Torrance Hart is the Founder and CEO of Teak and Twine, a corporate gifting company that’s helped thousands of businesses create custom gifts and branded swag for every occasion.
Over the last eight years, Teak and Twine has grown from a home operation to a thriving workplace of 75+ employees – and now Torrance is pulling back the curtain to show us how she did it!
In this episode, she shares her advice for growing a team, creating a meaningful place to work, and the operating system that revolutionized the way she runs her business.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
After serving in the Air Force as a Finance Officer for eight years, Torrance knew she wanted to start a business. She planned to leave the Air Force and go back to school for an MBA – but that changed when she met her pilot husband.
With his job, Torrance knew they wouldn’t be able to stay in one place while she finished an MBA. So she decided to skip business school and educate herself instead. “I decided I was going to start a business. One small detail was I had no idea what business to start.”
Her first idea was to open a food truck or a gym membership. From there, she bounced to wedding planning…only to discover it was an overcrowded, competitive market. But that final jump held the seed for the idea that would become Teak and Twine.
In her research on the wedding industry, Torrance found that most planners ordered wedding gift boxes, but there were no companies specializing in creating the boxes.
Torrance knew an opportunity when she saw it. She decided to fill a gap in the market by creating beautiful, custom wedding welcome gifts.
“When I started, my plan was to reach out to wedding planners, introduce myself, and see if they had any brides.” She found a list of top planners in Martha Stewart Weddings and got to work.
Torrance studied each planner in detail. She read their blogs, followed them on social media, and kept track of where they were located. Then she wrote highly personalized emails to each one. “That tactic really worked, but in a different way than I thought.”
None of the planners she reached out to needed wedding gifts, but several of them were interested in gift boxes for their own clients.
One of Torrance’s first clients was a bride who ordered five gift boxes for her bridesmaids. That same woman happened to work at Mircrosoft, and she loved Torrance’s work so much that she ordered 300 holiday gifts for the company.
Despite marketing herself specifically to wedding professionals, most of Torrance’s revenue that first year came from corporate gifts. “I had this idea that corporate gifting was boring. But a lot of my assumptions turned out to be wrong – my corporate clients are very creative.”
Following the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 Rule), Torrance decided to double down on what was working. The vast majority of her revenue came from corporate clients, so that was where she focused her efforts.
Torrance launched her business with one year left of active duty in the Air Force and set a goal to replace her salary. That first year she woke up early, worked on gift boxes before going to her day job, then worked again in the evenings.
Working out of her house with the help of one employee, Torrance was able to replace her salary by the time she left the Air Force.
In the beginning, most of Torrance’s gift boxes were custom orders. Despite having an online store with pre-selected options, most customers still preferred custom combinations, and it took multiple rounds of revisions to sell each gift.
“That first year, I was selling five, ten gifts at a time. It was great because I needed those reps, I needed the practice – and to get the pricing wrong before getting it right.”
Originally, Torrance thought she could simply add up the retail cost for each item to get a total price for the gift box. But it wasn’t long before she realized there were a lot of hidden costs cutting into her profit margins (including packaging, shipping, and labor costs).
Now she uses a formula that includes retail costs, plus the cost of labor, a percentage fee for packaging and shipping, and an additional margin of 50%.
To help finance the business, Torrance and her husband rented a room in their house on Airbnb. “That helped me make big scary moves like hiring that first person.”
For her first few years in business, Torrance was cautious about hiring staff. “In hindsight, I was definitely too conservative about hiring. I did so many things myself.” Yet every time she grew their team, it not only propelled the business forward but also freed up her time.
Eight years in, Teak and Twine now has 75 employees, plus additional freelancers and independent contractors. Torrance tries to hire based on anticipated growth, rather than waiting to fill an urgent need.
One of the biggest shifts at Teak and Twine came when Torrance was introduced to the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) in 2019.
EOS is derived from the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It involves sitting down with your team to determine where you want your business to be in 10 years, then turning that 10-year vision into three years, one year, and finally one quarter.
From there, each goal is broken down into metrics that can be assigned to various team members. “It’s not about blame, it’s about accountability and transparency,” Torrance says. “And it’s as close to magic as I’ve encountered in business.”
Although Torrance was initially resistant to the idea of using such a rigid planning process, having clear definitions for success has been a game-changer for her entire team. “That was the turning point. It started professionalizing the organization.”
Although Torrance loves her work at Teak and Twine, the business fulfills much more than a passion for gift boxes.
“I’m obsessed with the idea of creating a beautiful place to work and scale. Can I run a business that involves working on an assembly line that respects the creativity, humanity, and dreams of every person on the staff?”
More than hitting sales metrics, running Teak and Twine allows Torrance to provide meaningful jobs to over 75 people.
“Being a leader is the most awesome responsibility. The bigger we grow, the more people I can bring into our nest and create beautiful things for them and their families.”
When it comes to her relationship with money, Torrance says she was lucky to have parents who valued financial literacy. “I had a unique childhood when it comes to money. I grew up in a household where we were talking about Roth IRAs at age 12.”
That comfort with numbers may have been what led to Torrance’s career as a finance officer. But in the years since starting Teak and Twine, she’s continued to push the boundaries of what success means.
“When I started the company, the biggest, craziest number I could conceive of making was $200,000.” As Teak and Twine has grown, so has her definition of what’s possible.
Like many product-based businesses, Teak and Twine’s busiest season is around the holidays. Up to 70% of the company’s revenue is generated from October to December – a season Torrance refers to as her “creative idea time.”
In the new year, she focuses on annual planning, and February is when things start to slow down. Summer is the slowest season – but after years in business, Torrance plans her schedule accordingly and takes vacations with her kids during those months.
Outside of the busy fourth quarter, Torrance works from home on Monday and Friday. “That’s everything for me,” she says. “But I still have moments where I look at my kids, and I think about selling the business and quitting my job.”
Eight years after starting Teak and Twine, Torrance says, “I’m so glad I didn’t go to business school. This is my dream job. There’s no better feeling than getting to do what you love every day, and when the numbers make sense you get to keep doing what you love.”
If you want help making the numbers side of your business make sense, check out The Blueprint Model – my finance course for entrepreneurs!
To hear the full story and more about Evelyn Henson, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
After 8 years in the Air Force, Torrance knew she wanted to launch a business… she didn’t didn’t know which one! After considering everything from a food truck, to a gym that charges people for NOT going instead of going.. she landed on gift boxes! Teak & Twine launched in 2015 and since then has been lucky enough to create hundreds of thousands of corporate gift boxes for clients like Google, Microsoft, Meta, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and SHANNA SKIDMORE!! In 2022, they launched Teak & Twine Kitting + Fulfillment, where they team up with fast-growing E-commerce and Amazon brands and do all of their making, building, shipping and fulfillment (aka our favorite part!) Her favorite part of this whole entrepreneurship ride though, has been in creating and building a great place to work for the 75+ “teakettes” who call Teak & Twine home every day 🙂
November 9, 2023