Catawba employee by day, entrepreneur by night: Dawn Holcombe

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2017

By Cyndi Wittum

Catawba College News Service

Look for Dawn Holcombe in the “Shark Tank” on ABC-TV one of these days.

Holcombe, an employee in the housekeeping department at Catawba College since 2012, says she sees possibilities wherever she looks, including while working at her day job in Ketner Hall. When she noticed that the whiteboard cleaner was expensive and not especially effective, she came up with her own solution that is saving the college money.

In 2015, Holcombe entered Catawba’s Ketner School of Business “Big Idea” competition with Dawnlady. Her Dawnlady system would mix whiteboard cleaner with liquid detergents as well as a melt wax section for candle making. She came up with a cool touch base for safety. 

The biggest issue with getting a new product on the shelves is the investment. Holcombe said a prototype for Dawnlady would run her about $30,000, a prohibitive amount for most home inventors, including her. 

Holcombe continued to explore entrepreneurial options for launching the product as she began to design gift baskets, one of her favorite hobbies. She enjoys coming up with a theme for each basket and getting just the right items to create one-of-a-kind gifts for family and friends.

Over time, people began to ask where the baskets and coffee cup packages had been purchased, and special requests started coming in. Holcombe’s fans told her that she should begin selling her baskets. That advice was the start of Useful Creations by Dawn, a self-funded venture.

What sets Holcombe’s basket creations apart is that she uses no filler and she purchases items specific to the receiver. Her first step when asked to build a basket is to ask about the recipient’s interests, hobbies and favorite colors.

When Holcombe begins to load the basket, she starts at the bottom with a larger item like a pack of baby diapers in a baby shower basket. This becomes her base rather than a cardboard filler box or Styrofoam found in store-bought baskets. She then artfully builds the basket with theme-related items and caps off the presentation with a topper such as a bow, flowers or scarf with a jeweled dangle. 

Holcombe does all the hands-on work.

“I’m picky,” she says. “If it doesn’t look just right, I start over.”

Every item in the basket can be reused or recycled. She uses sturdy baskets that are nice for display or storage and coffee cups and mugs. Her goal is to be earth-friendly while giving customers affordable and special products.

“You never know the impact you may have,” she said.

Useful Creations by Dawn has developed a partnership with S&D Coffee, whose products are featured in her cup or mug basket designs.

She also looks for unusual items through Outlaw Soaps, Ladybug Blessings and Avon.

To help others who have small businesses or who are stay-at-home moms with products to sell, she includes business cards in the baskets. If you love the Avon lotion in your basket, you will have a direct contact for an Avon Lady.

Down the road, Holcombe hopes to have her own shop with delivery drivers. Currently, she can deliver only after working hours, and that limits her to four or five baskets per month. But the basket business has taken over an entire room of her home.

“I believe that if your business makes a difference in someone’s life, God will put the right people in your path,” she says. “I thank God every day for the opportunity to create a gift for someone.”

Contact Holcombe at