Bracelets entrepreneur a convention vendor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 11, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — A Salisbury entrepreneur will be selling her swag during the Democratic National Convention next month in Charlotte.
Pam Thompson, founder of the I Promise Project, has been selected as a vendor during the first day of the festivities when an estimated 30,000 people will be on hand.
She’s hoping to sell about 600 of her “I Promise to Vote” bracelets during the Carolina Fest event on Sept. 3.
Thompson, dean of the Ketner School of Business at Catawba College, started the I Promise Project in January 2011 with the support of Food Lion co-founder Ralph Ketner.
“The idea is it’s a bracelet to help you keep a promise,” Thompson said. “It’s a reminder to help you change a habit.
“The whole goal is to make the world a better place one promise at a time,” she said.
Promises can include everything from quitting smoking to putting an end to bullying. Every bracelet also includes a promise card that can be signed and refers people to the website where they can make their commitment known via Facebook and Twitter.
Bracelet designs can be customized with different messages and color combinations.
Taylor Sexton Starrett of The Lettered Lily Design Studio helps design the bracelets. Thompson also gets feedback from her daughters, Jackie and Ginny Thompson.
Getting political
Thompson decided to expand the concept to include a voting theme this year.
“There were millions of youth age 18 to 30 who did not vote in the last presidential election,” she said. “The idea behind this (bracelet) is to make a promise to get registered, become aware of the issues, vote responsibly and encourage friends to do the same.”
Thompson said that beyond just selling bracelets, she’d like to influence people to head to the polls Nov. 6.
Although she’ll be selling the bracelets with a Democratic donkey during the convention, Thompson also makes them with the Republican elephant, Libertarian porcupine and an American flag for unaffiliated voters.
The I Promise Project is a non-partisan company.
Thompson said the company is breaking even, but she views the convention as a way to do even better.
“I’m looking at this as the start of really spreading some brand awareness,” she said.
Thompson decided to pursue a vendor spot at the convention after talking to Ketner and Robert Croak, the founder of Silly Bandz, who she met during a trip to his shop.
The advice she received from Croak pushed her to take the plunge, even though being a vendor at the convention will end up costing at least $600.
“He said, ‘Marketing is not about immediate, quantifiable returns. It’s about brand building,’ ” Thompson said. “I look at it as a form of advertising that will reach people from all over the county.”
Thompson said the approval process began about six weeks ago when she sent in prototypes of the bracelets to convention organizers.
“It seems to be a very selective process,” she said.
Now that she’s gotten the green light, Thompson said Jackie’s fiance, Chace Jenson, will get to work putting all the bracelets together.
Thompson orders the material for the bracelets from the West Coast. But when it arrives, it has to be cut to size before snaps are added.
“Everything is made in the United States,” she said.
Thompson is still waiting on specifics for the convention, including what time she’ll need to be there and how she needs to display the bracelets.
But she does know that she’s only allowed to bring one person along to help out. That will likely be her brother, Ernest McDearmon of Georgia.
“It will be an experience that I can share with my students, that’s for sure,” she said.
Paying it foward
One dollar of the proceeds made from each bracelet sold at the convention will go to a nonprofit organization.
“I try my best to pay it forward,” Thompson said.
Thompson also sells the bracelets to groups and individuals to use as a fundraiser for $2.50. The bracelets can also be used as a keychain or luggage tag.
A 9-year-old boy with perthes, a rare disease that interrupts blood supply to the ball part of the hip joint, has sold the bracelets to raise money for research.
The women’s lacrosse team at Catawba has also sold them for breast cancer awareness.
Thompson donated to the Wounded Warriors Project, Japan tsunami relief through the American Red Cross, the Coalition to Unchain Dogs and the Humane Society of Rowan County.
Most recently, Thompson donated 250 bracelets to help the family of Gavin Littleton, the North Rowan student who was paralyzed after diving from a pontoon boat into shallow water at High Rock Lake. The design for those bracelets was chosen by Littleton, who was presented with about seven options from his friend, Zach Bates. They are black with “Pray for Gavin” in green. Any money made by selling the bracelets will go to the family.
Thompson said she’s always looking for unique messages to put on the bracelets. A tribute to veterans is likely her next project since her brother was a Green Beret.
Experience for the classroom
Launching the business has provided Thompson experiences to take into the classroom at Catawba.
“It’s been great because it gives me a way to talk about a real life business in the classroom,” she said.
She and several Catawba colleagues who also run small businesses have worked with members of the newly formed Young Entrepreneurs Society, which is led by David Crescenzo.
“There is just this entrepreneurial growth that’s happening on campus,” she said. “It’s all been really, really fun.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.