Tag Archives: Creative Memories

The best job I’ve ever had

Today was your last day to order from Ahni & Zoe by Creative Memories.

This is significant because it marks the end of Creative Memories, a company for which I once worked. I would describe the job(s) I had there as the best of my life.

Ahni & Zoe by Creative Memories, the final, ultimately doomed incarnation of the company, was hardly recognizable as Creative Memories, but A&Z did promote photo sharing and some of the employees and salespeople who made the place special were a part of it, so its relation to the original Creative Memories was notable. But it couldn’t climb out of the hole the scrapbooking giant fell into in the past decade. New management is taking over some of the manufacturing equipment in order to continue the legacy of quality products, but whatever Flowerdale Group Limited offers can’t be and won’t be what made Creative Memories special in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

That’s when business was good. That’s when I loved the company. That’s when I had the best job in the world.

The company at its best manufactured scrapbooks and scrapbooking supplies and sold them through a sales field of committed work-at-home women (and a few men) who showed off the products at home parties and workshops. It was the perfect marriage of product and promotion at the right cultural moment: A time when people were overwhelmed by boxes and drawers and envelopes of printed photos. It seems appropriate, actually, to tell my Creative Memories story at this moment with digital versions of printed photos and pages from my scrapbooks. That’s what it’s come to.

CM first day of work

This is the first page in the album I titled “Creative Memories Career I.” It turned into two more volumes, and then Creative Memories had become so entwined with my personal life, I just scrapbooked everything in the same books. Look closely at the welcome note. It says “Welcome New Employees of The Antioch Company.” The Antioch Company was the parent company of Creative Memories.

I started at Creative Memories on Nov. 10, 1997. I remember the precise date, it’s that notable. Throughout the next decade, I changed desks and offices at least 24 times. The company was growing so fast, we reorganized departments, adopted new job titles, built new buildings, bought new desks and moved desks around every six months or so. At the time, it seemed so wild and unpredictable, but now I know the chaos of growth is far preferable to the instability of demise.

One of my many opportunities to dress up for work.

One of my many opportunities to dress up for work.

My job was simple: Dress in revealing clothing and talk with a Cher lisp. Kidding! But I did get to dress up a lot — in classy suits and not-so-classy costumes — in my role in the marketing department. I consulted focus groups, wrote packaging copy, mingled with sales people at fancy dinners and breathtaking incentive trips, drafted proposals, observed sales events and delivered more PowerPoint presentations than I can count.

CM private jet

The only time I’ve ever ridden in a private jet was when a number of Creative Memories employees inspected the plant that supplied our paper. Paper, as you can imagine, is a very important component of a scrapbook.

For a girl who grew up in a small town in Central Minnesota, it was exciting to rub elbows with the jet set. The second week on the job, I flew to Cincinnati for a video shoot, and that was only the first of probably more than 100 business trips in my 10 years at Creative Memories.

Even the training events were affecting.

Even the training events were affecting. I once jumped off the top of a 30-foot pole at a leadership retreat. The whole “trust fall” concept of business bonding is mostly baloney, but the experience was interesting.

The company at the time invested in its employees, and the training I received at Creative Memories was personally enriching, too. I still have on my bulletin board the personal mission statement I wrote in a corporate “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” seminar I took from Cheryl Lightle, one of the co-founders of the company whom I still admire.

That little tiny orange-attired person in front of the big center screen? Me.

That little tiny orange-attired person in front of the big center screen? Me.

Perhaps the highlights of my Creative Memories career were my appearances at the annual North American sales conventions. I introduced branding concepts and new products to the ecstatic cheers of thousands of salespeople (7,000 was my biggest audience). I always felt so glamorous getting attention from makeup artists, learning to use teleprompters and catering to the jumbotron camera.

On my first trip aboard, I closed down the airport when the knuckleheads in the TSA determined I had handled bomb-making materials. I had, in fact, used glycerin-containing hand lotion.

On my first trip aboard, I closed down the airport when the knuckleheads in the Transportation Safety Administration determined I had handled bomb-making materials. I had, in fact, used glycerin-containing hand lotion.

In 2002, I needed a new challenge so I moved from the domestic operation to the international department. Thanks to Creative Memories, I’ve visited five continents spreading the photo-preservation mission of the company. (Antarctica is not a big scrapbooking market, and the closest I got to South America was Mexico City.)

