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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 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.)
The only earthquake I’ve ever experienced was in Japan.
I visited Australia several times, and I never tired of the Sydney Opera House.
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.
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.
When 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.