Last summer, an amazing account swept across my Instagram feed — gorgeous gift boxes filled with a curation of handmade, artisan foods made in North Carolina. What an amazing idea! Over the last year, I have become friends with Nicole Bogas, the founder of NC MADE, and I am so inspired by her career story and creativity. Based in Durham, N.C., Nicole and I share a love for our Land of the Long Leaf Pine. I’m so excited to have her here today to discuss how she got started, how she runs her business and her goals for her work. // susannah
1. How would you describe NC MADE?
We create handsomely packaged gift boxes featuring handcrafted North Carolina foods. To accomplish this, we curate the tastiest small-batch artisan goods from around our state with a focus on good product design. Our goal is for our gift boxes to bring attention to NC food artisans and to represent North Carolina as part of the New South.
2. What were you doing before NC MADE? What inspired you to change paths?
I worked for a digital advertising company in downtown Durham and had a lot of clients at national brands. It was unusual that our company was based in North Carolina, and at the holidays, I always wanted to send a gift showing our NYC and LA clients how cool the food scene in North Carolina is. But the existing options were mass-produced and kind of hokey. So I figured it couldn’t be that hard to make what I wanted myself… and now here I am!
Click through to read the whole Q&A with Nicole Bogas!
3. When ideas are scarce, where do you turn for creative inspiration?
I travel the state visiting locally-owned grocery stores, co-ops, and farmers’ markets looking for new products to feature. I get lots of packaging and photography ideas from Instagram. I love to look at the feeds of Garibaldi Goods (@garibaldigoods) and Valley Brink Road (@valleybrinkroad) on the west coast — their gift packaging is incredibly inspiring!
4. Describe your workspace.
My workspace is in my basement and is ridiculously messy. There is currently about a ton of cardboard stacked up beside the door to my office just waiting to be taken to the recycling center. As much as I would like to be neat and organized, I seem to thrive in mess. One of my goals over the next couple of months is to figure out ways to help mitigate my tendency toward chaos. That said, I feel lucky to have a house with a basement that gives me extra space to run my business. Otherwise, maintaining inventory and storing extra supplies (like giant rolls of bubble wrap) would be much more difficult without a dedicated workspace. It’s nice to have the space so I can order larger quantities and save money.
5. What have been your biggest successes and challenges for NC MADE?
My biggest success was being profitable in the first year — that felt really good. The business proved itself as a viable concept, which was the goal. The biggest challenges have been the administrative things like accounting, inventory management, and paying the dang sales and use taxes. I’ll admit I haven’t quite figured all that out yet. If anyone has any advice, I’m all ears!
6. What are your dreams for NC MADE?
I hope to move into the wedding space by offering wedding gifts and favors for North Carolina brides who want to share their love of this state with their guests. I also hope to offer some bigger and more lavishly-packaged gift assortments for the holidays this year.
7. Who do you look up to?
I look up to successful North Carolina food entrepreneurs like Mark Overbay of Big Spoon Roasters, April McGreger of Farmer’s Daughter Brand, Jenny Bonchak of Slingshot Coffee, and Jessica DeMarco of Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon. It’s hard to make a living while sticking to the principles of using local or responsibly-sourced ingredients, and they show it can be done. Their success is inspiring, and they’ve been so supportive of upstart businesses like mine. We’re lucky to have so many great small-batch foods being created in North Carolina, and NC MADE exists to showcase them.
8. Where and how do you love to spend your time off?
I love to visit the downtown Durham farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and cook a big meal with the produce I find there. I also love to travel around the state, whether it’s hiking in the mountains or relaxing on the beach, and seeking out good road food at the many historic restaurants around the state.
9. What resources do you recommend to someone whose dream job is your job?
If you want to run an e-commerce business, I would be sure to educate yourself about internet marketing; I think focusing on how search engines will find your site is important. I have found the resources at my e-commerce provider, Shopify, to be really helpful. I would also find a good accountant who can help you get a good system in place before you start. (I did not follow my own advice!)
10. If you weren’t running NC MADE, what would be your dream job?
I think I’d like to be a food stylist and photographer… if only I had talent!