I brought my 60something mother who was more familiar with camping than flying with me on one of my trips to Japan and Australia (yes, Creative Memories allowed personal use my frequent flier miles — it was great like that back in the day). I loved being able to show her the world that way.

CM SA

You weren’t a Creative Memories devotee unless you handed your camera to other people so you could be in the shot. I still laugh when I see this picture our tour guide in South Africa took of me and a business associate (and yes, that’s her arm where a zebra bit her).

I remember my years in the international department as exotic and challenging. I was given enough rope to hang myself, but most of the time I navigated the tightrope with finesse. The best part, besides the sightseeing, was making friends in far-flung locales. In fact, I made lots of good friends through my work in Creative Memories, many with whom I’m still in contact. Just tonight, I had a 45-minute conversation with one of those talented, hard-working souls who made Creative Memories a truly inspirational, satisfying place to work.

Digital photography marked the beginning of the end of Creative Memories. Without piles of photos in every corner of the house demanding attention, consumers found it easier to ignore (or just post on Facebook) their digital pictures. (Other events transpired, too, but I won’t go into them here; maybe someday the lawyers will let me talk about them.) Sales started declining in 2003, and eventually panic set in.

CM goodbyeWhen I finally left Creative Memories in 2007, I was one of the few people who got to quit voluntarily. The company had undergone a couple of lay-offs, and the marketing and international departments were undergoing makeovers every four months (the hysteria was ludicrous). I took a new job in Illinois to be with my new love, who later became my second husband (the new husband turned out to be wonderful; the new job, not so much. But that’s another story.)

Creative Memories declared bankruptcy the first time in 2008. I was shocked to learn the bankruptcy dissolved the retirement fund of hundreds of employees including me. The company tried to recover, and I eventually signed on as a salesperson just so I could get discounted access to those amazing photo albums. Creative Memories albums are the best scrapbooks on the market. Those books will be around 400 years from now when we’re long, long gone. It was easy to market such good quality.

But the hysteria and the bleeding didn’t stop. Old debt prevented reincarnation. The company declared bankruptcy again in April 2013 and then went on to reinvent itself again as Ahni & Zoe. I was transfixed by the mayhem that ensued, and now as a salesperson, I felt like I had a front-row seat to the traffic accident occurring in slow motion. Sorrowfully, it was like I knew the victims inside the vehicle.

The reimagined product line didn’t catch the fancy of enough people, and salespeople left in droves (including me). A few weeks ago, Ahni & Zoe by Creative Memories announced a while-supplies-last sale. All sales final.

I am sad that Creative Memories has met its end. Though it was more of a mess than a messiah at the end, the company was great once. It did great things. Things you don’t normally associate with corporations nowadays. Memories were saved. Friends were made. People had meaningful work and meaningful pay. I am a better person because I worked for Creative Memories during that magical time.

I take comfort in the words of Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Smile. That’s the perfect way to remember a company that was all about photos.

 

Tarnish on the silver isn’t forever: Here’s how to remove it in 5 minutes

“No, I didn’t say that I’m flawless, but I damn sure don’t tarnish.”

~ Lil Wayne

Well, I don’t iron (that’s what wrinkle-free fabrics are for). I don’t scrub the kitchen floor on my hands and knees (thank goodness for my Swiffer). And I normally don’t bother to remove tarnish (because I don’t own a silver set). But I found a great trick that felt more like a science experiment than housework, and it might help you, too.

ring before

I have this ring, see. It’s quite lovely, inscribed on the outside with “Preserve, Enrich, Inspire,” and it apparently it made of silver or is silver-plated. I dug it out intending to wear it, but it was so badly tarnished, it was embarrassing.

Thanks to Google, I found this recipe:

Place a sheet of aluminum foil in the bottom of a pan, add 2-3 inches of water, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Add silver pieces, boil 2-3 minutes, making sure the water covers the silver pieces. Remove silver, rinse, dry, and buff with a soft cloth.

I boiled the ring for 5 minutes, but it works!

ring after

Traditional scrapbookers might recognize the words on this ring as part of Creative Memories’ mission “to preserve the past, enrich the present and inspire hope for the future.” It is, indeed, a ring I received while working for Creative Memories when it proclaimed this mission. Inside, the ring is inscribed with “CM celebrating 20 years.”

The tarnish, I think, was symbolic. But with the right ingredients and a little elbow grease, the shine returned.

