Kelly Lester is the owner, creator, and creative mom behind EasyLunchboxes.com. During the past two decades she has been an actress, entrepreneur, wife, and mother of three. EasyLunchboxes was born out of Kelly’s innate ability to do things efficiently while on a shoestring budget, and her desire to send her daughters to school with simple, healthy food with little to no extra packaging or ingredients. She took time out of her busy schedule to chat about juggling family with running a small business, and how SmugMug played a role in helping her latest mompreneur venture succeed.
Where did your idea for EasyLunchboxes come from?
Being frustrated in the kitchen! I got the idea at a time when my children were all in school, and school lunches weren’t the quality I wanted to feed my children. So packing lunches was the only option. My children all had different cooler bags, and we had this complete mish-mosh of mismatched containers and baggies. I don’t love spending time in the kitchen to begin with, and there was this added headache of how to make the food I’d prepare fit into their different cooler bags. With all the differently shaped bottoms, lids, and baggies, it was a constant struggle to fit the various containers into their different coolers. Like a daily puzzle with no solution. It was so aggravating.
I eventually found some two-piece, compartmentalized containers at a dollar store that worked well. And I used them with some six-can coolers I bought in a drug store. Together they helped me systemize everything for my family. It was great! Then after a few months, those containers cracked, and I couldn’t find any to replace them.
I was obsessed with finding a replacement for these containers, and there was nothing on the market. I had already started and sold a business in 2006, so I thought maybe I should market this container idea. Since there was nothing out there, maybe I could be the first.
How did you turn the idea into the success it is today?
Just putting it out there wasn’t enough. I had to market it. And I had just spent all my money on the inventory, so I had zero left for ads or PR. So I got crazy busy on social media, which is where SmugMug comes in.
I invited bloggers to review my lunchboxes, and I started sharing the photographs they took of their lunches packed in my containers on the SmugMug gallery I had set up. This was four years ago, when people were starting to use iPhones and then Instagram and Pinterest, and taking pictures of what you’re eating became a really popular pastime. I now have thousands of photographs of my containers with all these peoples’ lunches in them. So I’ve become the queen of sharing and supporting all the people who like to post those pictures.
Did you research different providers before launching the photos with SmugMug?
I did a lot of research. My original goal was to have the gallery hosted on my own site, not separately; however, I looked at so many website gallery plugins and I just couldn’t make sense of them. And I knew about SmugMug because I had a personal account, and I liked to post high-resolution pictures of our parties and allow our friends to download them. At the time, there weren’t really any places you could share and have people download high-res pictures. They were all bad quality. But SmugMug made it easy to share whatever size you wanted.
I loved SmugMug. I knew how to use it. And the more I looked and tried other things, I found they weren’t flexible or attractive. So I finally decided to just host the images on a separate site, which is SmugMug.
Once you decided to place the photos on SmugMug, did you find it easy to match its branding to your main site?
Oh, yeah! It couldn’t be easier. I’m able to customize my galleries, put a header on the site, and everything else to match my website, and I just called it the EasyLunchboxes photo galleries. It’s fine that it’s not hosted on my site. It integrates really well, and it’s never been a problem. The site’s never been down. The photos are always there.
What do you like best about your SmugMug site?
The SEO is phenomenal. I tag every single one of my pictures, and I’m very careful to always link back to the original source. It’s super, super easy to upload and to share. Each individual picture is searchable. If you search on Google images, tons of the results are from my SmugMug galleries, and I get tons of traffic to my web site via the galleries. That means people are finding the images on Google, clicking through, coming to the gallery, and then coming to my web site. So it’s definitely one of the top—if not the top—traffic generators for my site.
Ultimately, it’s turned out for the best that the photos aren’t hosted on my main site. It’s a whole other site devoted to generating traffic for my business. That’s absolutely brilliant.
I also have an entire gallery set up just for press images. When bloggers need my stock photos, or when people who write articles about me need my headshot, I have a whole press gallery where they can download low-res, high-res, whatever they want. Most companies don’t have that, where it’s so easy. They may email a few images, and then the press person has to download and save them just to see what the company sent. I just say, take a look at my gallery and take whatever you want. And the press people and bloggers love it.
What else helped contribute to the success of EasyLunchboxes?
Outside SmugMug, the humongous success story is my selling on Amazon. When I got onto their Fulfillment by Amazon program in 2011, I realized two months later that I had become #1 in lunchboxes. Because I had not sold to other stores or wholesale to other people, there was no competition. So either you bought EasyLunchboxes from my website or from my store on Amazon.com. Therefore, you can only buy them from me, basically. And the margins selling direct to consumers on Amazon are higher than if I was selling them to stores.
I really like selling direct to consumers via my website and marketing via social media. Every sale I make is right to the consumer.
How do you balance the success of your business with your acting career and being a mom?
There’s no such thing as balance!
For a while, I really worked hard on the business and didn’t focus as much on performing. Right now, though, I’m definitely pushing the performing more. The business eventually got to a point where it’s quite self-sustainable and profitable, so now I can pick and choose how much time I spend here and there, but I need more time for everything.
My kids are older now, so they’re pretty self-sufficient, and my husband is incredibly helpful. He’s an actor and he’s very hands-on and here a lot of the time. We just trade off whoever needs to do what. It’s a flexible lifestyle, but I wouldn’t say it’s balanced.
Is there such a thing as a typical day for you, then?
A typical day includes me dropping my girls off at their high school, going to the gym for a quick workout, and then sitting in front of my computer for a minimum of ten hours, which is the sad part. I get up early, check all the social media sites, email with people, and share images of the lunches everywhere. I’m listening to Doris Day in the background while singing her music and going over my script, because I’ve just launched my new one-woman, hour-long tribute show about her life.
The social media never, ever stops. There’s always something to do. Some days I don’t quit and just go, go, go. Other days, I decide I’m just not going to talk anybody for a few hours. And that’s okay. I just pick up whatever’s there when I log back in.
You could do social media all day long, but I make the choice to go to my kid’s concert at school, to a rehearsal, to a voice lesson, or to an audition. Every day is different depending on what I’ve scheduled, but I do the same things with EasyLunchboxes every day if I have time—just share things and converse with people.
People love knowing that they’re talking to the owner of the company. And I love talking directly to my customers. Just having a personal relationship with people is the part I enjoy most about running my company.
Do you have any top tips for those who might be looking to start their own business?
My whole success, I believe, is truly based on social. And for sure, SmugMug has helped with that. People love, love, love interaction and social media these days. They love to interact with products and brands they enjoy using. A lot of companies don’t understand that or they don’t get in there and do it. But I really pump up my social media presence everywhere I can, and I think that’s a huge thing small businesses should focus on. It really does pay off.