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October 21, 2011 Article 5 min read

Few companies combine history and ingenuity quite like Longaberger, America’s premier handcrafted basket maker and home and lifestyle product provider. Want proof? Consider the company’s Newark, Ohio, headquarters. The building is a replica of Longaberger’s signature product, the Medium Market Basket, complete with basket handles and replica copper and wooden rivets. It’s an architectural marvel — one that stymied engineers when company founder Dave Longaberger came up with the idea more than 15 years ago. “If they can put a man on the moon, we can certainly build a building that’s shaped like a basket,” reasoned Longaberger.

It’s that spirit of assuredness, innovation, and entrepreneurship that has transformed Longaberger into a nationwide phenomenon. In addition to the more than 800 staff working at the Longaberger headquarters, Homestead, and factory stores, the company has more than 25,000 independent sales consultants who hold in-home parties to showcase the products and pass on the lore. “Our story — our heritage — really resonates with our customers,” says Janine Davis, Longaberger’s vice president of marketing and sales promotions. “Dave realized this very early on, and this combination of history and ingenuity ultimately led to our mission statement: ‘To stimulate a better quality of life.’ We do this by welcoming our consultants into the large extended family that is Longaberger and providing them with a flexible income opportunity. We do this by offering our customers craftsman-quality products that are both artful and functional. That’s what makes us special.”

A handcrafted legacy

Dave’s father, J.W. Longaberger, spent his life creating baskets his community needed, including fruit and corn baskets for local farmers and market and laundry baskets for homemakers. He was a natural-born artisan, using the finest quality hardwood maple to create baskets of unparalleled quality. It was natural, then, for Dave to pursue a similar career, after noting the poor quality of the foreign-made baskets lining the shelves of local shops in his community.

He asked J.W. to make a dozen baskets — including a Cake Basket, a Market Basket, and a Fruit Basket — and he tried selling them through traditional retail channels. He noticed, however, that one particular woman kept buying the baskets in bulk. “What are you doing with all of these baskets?” he asked. “I’ve been having parties and selling them to my friends,” she replied.

That’s when it all came together. Dave hired his customer as his first sales consultant (she’s still a consultant today!), and Longaberger became a direct sales organization.

The baskets

Today’s Longaberger baskets are created with the same scrupulous attention to detail and quality as they were back when J.W. originated them. “As a new employee, one of the things you get to do is make a basket, so you can understand exactly what goes into them,” says Davis. “The basket maker who helped me weave has been making Longaberger baskets more than 15 years. It was amazing to watch the care she took to ensure every splint that went into the basket was top quality.” The basket makers put their initials on the bottoms of their baskets as their own stamp of approval and pride of craftsmanship. It’s no wonder these baskets have the extraordinary reputation that they do.

And there’s quite a variety of baskets from which to choose, from traditional to seasonal to tailgating baskets that come bearing your favorite college or NFL team logo. You can even design your own custom basket for special occasions, such as weddings, showers, or graduations.

Other products

When you hear the word “Longaberger,” you tend to think “baskets,” but over the years, Longaberger has broadened its focus from baskets into other product areas as well. “It started in the early ‘90s with plastic protectors for our baskets,” says Terri Baldwin, Longaberger’s director of accounting and finance. “Then we began producing liners for our picnic baskets; these products made our baskets more functional. From there we thought, ‘How can Longaberger help set the kitchen table or decorate the living room?’ Each product has evolved naturally and given our consultants more opportunities to grow their businesses.”

These are just a few of Longaberger’s product lines:

  • Pottery.
    Next to its baskets, Longaberger’s line of Woven Traditions® pottery contains their most popular products. From plates to pitchers to coffee mugs, all of the pottery is vitrified and nonporous, which means it can go from the microwave to the freezer to the oven to the table without cracking. Each piece contains a subtle basket-weave design. Longaberger customers swear by it.
  • Handbags, Backpacks, & Totes.
    Longaberger’s Sisters™ line contains something for
    everyone — cell phone wristlets for junior high girls, backpacks for college women, and totes and handbags that span generations. These products were a natural extension of the baskets, as they fulfill a similar function. This line also contains wallets and travel mugs.
  • Coffee.
    New this fall is Longaberger Private Reserve, packaged as one-pot servings to preserve freshness. “We selected our beans and partnered with a family-owned roaster to roast them to our specifications,” says Davis. “Over the holidays, we’ll offer a flavored coffee gift pack that includes vanilla, hazelnut, and mocha.”

Other products offered by Longaberger include home accents, such as wreaths, candles, and lamps; fabric accessories; framed art and mirrors; wrought iron; and food, such as dips, seasonings, and salsas.

The future

Longaberger is reaching out to new generations and demographic groups. The Sisters™ line of handbags and totes is one example of a product targeting Gen Xers and Millennials. Longaberger also recently came out with a line of “Metropolitan” baskets meant to appeal to a more contemporary/urban design aesthetic. The company has also added more colors and a sophisticated black stain to their collection.

“The message is simple,” says Davis. “Whatever your style, Longaberger can help you accent your home and make it fresh and new.”

By the numbers

  • On average, Longaberger creates 3,100 baskets per day.
  • More than 200,000 people visit Longaberger locations and events each year.
  • Longaberger has more than 25,000 sales consultants.

Visit Longaberger!

You can visit Longaberger in a variety of ways:

  • Home office tours. Visit the basket! Tours are available seven days a week.
  • Visit the Longaberger Homestead®. Here you can tour a replica of J.W. Longaberger’s workshop (along with some of his original baskets), learn firsthand what it takes to make a basket by visiting the “Make-A-Basket™” store, and shop, shop, shop. Make a day of it!
  • Go to one of Longaberger’s Factory Stores, which offer discounted products.
  • Visit the Longaberger Golf Club®. The course offers a challenging game of golf for every skill level.
  • Go to www.longaberger.com for more information.