Sweet bit of lightness and love

I’m hosting my book club/Bible study tonight, and I wanted to give everyone a treat in honor of Halloween. Something witchy didn’t seem quite appropriate, and I was already serving dark chocolate cherry brownies, so a piece of candy wasn’t right either.

But I found something perfect in my gift closet:

I had some sample boxes and tea lights leftover from an aborted attempt at peddling Gold Canyon candles. Serendipitously, the boxes were orange and the candles came in scents like caramel ginger strudel and toffee drizzled popcorn. With a few Creative Memories supplies, I printed out a verse and stuck it to the inside box cover:

Lord, when doubts fill my mind,
when my heart is in turmoil,
quiet me and give me
renewed hope and cheer.

~ Psalm 94:19 TLB

Thanks, Stefanie, for inspiring me with the verse!

Even if you don’t have the die-cut candle box, you could make a cute little token by sticking a tea light on a little bit of folded construction paper. It might be a nice gift to a special adult who doesn’t get to go trick-or-treating on Sunday. It’s a sweet thought — and no calories! 

Bittersweet scrapbooking

The scrapbooking workshop I attended yesterday was strangely bittersweet.

This retreat was my first official scrapbooking workshop in four years, when I quit working for what was — if not what remains — the world’s biggest scrapbooking company and started working for a much smaller, food-peddling direct selling company. In four years, I’ve seldom looked at the albums of memories made with my first husband, I’ve taken few photos and I’ve developed (or in the digital age, printed) even fewer images. It all seems so … well, pointless to spend hours on scrapbooks destined for the trash bin at the nursing home where I will someday wither and die.

On the surface, I was just another woman spending the day cropping and sticking and reminiscing around a table of other customers just like me.

Beneath the veneer of casual conversation made over the course of hours with my scrapbooking buddy, I was the former marketing executive for the world’s biggest scrapbooking company.

Having attended dozens of scrapbooking parties, workshops and retreats over the years in living rooms, church dining halls, hotel conference rooms and community centers in literally eight countries from Japan to South Africa, I was programmed to be collecting market research while discreetly sorting, cutting and journaling. What do customers want? How do they use the products? What do they say about their photographs, their hobby, their satisfaction?

All my observations were for naught. I am just another customer now.

On the other hand, there was freedom in not being connected to said scrapbooking company’s product development team. When I was working for the world’s biggest scrapbooking company, stickers were the currency of value — we couldn’t come out with enough colors, designs, sizes and letters. The marketplace was insatiable. I got so tired of justifying why we didn’t sell single letters of ABCs, potty training stickers and wrestling images.

Now, the new trend is digital scrapbooking software. How strange it was to sit in the same scrapbooking venue as a woman at her laptop, both of us cropping photos (me with my personal trimmer, she with her mouse) and attempting to come up with the right title (me in my ABC letters, she in the right font).

Though quite popular with a certain percentage of the population, digital “scrapbooking” feels too much like work to me. As someone who knows how to operate sophisticated Quark Xpress publishing software, the act of creating scrapbook pages on a computer screen is not all that new or appealing. But I love the feel of paper, the texture of a well-layered scrapbook page, the feel of pen to paper and the physical act of turning a finished page to expose a new palette on which to create.

So, needing a point and feeling no pressure to use any particular product or style with my work, I started a traditional scrapbook for my stepson, who will someday graduate from high school, God willing. I believe the marketing espoused by the company for which I worked nine years: Good moms make scrapbooks for their children. And he needs an album to show off at his high school graduation party.

I was just another woman creating an album.

A very important album.

At least to him.

You should have seen his face when he looked at it. I was a hero again.

Throw away the G-U-I-L-T

Are you a scrapbooker with a whole file folder filled with ABC letters?

You have three sheets of every color and you can’t make a complete word from any one sheet? You’ve started to resort to using both uPpeR and LoWEr-CASe letters together, all mixed up? And you’re mixing up colors, too?

(If you’re not a scrapbooker, a little background: A scrapbooker uses ABC letters to spell titles on scrapbook pages of photos that say things like, “January 2008” or “Happy Birthday, Kate” or “July 4th with the Hensens.” Each letter is an individual sticker. Most ABC sheets come with both upper- and lower-case letters.)

Are you holding on to every sheet of ABC letters you’ve every invested in? Even if there are only, like, 10 letters left? And they’re all Js, Qs, Xs and Zs? And maybe an odd 4 or 7?

