By Mary Carr Mayle, Savannah Morning News
Cari Clark Phelps couldn’t deny her entrepreneurial destiny if she tried.
The owner of Clark Creative Communications traces her family roots to a great-grandfather who was an inventor, a grandfather who led the innovation team that gave the driving world the delayed windshield wiper and another grandfather who owned two small businesses.
As for Phelps, she and her younger sister spent their childhood summers in a 1980s-style VW bus, traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard with their artist parents as they sold work at juried art shows in a different city every weekend.
On Wednesday, she was the featured speaker at the quarterly Business in Savannah luncheon series at the Savannah Morning News. Her topic: “Lessons Learned on the Magic Bus.”
“My life as an entrepreneur started in the back of that bus,” she told the crowd of local business people. “It was there that I learned to embrace challenge and opportunity, to look way beyond my own backyard and to appreciate the importance of doing something I love.”
Today, Phelps employs those early learning experiences in her own two businesses, Clark Creative — where she helps clients develop and enhance their brands — and Salacia Salts, a bath and body collection made from natural and regional ingredients.
At Clark Creative, she emphasizes the importance of happiness in what you do.
“Enjoying work is the foundation of Clark Creative,” she said.
“Our client must be a good fit for us, it must be a mutually rewarding relationship, and it must be fun. There is more and more research pointing to humor as an essential ingredient of good leadership.
“It helps teams build bonds; clients find common ground and people connect.”
Another lesson learned on the “magic bus” was one most children never get in an increasingly dangerous world, Phelps said.
“We learned how to talk to strangers and engage with those who are not like us.
“At these art festivals, there was always that opportunity to talk to people we didn’t know,” she said. “Because many artists traveled alone, my sister and I were often asked to watch their wares while they took a break. We had to learn a lot — quickly — about their products in order to showcase them to customers.
“That was what shaped my business brain,” Phelps said. “I like to say I learned the basics of business and marketing as a kid at these shows. It’s certainly where I learned the concept of branding, which is what makes a product, or business, unique. It’s at the core of everything we do at Clark Creative.”
Phelps’ philosophy has proven successful. Clark Creative has helped brand and design more than 100 packaged products for a variety of industries, including Edibelles, Oliver Bentley’s and Savannah Bee Co.
Since launching her Salacia Salts line in July 2012, the products have been featured in Gun & Garden, Southern Living and Destination Wedding magazine, among others. Now available in eight states, they have also been included in celebrity gift bags at both the Oscars and the Kentucky Derby.
At Wednesday’s luncheon, Phelps announced she was preparing to launch a third business.
“For trade shows, I designed a display table cover that looks like a piece of furniture,” she said. The unique product drew so many comments at shows, she said, that she has decided to create a line of “faux show furniture.”
“Sounds crazy, I know,” she said, laughing.