by Linda Bontrager
I will never forget the day I picked up a rubber stamp for the first time. I had bought a little stamp set for my kids and I was showing them how to use it. I remember picking up the stamp, inking it and pressing it down on the paper. As I lifted the stamp and saw the image it was that “AH-HA!” moment. It was one of those moments in my life when I realized I had discovered something amazing and it would shape the course of our future.
Our family for generations back is old order Amish. Our education went up to 8th grade in a one room Amish parochial school. Growing up infused with tradition, legalism and living in a Northern Indiana rural farming community was not conducive to thinking “outside of the box” or “being creative.” We did not have access to any stamp or scrapbook stores in the area and hiring a taxi to shop for stamps was not an option at the time. But the stamping bug had permanently bitten me.
Previously I had done a lot of bake sales, sewed handmade quilts to sell and even tried my hand at painting. Anything to help us make a living on our little farm where we milked cows by hand, worked the fields with horses and we worked from dawn to dusk.
A Growing Entrepreneurial Spirit
In 1997 we built a new house on our 80-acre farm. By this time I had accumulated a shoebox full of stamps from mail order sources I found. Our family now had more space in our new home and I asked my husband if we could use a small corner of our dining room and get stamping products in for resale. I told him, you know, just a few items for some friends and family. Maybe a few stamps…some ink, embossing powder, and card stock.
That small start kept growing as word spread in our Amish community. Later that year we moved the store from the dining room to our attached porch area that was 16×20 feet. I have always enjoyed drawing and art, so the next step was designing my own line of stamps. Again I thought I would just do a few. This venture turned into several thousand images.
Around that time we started doing stamp conventions. We hired a taxi with a trailer and hauled our product to shows across the Midwest as a family. We built a large addition to our shop in 2002 and moved our retail store there.
A New Beginning
In the spring of 2004 we sold our retail store. We had also come to the realization at this time that who we are in Christ Jesus is not dependent on our dress code, our way of life, and everything else we had been so strictly taught all our life. So at the age of 41 we left the Amish way of life. My husband and I got our drivers’ license along with our kids!! Was that scary? YES! We sold our farm and moved to another location.
In 2006 we started another retail store in Nappanee, Indiana (now closed) and in 2007 we started doing conventions again. At this time our daughter Emma Lou and her husband Richard were doing all the shows. As the oldest, Emma Lou always wanted to do everything I did. She was the one who insisted on doing the demoing when we set up at our first conventions. She started demoing glitter at the age of fourteen! Our second daughter, Ellen, started doing most of the shipping and making sure customers’ packages were assembled correctly. Ellen would also help at some of the shows. Our youngest son, Harlan, was busy in college majoring in Communication Design at FIT in NY. Our son-in-law Richard was doing all of our IT work at the time. My husband Willis was production manager and helped with shipping when we were in a crunch. And I, Linda, was kept busy designing.
An Innovative Idea
A few years after starting conventions again we were looking for a way to simplify the intricate process of cutting out stamped images by hand. Like any new idea, finding solutions was not an easy process. By trial and error we discovered how to match stamps with existing Spellbinders™ dies. Using coordinating stamps and dies, we changed the way people use our products…making stamping more fun and easier.
Where Are We Today?
We serve a global community that continues to grow. We design a unique line of coordinating rubber art stamps, coordinating dies and papers. Our oldest daughter Emma Lou excels in writing blogs, demoing at conventions and on TV, teaching classes, and demonstrating useful techniques in short instructive videos. Her husband Rich is our CFO and works with our larger accounts and customer relations. Ellen works as Creative Administrator creating classes, card kits and coordinating travel. Her husband Ben is Operations Manager, oversees manufacturing and ensures that everything is done correctly and efficiently. Harlan manages social media, marketing, does typography, graphic art and also contributes to artwork for stamp designs. Willis does all of our custom built cabinets, storage and shelving units and maintenance. I am the main artist, the passionate scrapbooker and stamper, and the CEO. Together with an amazing team of employees we make the world more beautiful one image at a time.
Some things we learned in this process of growth in business, stay humble and teachable, and surround yourself with people who are good at things you are not. Technology is not my thing, but I have two amazing people on our team that are very patient with me and have taught me so much in this area. We are always learning and growing.
Linda Bontrager is an artist, CEO and founder of Heartfelt Creations in Goshen, Indiana. Being raised Amish with an 8th grade education, she left that lifestyle in 2004. She is married (32 yrs.) to Willis Bontrager and together they have raised three children, and a fur baby Chanel. They are a part of Grace Community Church. She loves to do art, scrapbooking, card making, gardening, landscaping and to go for long walks.