I have news for you: You’ll never use all the letters on every sheet. Sorry, nope. Never.

I was scrapbooking this past weekend with a couple of friends who confessed they have sheets of ABCs like that — mostly empty sheets with mostly useless letters (there’s a reason you get 8 or 10 points in Scrabble for using Xs and Zs!).

When I worked in product development for a major scrapbooking company not so long ago, I remember getting literally hundreds of product suggestions about ABC letters:

  • “More Es and Ts, please.”
  • “More lower-case letters, please.”
  • “Please offer individual sheets of letters.”

Since I don’t work for this company anymore, I feel safe in saying, “Mike Myers will win a best actor Oscar before you see individual sheets of individual ABC stickers.”

First of all, even with only the three colors now offered by this major scrapbooking company (when I was there, there were, like, 22 colors), offering individual letters would require at least 72 different sheets of letters (and that’s if you include both upper- and lower-case on the same sheet and omit 123s). That’s an inventory nightmare for a company, let alone an independent salesperson who may or may not inventory her product in a closet.

And secondly, everyone uses up different letters. Debbie Bednedick is going to use up her Ds, Es and Bs before everything else. And a mother whose children were all born in June and July will use up all her Js and Us.

The problem is not the sheets of ABC letters. The problem is you.

Let go of those pathetic sheets of ABC letters. If there are no “Wheel of Fortune” letters left on the sheet (RSTLNE), throw it away!

Yes, even if there’s a perfectly good G and two Us you may use someday, throw the sheet away. You won’t have the other letters you need when you finally get around to using that G.

Why are you carrying these worthless sheets of letters around anymore? Lighten your load.

Let me assure you: You got your value out of the sheet; when you use 75% of a sheet of stickers, that last 25% isn’t worth a buck to continue to carry around. It served its purpose. You will be able to find something to title your future page when your future self goes looking for it. Let it go.

This is not like being a little child pouting about all the food in front of you when your mother told you that African children would starve if you didn’t clean your plate. There are no families named Jyquxoz who will suffer because you throw away a sheet of useless ABC stickers. And there are really no clever ways to make those letters into design elements (or cute sticker animals).

If you need it, this is your permission to throw away the guilt. And don’t look back. May the RSTLNE be with you.

Scrappin’ vs. stampin’

Having worked for Creative Memories for almost 10 years, I consider myself to be an advanced scrapbooker.

I have more than 25 albums to my credit. But when I got divorced two years ago, all those albums seemed sort of … well, wasted. I mean, I can’t get rid of them. But I can’t exactly display them proudly either.

So, I haven’t really scrapbooked much in the past two years.

But in November, I met a Stampin’ Up demonstrator, and she invited me to one of her workshops at her home.

One of the reasons I liked scrapbooking so much (besides the fact that I got to use all the products I helped market) was because I really liked working with paper. If scrapbooking wasn’t quite right anymore, I thought rubber stamping might be a nice creative “paper” outlet for me. 

I’ve been to three of my Stampin’ Up demonstrator’s workshops, and I really enjoy them. It’s like this “club” of ladies all drawn together by nothing other than a love of paper and stamps. And I feel so fortunate because these ladies who’ve been meeting monthly for ages have welcomed me so warmly. On Saturday at the workshop, I came home with my six projects (three greeting cards, a little wooden box, a Valentine’s candy “pillow” pack and an ornament) and three gifts from some of the other stampin’ aficionados: a mini banana bread loaf, a party favor left over from the lady’s husband’s 60th birthday party and a little tin of cocoa. These ladies are showing off their stamping projects, which is fine by me because I’m the lucky recipient. I’ve learned that stamping is about a lot more than paper! The party favor was a little glass bottle stamped with a message on the cap and on the front and filled with candy. So cute! Last month I got the most intricate sock monkey lapel pin — made entirely of paper and ink except for the pin. But it looked and felt like ceramic or stiffened fabric. So clever!

The whole thing is quite educational. For one thing, all the ladies are older than me. I’ve learned all the good places to grocery shop. And that the city library is the hot spot of activity. And I’ve gotten tips on local entertainment (“the church is putting on a play tonight”). All these things are interesting to me, but I would never be exposed to them without having been invited to this little monthly workshop. It’s great.

And for you scrapbooking fans out there, don’t worry about me. I’m going home this weekend to scrapbook with Mom and my sister.