are and what you have, and let it grow.”
She recalls that when she first “dipped her toe” into social media, she was intimidated by it, but she started small, with what she had, and it continued to grow as she learned.
Learning is part of owning a business, and Lindsey encourages budding business owners to talk to as many people as they can to soak up advice.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to people,” she says. “People are always willing to share their expertise or where they’ve made mistakes, how they’ve learned from those mistakes. Be around smart people that you can pull on for advice.”
Although she never set out to own a business, Lindsey is glad that she had the opportunity. As her daughters are getting older, they’re interested in learning more about what Mom does.
“They’ve always been interested in wanting to help, and I see this as a great opportunity to teach them,” she says. “With our oldest, we’ve been talking through different products that she could help develop.”
But that’s still down the road. As far as the future goes, Lindsey says they still plan to keep the company small.
“2017 was a big year with the new website, new photography, and new products,” says Lindsey. “We’ll probably spend 2018 doing a little strategic planning. We like that it is a family business.”