Kim and Jason Kotecki are quite the pair. Seven years ago they started a small business to produce the comic strip originally created by Jason as a way to win over his now-wife, Kim. That comic strip, based on their lives as children and named "Kim and Jason," became the basis for their personal and business philosophy: bring as much childlike wonder into adult life as possible, and help give happy childhoods to those who might otherwise not get the chance.
The couple ran their business out of their home for a number of years before moving into their current office at 315 S. Baldwin St. They do the vast majority of their sales and work through kimandjason.com, where you can find the comic strip, podcasts, blogs, eCards and an assortment of other digital goodies for the young at heart.
In keeping with the message inherent in their merchandise, the couple have pledged to donate 3% of all sales to various organizations that "help meet the needs and improve the lives of children." One of the major groups they've worked with is the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin. Both Kim and Jason became "Wish Granters," liaisons between children and the foundation who help to plan that child's wish.
So it was with that ethic in mind, and the desire to help adults, too, rediscover the real joy of being a kid during the holidays, that Kim and Jason put together the 12 Days of Wishmas.
The couple is opening their office to the public for the duration of the event, which runs from Dec. 8 through Dec. 19. Each day will feature a different traditional holiday activity, everything from decorating Christmas cookies to making mistletoe to a "meet Santa Claus" day. They've also pledged to donate 5% of all merchandise sales during the event to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
I recently exchanged email with the busy pair, discussing the genesis of the "12 Days of Wishmas," their unconventional business model, and their own favorite holiday memories.
The Daily Page: How did the idea for the 12 Days of Wishmas event come about?
Kim and Jason Kotecki: Well, we've had an online store for several years now, and this past August we moved into this cool new space on Baldwin Street. Before that, we had always run our company from our home, which is not quite conducive to maintaining a retail shop. Ever since we got this new office, people have been asking us if we were going to open it up for shoppers. It wasn't necessarily in the original plan, but we figured we'd give it a try this holiday season.
But we never like doing anything "normal," so we decided to spruce it up with an extra dash of fun. First, we wanted to offer a different kind of shopping experience for people. We wanted to offer something different from the busy, plain-jane malls and big box stores.
Since our mission is to help people rekindle their childlike spirit, we decided to incorporate a different activity each day, one that many people may not have done in years. Some of the things we came up with is building a gingerbread house and decorating Christmas cookies.
Also, we figured if we were going to put all the effort into an event like this, we might as well try and help out a good cause. We've done a few events to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin over the years, but we haven't done one in a while. As Wish Granters, Kim and I know that they are always in need of ice breaker gifts for wish kids and their siblings.
Coupling the ideas of donating a portion of the proceeds to Make-A-Wish and encouraging people to bring in ice breaker gifts in exchange for a chance to win some cool prizes seemed like a great opportunity to encourage folks to make a difference. And the act of giving is what really helps you get into the spirit of the season.
Planning and organizing something like this must take considerable time and energy: how have you been balancing that work with making sure to have fun with it all?
As I mentioned, we've had a lot of practice organizing events for Make-A-Wish in the past, and so we've gotten pretty good at managing the logistical details. We are a small team, but we work really, really well together.
That being said, it has been terribly crazy getting everything set up and decorated, especially considering that this is the busiest time of the year for our online store as well. Trying to manage all of the orders that have to go out with the tasks involved in getting everything ready has been a challenge. I'm sure we'll be working on the little details up until the last minute.
The Make a Wish Foundation does great work, but how did you decide to work with/donate to them specifically?
Our mission is mainly about helping grown-ups "escape adulthood," but we have a special passion to making sure kids have great childhoods to look back on. For over five years now, we've been donating a portion of our sales to six organizations that help improve the lives of children all over the world. Make-A-Wish has been one of those charities since day one.
About four years ago, Kim and I decided to get even more involved with our time, and called up the Wisconsin chapter of Make-A-Wish to see how we could help. We thought they'd need some people to lick envelopes, but we discovered that they were in need of Wish Granters in the Madison area. So we work as liaisons between Wish families and the state office, helping out with wishes.
We've done about a dozen wishes, and the experience has been so rewarding and humbling. They do such great work, and make such a difference in the lives of kids who spend way too much time in hospitals getting poked and prodded by doctors... it's one of those things that you always wish you could do more to help.
You're inviting people, many of whom will likely be complete strangers to you, into your personal office for the various events -- a decision that involves a lot of trust and that not everyone, especially in our sadly cynical times, would make. Have you done something like this before, and if so, what did you take away from the experience? What do you hope to see achieved with this event, and how do you think you and the people who come will handle it all?
This will definitely be a new experience for us. I guess you could say it's an experiment. We'll see how it goes. We certainly do live in cynical times, but I tend to have an optimistic outlook towards people. I think people are generally good, and I'm looking forward to contributing a little Christmas joy to the community.
Who knows, maybe it will completely backfire, but you don't get anywhere in life without taking a few risks. Obviously, from a business standpoint, I hope we can do well on that end of things. But if we can help out Make-A-Wish, and if we can give people the opportunity to slow down a bit, have a little fun, and be encouraged to bring some of the good parts of childhood back into their everyday lives, then I think it will have been a great success.
Why do you think events like this are important? What do you hope people will take away from it?
I think businesses often get a bad rap. Business is generally neutral. Sure, it can have some negative effects, but it can also have some truly profound effects. I look at companies like Ben & Jerry's or the Body Shop, and see businesses that not only boast a strong bottom line, but also make a positive impact in the community.
I think events like this are win-win, and way more effective than expensive advertising campaigns. Plus they're way more fun. Hopefully the people who visit will have fun and be uplifted. It may sound silly, but if people walk away just feeling "good," that will be a sign that we did our job.
Do you have any specific favorite holiday memories?
Kim: I loved lying under the Christmas tree, looking up at the lights.
Jason: My dad would always put a string of Christmas lights around our bedroom closet, and I remember falling asleep with the lights aglow to the sounds of Bing Crosby and Ray Conniff.
"The 12 Days of Wishmas" kicks off on Saturday, December 8 and runs from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. at 315 S. Baldwin St. on the near east side. A full list of the following dozen day's worth of events can be found online. Don't forget to bring a present for a Wish Kid.