Fall 2019
Meet the Maker: nora fleming By Julie McCallum

A family business rooted in hard work and fun

Bringing joy to every table is the mission of the nora fleming company. Nora Napientek and her business partner and brother, Jon Neidlinger, have discovered the secret to growing a brand steadily and deliberately, all while maintaining a commitment to family, their team and their customers. Named after their great grandmother, the company was founded in an environment of trust, laughter and hard work.

Gift Shop had a chance to get to know Nora and Jon this summer and found out more about the family business that has nestled itself firmly in the heart of the gift industry.

Nora with serving dishes and minis
Nora Napientek of nora fleming. Photos courtesy of nora fleming.

Gift Shop: How and when did nora fleming begin?

Nora Napientek: After college, I had a paint-your-own pottery shop and noticed that women were coming in month after month to create platters for different occasions. I often wondered where they were storing all of them and thought how much easier it would be to use just one platter for a number of occasions. This led me to experimenting with drilling holes in platters and fashioning little icons to fit into the holes. My ultimate goal was to streamline the entertaining process and bring simplicity to tablescapes (and cabinets).

GS: How many employees do you have?

NN: We have 15 employees in our office/warehouse in the western suburbs of Chicago. Each member of our team is connected through life’s circle of family, friends, and neighbors (versus being connected through resumes and interviews). It’s one of the greatest strengths of our company … we genuinely enjoy working together. Spending any amount of time in our office and/or showrooms would prove this!

GS: What is your best-selling product?

NN: As far as minis, the “pumpkin spice” double pumpkin mini has been a fan favorite year after year. For bases, the bread platter is our top seller – it’s a classic shape and can be used in a variety of serving situations. But the overall highest seller is our keepsake box. Our customers enjoy adding to their collections and filling their keepsakes with the minis that speak to them the most. 

Cake Stand Mini by nora fleming
The nora fleming line of serving pieces can be customized with interchangeable ornaments, or minis, for any occasion.

GS: Tell us about nora fleming fans who are ardent collectors. How do you account for this popularity and what do you and your retailers do to reward these loyal customers?

NN: The groups, which are especially active on Facebook, are real communities who share their love of all things nora fleming. I think people like being involved in the process of collecting and gift giving, and choosing the base and mini allows you to customize the setting or gift. One trait that stands out in the numerous posts and comments is how kind our followers are to each other. We love that our products are catalysts for spreading kindness, and of course we appreciate their interest in our products and company.

GS: How many “minis” has nora fleming created, both retired and current

NN: That’s a hard question to answer – in the beginning when it was just me working with my brother Jon, we were much more focused on getting nora fleming off the ground and weren’t even sure what would become of our idea, so we didn’t put much thought into keeping exact tabs on historical data. We’ve done a lot of digging recently, and as far as we can tell, we have produced around 250 minis total. Of those, 94 are in our current collection.

Minis by nora fleming
Serving pieces come in ceramic or melamine as well as walnut boards by J.K. Adams. The partnership with J.K. Adams features sustainably harvested North American hardwood.

GS: Who comes up with ideas for new minis and your other products?

NN: This is a true team effort – we take ideas from retailers and customers, then combine those ideas with current gift industry trends, then collaborate in the dedicated design space in our office to brainstorm each set of minis and bases. I love the process of seeing an idea go from a drawing to a 3D sculpture to a sample to a finalized product. The tiniest changes that we select along the way are what make the minis come to life.

GS: Are there current trends in the gift or design industry that are impacting your products?

NN: We’ve been proud to be involved in collaborations with other fabulous companies. Our work with JK Adams’ wood products and mixture’s line of bath and body products showcase the co-branding trend that emphasizes that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We believe through these collaborations we really are “better together” and we look forward to more co-branded work with other amazing companies. 

GS: Can you tell us about the new book?

NN: We think of the book as a cross between a coffee table book, a cookbook, and an entertaining guide. It’s full of ideas and recipes, but also offers a glimpse into nora fleming’s roots as well as the entertaining spaces in my downtown loft, lakehouse, and home in the Florida Keys.

Nora Napientek Jon Neidlinger holding Nora's new book
Nora Napientek and her business partner and brother, Jon Neidlinger.

GS: What are the goals for the future of nora fleming?

NN: Being a more established company affords us the time, energy, and resources to give back. We’re intent on helping worthy charitable and philanthropic causes, and also to organizations that support emerging entrepreneurs. Of course, we’ll also continue to learn and grow as the gift and design worlds change.

Julie McCallum

Julie McCallum is publisher of Gift Shop Magazine. She is formerly the editor-in-chief of the publication, as well as editor of Museums & More, and she has more than 25 years experience in publishing.

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