Last edited 10:12 a.m., May 5, 2021
Four years ago, Kelsey Klenklen never dreamed of being in business for herself.
She was a pre-med graduate with a degree in molecular biology. She worked at an orthopedic hospital and was preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test for the next step in her career.
Yet, a frustration had settled in. Klenklen couldn’t believe companies were charging up to $20 apiece for headbands, a staple in her daily hospital attire.
Klenklen believed she could make a better product. So, she began to experiment. She sewed a few together, and people began to ask her about buying them. Klenklen remembers being surprised.
“It took a lot of people to convince me there was something there,” she recalls.
She started carrying around a box of headbands and sold them to her friends and co-workers. Some said she should take starting a business seriously.
“I was in denial,” she says, “I didn’t do business. I didn’t learn it in school. I didn’t think this would happen.”
It happened, and Klenklen’s company, Lilac Market Headbands LLC, last year sold $380,000 worth of headbands.
Early on, Klenklen remembers the fun of making the headbands, and it was something she was proud of doing. She created a website and began selling out of her house.
In 2018, she got a business license. Klenklen hired her first employee in early 2019, working off the coffee table next to her bed. The two worked together to fulfill orders before she hired her second employee in July 2019.
By August last year, Lilac Market was at nine employees. In 2021, Klenklen and team moved into an office in Battlefield.
Today, Lilac Market makes over 200 headband designs and works with 21 retailers, including Bree’s Little Closet, a local traveling boutique.
She built a niche with health care workers, teachers and the fitness community – many of whom share their support on social media.
“I never asked people to share, but we kept getting tagged,” Klenklen says. “Now it’s become a thing: You get Lilac Market headbands, and you post about it.”
Over 800 posts on Instagram contain the hashtag #lilacmarketheadbands, with posts from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas and Indiana.
“So I’m obsessed with these #lilacmarketheadbands that arrived today,” user @my_fit_junket posted in February. “I decided to go on their site and just order ‘a few’ headbands to try. I say ‘a few’ because as you’ll see in these pictures, they were all so cute, things got out of hand pretty quickly.”
On YouTube channel “Glam Dr. Mona,” Michigan-based OB-GYN Dr. Mona Khan gives her 14,000 subscribers a 22-minute review of Lilac Headbands, organizing her collection on camera and discussing specific designs.
Khan describes the enthusiasm for the brand at work as a “craze.”
“I wear it every day at work, I wear it in the OR, I wear it when I am delivering a baby, I am wearing it in the office,” Khan says in the December 2020 post titled, “The Hottest Hair Trend of 2020: Lilac Market Headbands.” “I can attest it does stay put and keep you nice and dry.”
The headbands sell for $10 or less. The best seller since day one is a standard black headband, Klenklen says, followed by the food-based collections.
Lilac Market also has launched a branded series with local social media influencer Ashley Fisher, whose Instagram handle is @theashleyaf and boasts 71,000 followers. Called Authentic Ambition with Ashley, the collection centers on Fisher’s fitness journey and features motivational themes.
Lilac Market is invested in giving back to its community, Klenklen says. Last year, a local youth basketball team requested headbands to support their teammate, 6-year-old Graham Sutton, who was diagnosed with cancer. Lilac Market created the G-Strong headband for them, and it resulted in a fundraiser that generated $3,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Lilac Market also partnered for St. Jude Runs, a charity run in Peoria, Illinois, resulting in donations over $4,000 to the children’s hospital.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a year of steep growth. As demand grew from nurses and doctors, Klenklen says Lilac Market sales increased by 660%.
Many buyers made a personal request for buttons to be sewed onto the headbands they purchased. Wearing a mask for many hours a day made people’s ears sore and a button could function as something else to loop one’s mask around. Lilac Market did not charge extra to sew the buttons onto the headbands.
“Kelsey would stay and sew the buttons on herself. That’s just the kind of person she is,” says Dane Benton, a graphic designer based in Branson who has worked with Klenklen since finding her through Ashley Fisher.
Lilac Market eventually released “Lilac Snaps” magnets to purchase in order to snap onto a headband and serve the same function as the buttons.
Klenklen projects 30% growth this year as the company settles in selling 800-1,000 headbands a week. The Battlefield building serves as its manufacturing and distribution hub, shipping products through the Postal Service.
As Lilac Market grows, Klenklen says people have sought her out as the face of the company.
“I think people in product-based business try to hide behind the product: ‘Don’t look at me, look at what I am selling.’ But what I have found is that people want something personal, something authentic,” Klenklen says. “Your business is more than just a product. People are interested in you.”
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