When Shalina Reed and Treana Cason first came to Jefferson City, it was to attend Lincoln University.
While neither of them had exact plans for the future, they did not expect to remain in the area after graduation and run a business providing custom event decor and T-shirts.
While Cason had always known she wanted to be an entrepreneur, mainly because, as she puts it, she didn’t want to work for anyone else, Reed had an entirely different plan in place. She studied criminal justice at Lincoln University and even got a job offer from the Federal Bureau of Investigation — an offer she would later decline. But even Reed admits she always had that entrepreneur inside of her.
“I have always had a passion for creating and I have always had an entrepreneur side to me as well, and the two just kind of combined,” Reed said of how the pair started their current venture, Dolli’s Designs.
Cason knew from the start that she wanted to be an entrepreneur. Or a player in the WNBA.
“If I wasn’t going to be a millionaire then I was going to go to the WNBA,” Cason said. “That didn’t work out. … After college, I just knew I wanted to start a business … to do something different.”
Cason and Reed had met in 2012 while attending Lincoln University, where Reed graduated in 2014 and Cason in 2018. After Cason graduated, she purchased a machine for Reed to help her make her custom T-shirts, which had started to grow more than either had expected. Quickly, their business had begun.
“The T-shirt orders just started rolling in,” Reed said.
As that grew, Reed said she realized her hobby of doing balloon decorations for family parties could be a business in itself. Combining that with the T-shirts, she said, made full event decor the next logical step.
“It just kind of snowballed from there,” Reed said.
Recently, Reed completed training and earned a certificate from the Balloon Training Institute. The Tennessee-based organization provides a six-day course in balloon design, as well tips on the business end of balloon design.
Since starting in May 2018, Cason said the business has had over 150 orders and done work across the Midwest, even working in Mississippi. She said their clients are nationwide, from Texas to North Carolina. They’ve provided decor and T-shirts for almost all types of events — almost everything except a gala, Cason said. But where the pair would truly like their business to flourish most is in the place it was created — Jefferson City.
“The biggest challenge has been breaking into the Jefferson City market,” Reed said, noting that because the business mainly advertises through Facebook, it’s seen mostly by their own networks, which include many friends from their hometowns and other areas.
They credit several local resources with their business success, specifically mentioning assistance from the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Central Missouri Women’s Business Administration. It’s part of the reason they wanted to start their business here and invest back into the community.
“We’ve had a lot of opportunities to be in Kansas City or St. Louis, but we do love this community,” Cason said. “We want to work for this community.”
Cason and Reed relish running their own business for the simple freedom it provides, leaving them the room to decide how, and when, they want to work.
“This business allows us to be free,” Cason said. “We can travel when we want, we make our own money, we can really decide how much money we want to make today. … We have freedom over our lives.”
The shop has a presence on Etsy, but Cason said they mainly do business through Facebook. They prefer that platform, as Cason said it allows them to be more intimate with the customer, chatting and finding out exactly what is wanted to ensure the best possible experience for the customer.
“It’s just more social,” Reed said.
They like to develop relationships with their customers. Both Cason and Reed emphasized their Christian roots in guiding their business, and those come into play as they work with their customers. Cason described one situation where the pair were hired to provide decor for a funeral. Just three months earlier, they had provided the decor for the same young man’s graduation party.
“We can pray with our customers,” Cason said. “We can talk to our customers on that type of level and say ‘hey, let us take you out to lunch.’ … It’s not just about what you buy from us, we want to make sure that you’re OK. … Our motto is that we work for God.”
Learn more about Dolli’s Design’s at Facebook.com/DollisDesigns.