Business Profile

Old World Christmas

Old World Christmas3

Taking a break from her screen, Sooki Carrano looks at the wall covered with many of her latest designs. She’s the Creative Director at Old World Christmas, a Spokane company that has quietly become the nation’s leading supplier of handmade glass ornaments. It’s busy: overseeing a team of designers, conceiving new ideas, and bringing them to completion. The company has 1,000 distinct ornaments in their catalogue, and 150 new designs are in the works for 2017.

“What I love most is thinking about the families who will use these,” Carrano says. “Each design ends up in thousands of homes, and some get passed down through the generations. Or they become part of the decorating tradition... It’s fun to be a part of that joy.”

Some of those families are here in the Inland Northwest: the locals who make a tradition of visiting the onsite outlet store to get less-than-wholesale prices on ornaments of all kinds (there are 55 dog breeds alone). There are even folks who plan their summer vacations around Old World Christmas—those who call to make sure the outlet store’s three-week “Christmas in July” event will coincide with their visit to Spokane. Otherwise, the shop is open mid-October through December 23rd.

But since the company’s beginning in 1982, their focus has been wholesaling: supplying specialty retail stores with the best glass ornaments, nationally and now even globally. For example, Michigan retailer Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland (the “world’s largest single Christmas store”) sells about 60,000 Old World Christmas ornaments per year. And many were designed at Sooki’s desk in East Spokane.

The designs range from classic (holiday scenes and icons), to niche (the Moscow Mule copper cocktail mug is a new one), to retro Christmas (nostalgic items like classic vehicles and camping trailers), to fan appeal (official licensed collegiate logos, with NFL teams coming for 2017). A special series for 2016 celebrated the 100th anniversary of the National Parks, with designs capturing specific parks.

As fun as the ornaments and people are — Sales Manager Rob Waples quips that his official title is “Head Elf” — Old World Christmas is a serious business, and a growing company employing local people. In partnership with INB, they are planning far more than new ornament designs. The NFL licensing deal, for example, is a huge new opportunity for this relatively small business. “We look to INB to help us fuel our growth initiatives,”  says CEO Doug Lauer.

Christine Erickson, the company’s CFO, offers a glimpse at what the partnership looks like. “I’ve been frustrated in my experiences with big banks. But with INB, it’s a live person who comes out, learns the business, and makes it happen,” she says.”TJ came in, put together a proposal, and made it easy for us to move forward. As CFO, I keep thinking ‘what’s the catch’—but there isn’t one. For years, INB has never let us down.”

But what is the number one bestselling ornament in the Old World Christmas collection?

“It’s the pickle,” Lauer says. “An old German tradition is for a pickle ornament to be hidden on the tree, and the first child to find it gets an extra Christmas gift. It’s our best seller—we have several varieties now, even dill pickle chips!”