Gilden Tree secured its first product orders pretty easily, recalls Ann Thariani, who owns the company with her husband, Kumy. Not only had the couple invested in no marketing or advertising, they hadn’t even started the business yet.
In Karachi, Pakistan, Ann had discovered a common terra cotta tool that worked like a pumice stone to smooth feet. It was virtually unknown in the U.S.
“We ended up bringing some of those foot scrubbers home on a visit; I put maybe 10 or 12 of them out at my mother’s law office with a little note: ‘Please try these and let me know what you think,” she says. “I got orders for six more back.”
The Tharianis met as students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and lived in Pakistan, Kumy’s home country, for five years after marrying. Architect Kumy and teacher Ann “wanted to do something together,” Ann says. They didn’t strategically choose a business around foot scrubbers, but recognized the opportunity to introduce a useful product to the market. “You can never underestimate the value of luck.”
After making their way back to Omaha, the couple officially launched Gilden Tree in 1990 with the foot scrubber made by a group of Pakistani women.
“We worked with the artisans to make them and it was really challenging because they’re used to making a dozen or two dozen,” Thariani says. “They had to ramp up and make thousands at a time. But they met the challenge.”
The women began earning an income for the first time. “That’s pretty life-changing for that community and those families,” Ann says. Gilden Tree eventually began contributing to the education of the artisans and their children “to thank these women for their amazing work,” and was featured in a TIME Magazine article in 2005.
Gilden Tree was also ahead of the curve in other ways.
“When we started out, the green movement was still pretty new, and we were all-in with natural products and even our [eco-friendly] packaging,” Ann says. Today, Gilden Tree’s line includes foot, hand, and body care products; and natural cotton robes, towels, and accessories.
“I think that it was much easier to start a business in the early ’90s than it would be now. It was a lot less complicated,” Thariani says. “We didn’t know you’re not supposed to start a company with one product; you’re supposed to have a line. We didn’t know you’re not supposed to waltz in to a sales group in New York City in the Merchandise [Mart] building with one product. But we did.”
Gilden Tree’s successes have included “extraordinary experiences with really big companies” like a long run with Bath & Body Works, a best new product designation from the New York International Gift Fair for bath salts packaged in cigar tubes and boxes, industry design honors for waffle weave towels, providing the spa line for Kenyon Ranch in Tubac, Arizona, and having velour robes chosen for the Sundance catalog: “We got a check from Robert Redford because he decided to keep a sample and wear it himself.”
Around 10 years ago, Gilden Tree transitioned from being 100 percent wholesale to integrating web-based retail operations. A warehouse in Omaha employs six.
“We’ve been in Omaha 29 years. We have wonderful staff here at Gilden Tree and after all this time it’s still fun coming in to work every day,” Thariani says. “Omaha’s been a great pace to do business.”
Visit gildentree.com for more information.
This article was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.