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Forget the card, send a ball

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: A lot of us struggle with balancing our work and our family. It's an effort that can take some creative juggling. It can seem that you're always bouncing back and forth between one or the other. These are all puns by the way. Because this story is about a mail-order greeting business called Send-A-Ball. It was founded by two sisters in Chicago. They figured out one way to solve the work and family conflict is to mix the two together. From the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk, Sean Cole tossed this one our way.


SEAN COLE: Send-A-Ball is like a one-joke novelty version of 1-800-flowers. They send out inflatable colored balls, the kind little kids play with, printed with some version of the pun "Have a ball."

About 40 percent of people who receive a ball order one themselves within 48 hours, so they don't need to advertise. And by "they" I mean Michele Kapuska and her sister and Melisa Moroko. They're really close. They live across the street from each other. They even kind of sound alike.

MICHELE: I'm Michele.

MELISA: And I am Melisa.

If you get confused, just remember Michele's four years older. She's also the creative one, Melisa says.

MELISA: my sister sent first ball out 'bout 7, 'bout 10, almost 10 years ago.

MICHELE: 'Bout 10 years ago now.

MELISA: to one of her girlfriends who had a baby.

Michele also used to work in direct mail.

MICHELE: So I know you can put a stamp on it, you can mail it.

MELISA: She filled out the address on one side on the other side she put 'Have a ball with new baby.'

MICHELE: Because I'm funny.

She wrote it right on the ball with a marker and mailed it as is. No packaging or anything. And then she did it again. And again. Just for friends and family and sometimes for her sister Melisa's sales clients.

Now, both of their husbands work. Michele has four kids. Melisa has two. And so they were always talking about starting a home business so one of them could look after their collective children.

MELISA: The latest thing we were gonna do was home waxing parties.

MICHELE: Bikini waxing parties.

It never even occurred to them turn Michele's joke into a company, even though people in line at the post office were always admiring her balls.

MICHELE: Here comes the lady with the balls.

MELISA: Guess what I never heard that one.

Finally someone did more than admire. He gave Michele $5 to send a ball to his sister who was really sick. It was a sign, they say. And then came another sign.

MELISA: And so that night I'm watching Oprah.

MICHELE: So am I. Weird.

MELISA: And it was these women who started their own business of all these crazy ideas and I called her and I said this is it how come we didn't think about this we've been doin' this for seven years!

That was three years ago. And in that time they've sold almost 10,000 greeting balls through their website. The balls are $10 a pop. Most of them are printed up by machine.

MICHELE: Um the one I have here 'Have a ball on your birthday.' And our get-well ball says 'Bounce back soon.'

MELISA: We have a new one.

MICHELE:'You bounced into my heart.'

Or Michele can hand-print whatever you want your ball to say. She runs the business out of her garage while looking after the kids.

MICHELE: I see myself as a mom who has a business.

And Melisa works her day job and dreams about someday linking up with a big greeting company.

MELISA: I see myself the opposite way.

COLE: Interesting. I wonder if that's what keeps Send-A-Ball afloat.

MICHELE: I think it's true.

MELISA: Afloat.

MICHELE: Afloat you're funny.

COLE: Oh God I didn't mean to do that.

I'm Sean Cole for marketplace.

MICHELE: How do we keep all these balls in the air?

COLE: Oh will you stop please.

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