Laura Jennings’ Knack for Giving

By any definition, Knack founder and CEO Laura Jennings is a success story. She holds a graduate degree in management and marketing, worked as a VP at Microsoft for more than a decade, delved into the world of venture capital, and served as a WSU Regent for 10 years. When Jennings launched Knack in 2014, she merged her business acumen with a savvy sense of giving and reinvented the way people shop for gifts by making the customer the expert.

Knack is an e-commerce site built around the customer as the creative force. Customizable gift boxes are arranged by themes like For Him, For Her, Oenophile, Coffee Lover, Gourmand, and Spa. Gift boxes can also be built from scratch utilizing any of the nearly 1,400 carefully curated items in the Knack vault. Nearly 95 percent of all gift boxes are customized, and each unique box is photographed, becomes its own SKU, and is therefore available to any future customer.

Perhaps the thing that sets Knack apart from other gifting sites is the concept of story. Jennings has always taken joy in giving gifts — collecting them throughout the year for holidays, choosing items that have a personal connection for her or the recipient, and then sharing those stories with the person.

Laura Jennings

“I love owning my own business, starting something from nothing.”

“It’s not about how much you spent. It is the story that makes the gift memorable and feel special. It reflects your relationship with that person,” said Jennings. When you share a story about a gift, the object itself hasn’t changed, but the way the recipient feels about it does. The main difference between Knack and competitors is how the giver feels.

But the story doesn’t end there. All of the available items have been chosen for a reason. A story card for each item accompanies the gift, allowing the recipient a glimpse into a local designer, artisan producer, boutique winemaker, or philanthropic venture. For example, the Bengal Cotton Scarf is hand-woven by a woman-owned weavers’ co-op in West Bengal, India, that donates profits toward grassroots education programs for girls across India. The Marble Deluxe Zippered Tote by Metamorphic Gear, created in the Northwest by sailor and world traveler Lindsay Lawrence, is made from upcycled sailcloth — other products utilize climbing ropes, parachutes, seat belts, and tarps — with 1 percent of sales benefitting ocean cleanup and conservation efforts.

Whether shopping by collection, ethos, or geographical location (i.e. “local”), Knack allows customers to give thoughtfully. Boxes can even be curated months in advance and shipped on a specific date. Customers have even created new categories, like Breakup Gifts. Jennings loves reading the personalized messages that she says are “wonderful and often super-funny.”

Knack’s own story began incubating years ago on the eve of the internet, when Jennings worked for MSN. “I’ve been thinking about how people use the internet and commerce for a long time.” After researching merchant (e.g. Williams Sonoma), marketplace (e.g. Amazon), and double-sided marketplace (e.g. Uber, AirBnB) that are all based on an expert telling a consumer what to buy, she eventually landed on this angle: what if the consumer is the expert?

Finally, after recovering from a family tragedy, Jennings took the plunge. “I just realized, ‘Gosh, I have to do it. Now or never. What am I waiting for?’” She launched Knack from her basement in 2014 in time for a holiday pop-up shop at Pacific Place in Seattle. When she discovered staffers eating out of her home fridge, Jennings decided it was time to move the company to a new venue. Knack set up in the old Fran’s building during the summer of 2015 but quickly outgrew that, moving to its current location on Capitol Hill in spring of 2017. She is outsourcing fulfillment to an Eastside company this year but keeps the current location for offices and the showroom, where customers, particularly corporate clients, can peruse some of the featured items.

“I love owning my own business, starting something from nothing. My career has always been about this stage of business growth. The board member in my head gives me advice,” says Jennings, laughing when she admits she doesn’t always follow her own advice. Sometimes you have to make it up as you go, but that’s all part of the story. 


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