When Shelby Packer left her job teaching kindergarten, she planned on staying home and raising her three daughters. But the drive to contribute to the household income was strong, so she started tinkering with different at-home businesses and settled on an invitation business. She named it Cordial Lee, with a nod to the invitation verbiage of “cordially” and her maiden name, Lee. The business grew quickly, and Shelby expanded their inventory into clothes, personalized gifts and monogramming. The monogramming, specifically, grew so quickly that she decided to buy a machine and taught herself to embroider, rather than sourcing it out. She hired employees, and they worked the night shift down in her basement from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. During the day, Shelby was on mom duty and worked at Cordial Lee at night, while her children were in bed. She moved out of the basement into Cordial Lee’s first brick-and-mortar location in their hometown of Mount Washington in 2013. It was such a success that she recently opened a second location in Jeffersontown. She’s been learning fast ever since, successfully maneuvering through business ownership, which is something she never planned to do. Her friendly and outgoing personality, along with a mind for knowing her customers, are the true reasons for her success — she’s a local business owner who people are happy to support. Meet today’s FACE of Louisville, Shelby Packer.
You started this business in your basement, working when your children went to sleep. Why did you start it?
Like many women, I was faced with the difficult decision of being a working mom or staying home. When my salary no longer covered the cost of childcare, the decision was made for me. After the birth of my second daughter, I left my job as a school teacher to become a stay-at-home mom. I always felt a strong desire to help provide for our family, and by starting a home-based business, I’d get the best of both worlds. I’d be with my children and still have a way to supplement my income.
Initially, Cordial Lee began as a hobby with plans to return to the classroom once all my children were in school. I truly loved teaching but quickly found a new love in Cordial Lee. Not many people can say they found their calling twice, but I can, and it’s such a blessing. At the time, I had no idea or could have even imagined Cordial Lee becoming what it is today.
Once you opened a brick-and-mortar store, your success was immediate. How hard was it to take that leap?
It wasn’t long until I was working a third shift with several employees, when my husband and I began talking about moving the business outside the home. Opening our first brick-and-mortar was probably the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken. It was an incredible risk with very high stakes. Failure was not an option, but even then, I wasn’t willing to give up being a mom first. My first location had a playroom in the back, so I could take my kids to work with me every day. When our third daughter went to kindergarten, I found myself at the crossroads of returning to the classroom or finding out exactly where this path would lead. That is when we threw in all the chips and decided to expand. In 2015, we moved our shop, quadrupling our showroom size and adding on a larger production facility. In 2017, we added a second location with over 25 employees company-wide and still growing.
What does Cordial Lee sell and how is it unique?
Cordial Lee is a gift and clothing boutique specializing in monogramming. We carry popular brands such as Simply Southern, Lilly Pulitzer, Viv & Lou, Mud Pie and many more. For me personally, I love boutique shopping but was never willing to pay high boutique prices. Cordial Lee is committed to bringing our customers high-quality boutique items at prices everyone can afford. We order in small runs with new items arriving every week. We offer in-house monogramming by women who are masters in the trade. Embroidery services are available on our items or on items brought in from home.
To what do you attribute your success?
First and foremost, we have the most amazing customers who, over the years, have become family. We know their names, we hug them when they come in, we see them at the ball fields, our kids go to school together — we have truly been embraced and loved by the local community that surrounds us. Without them, Cordial Lee would not be what it is today — period.
Secondly, a whole lot of sacrifice. Early on, I had to determine what I was willing to do — or give up — to see this through. During my time at home, late at night after my kids would go to bed, I taught myself how to operate an embroidery machine and then how to code and build a website. I studied merchandising and marketing and learned how to calculate profit margins. Any money I made was happily reinvested to grow the business by adding new machines, buying new products or hiring employees. The growth and success had always been so rewarding and fun that I never cared about the personal financial gain. Eight years went by before I wrote myself my first paycheck. It was truly a labor of love, and I enjoyed every single second.
What is the most challenging part of your job? The most rewarding?
The most challenging part of my job is being solely responsible for the major decisions that affect our business. Whether it be strategic, financial or logistical, each decision has to be carefully made with the big picture in mind.
The most rewarding part of my job is spending each day with my staff. It’s the most loving and supportive work environment I’ve ever seen, and I feel so blessed to be a part of it. No one feels like it’s work. We’re all here because we love it, and we even call it “our happy place.” For me personally, it’s very rewarding to pull someone from the sales floor, teach them a trade and see them choose this as their career. They’ve taken my dream and made it their own. We’re in it together, and they’re just as excited as I am to see the company grow.
What advice do you treasure?
Compare yourself to no one, and be your own measure of success.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my: ___.
“Mom” purse — I carry a really heavy bag filled with kid snacks, small toys, crayons, Band-Aids, wet wipes, etc. With three kids, I have to be prepared for any situation.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
My family could eat breakfast for every meal, so we love Wild Eggs. We also enjoy Joella’s Hot Chicken. That mac-n-cheese is to die for, and my kids love the waffles. We recently discovered Recbar and loved it. It’s locally owned, has delicious food and is fun for the whole family.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Sundays: The shops are closed, my phone is off, and I can just relax and spend time with my family. Running: I’ve put off focusing on my health for quite some time. I’m enjoying making my health a priority again and the quiet time it gives me to think. And reality TV shows are my guilty pleasure. My DVR is full of it, and I look forward to the moments when I can grab a glass of wine and binge-watch a few episodes.
Check out Cordial Lee at one of their two locations:
Thank you Adele Reding Photography for the beautiful images of Shelby.
To be inspired by other great women in Louisville, check out our other FACES of Louisville here.