Located in the small North Iowa town of Manly, Kaleidoscopes to You has been lovingly assembled from the merging of two family-owned businesses. Karl and Jean Schilling both came from entrepreneurial families. Karl began working with glass in junior high with a stained glass apprenticeship. Jean’s mother owned and operate The Plant Ranch, a florist and greenhouse. In college, Karl received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Jean graduated with degrees in economics and neurobiology, but couldn’t shake her love of the family business. The entrepreneurial life kept calling to her. In 1982, they began by creating kaleidoscopes out of stained glass for the House on the Rock, Wisconsin’s famed tourist attraction, and opened art glass galleries, including a store dedicated only to kaleidoscopes in the Mall of America. In 1997 Jean and Karl moved back to Manly to merge their family businesses.
By 1997, Karl and Jean were operating five storefronts in three states for all their combined businesses. They enrolled in the very first entrepreneurial training course from the NIACC John Pappajohn Center, FastTrac (later renamed Launch & Grow). The 10 week program guided entrepreneurs through creating a business plan, cash flow, and the other fundamentals of starting and growing a successful business. They were at a point where they had to figure out the best way to keep moving forward.
Kaleidoscopes to You serves an admittedly niche market. Jean attributes their success in this tough industry to their early adoption of e-commerce. They began selling online in 1998. eBay had only been operating for two or three years, and Amazon.com had just started to sell more than books. Online shopping barely existed – but the Schillings knew that this was the future. Jean says “We just knew online was the only way forward. We knew we couldn’t run this business in rural Iowa without a national, an international reach.” The Schillings were committed to staying in rural Iowa – the low cost of living, beautiful landscape, and close ties to friends and family were important. In the summer of 2007, the Schillings closed the florist and greenhouse to concentrate on their growing online sales.
Kaleidoscopes to You continues to evolve its business model as the retail landscape shifts. One of their developments is the in-house creation of promotional pieces for museum shops, tourist locations, trade shows, party favors, and more. For example, you can purchase an original Karl Schilling kaleidoscope at the Space Needle gift shop (the Space Needle has been a client for over a decade). The Schillings’ creativity and innovative approach to family business has capitalized on an international market from right here in rural Iowa.
Visit them at www.kaleidoscopestoyou.com.