wegg® showcase: Coni Lefferts

wegg® showcase: Coni Lefferts, President, Creative Packaging Solutions

wegg® showcase magazine cover: Coni Lefferts

Issue 2: July 2024

Sponsored by: Lux Lined

How did you become an entrepreneur?

In the small farm town in Ohio where I grew up, women were expected to become housewives or work in a service position, such as a teacher or a nurse. I saw my chance to escape from this and do my own thing when I was about twelve years old and my father was transferred to Florida. I went to college, initially to study dentistry, but then I married my college sweetheart and we ran a swimming pool company in Florida. When he died, I became an immediate entrepreneur.

I ran the company for another five years and then sold it to the employees. After that, I needed some stability, so my young son and I moved to Atlanta, where I worked at a corporation. I soon realized that I didn’t want to be a corporate employee and returned to entrepreneurship. I got started in real estate, then operated a sales promotion agency, and the agency became Creative Packaging Solutions, the company I run today.

Why did you start Creative Packaging Solutions?

My sales promotion agency had a customer who made gourmet cookies but their sales program was unsuccessful because of their packaging. Their cookies were packaged in a brown paper bag, something like a coffee bag with metal twist turns on top of it. There was a window so you could see the cookies inside the bag. Unfortunately, what people saw were crumbs, not cookies, so the product didn’t sell very well. We changed the packaging from a brown paper bag to a metal, cigar box-looking can. The container presented their cookies in a much better light, they weren’t cracked, and the perceived market value was prestige.

Recognizing the importance of, and a greater need for packaging, we began searching stores to see what packages needed improving. Then we approached the brand owners and told them we could help them, and we decided to make it into a viable business.

How would you describe your company?

Creative Packaging Solutions does retail consumer brand packaging. We make the empty packaging that goes on the shelf. Lotions, potions, nuts and bolts, whatever is made has to be packaged to protect it and market it. Our customers include Revea, facial skincare, and Babo Botanicals, which is on the retail shelf on Whole Foods.

What was your first international business experience, and how did it go?

I was a nervous wreck! A company out of Israel called Ahava [makers of Dead Sea mineral skincare products] had a U.S. owner at the time, and they wanted shopping bags. We decided to have the bags made in China. Everybody around me was negative on doing business in China, so when the boxes arrived, I really didn’t know if they’d be filled with bricks or stones or dirt. But when I saw the bags, I was unbelievably pleased. The quality was fantastic, the price was good, and that sold me on doing international business. I’ve been importing ever since.

Any challenging international trade experiences to share?

One time we had a container on an ocean ship from Japan, and the ship developed engine problems. The containers had to be transferred from that ship onto another. Those of us who owned the shipments had to contribute to the cost of the transfer. It caused a delay but thankfully we had cargo insurance that paid for the transfer. It taught me that you really need cargo insurance.

Another interesting situation was when we had a shipment on a cargo carrier that was unable to pass through the Panama Canal. The company that owned the boat filed for bankruptcy and was unwilling to pay the passage fee. It never occurred to me that you had to pay a fee to go through the Panama Canal, but you do. Once again, the owners of the shipments, like me, had to share in the cost to get the ship through the canal.

What advice would you give to a female entrepreneur who wants to go global?

Be prepared for circumstances that you don’t understand and look for help. Organizations like Women Entrepreneurs Grow Global provide a lot of help to entrepreneurs. Also, don’t measure yourself against others who have been in international trade for a while. Trust yourself enough to handle your specific situation and go forward, because until you get started, you don’t know what you can accomplish.

Bob Marovich is wegg's® Chief Operating Officer (COO) and has more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector.