After losing his job as public relations director at a Madison-area builder, Chris Ellibee decided it was time to pursue something that he and his wife Sue had talked about for a long time.
Sue's job as a magazine art director took the couple to Europe several times in the late 1990s. "We fell in love with the food, the wine and the chocolate and would bring home candy to share with friends and family. They would ask how they could get more. Sue and I joked about someday becoming importers of European chocolates," explained Chris, 49.
When Chris was downsized in November 2008, he decided it was time to take a leap and began working on a business to import not just chocolates but many other items from across Europe. The Ellibees started work on EuropeanMarket in January 2009, and one year later the online business was launched.
Sue, 49, is now senior art director at Lands' End, where she designs catalogs and marketing pieces for the Business Outfitters line. She's the creative director for EuropeanMarket and designs newsletters and marketing pieces. "I photograph about half of the products for the website," Sue said.
As CEO of the company, Chris does the finances, works with vendor partners in Europe, handles customer orders, provides customer and media relations, and handles marketing, promotions, social media and shipping. The business has been featured in many publications.
Two or three times per year, the couple travel to Europe for up to 11 days. "We've gotten pretty savvy at filling as many meetings and product scouting opportunities as possible into each day," Chris said.
The website offers a curated collection of products from artisans and small manufacturers in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, England, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey.
"We look for items that are unique and have a history or a special story," Chris said. "We also try to meet as many of our vendor partners as possible. This allows us to share the back story about an item with our customers, which provides a richer, more authentic shopping experience."
Sue added, "The past 18 months have been a wild, crazy ride, but we wouldn't change a thing. It's been amazing to take what was a negative event (a layoff) and turn it into something positive and exciting."
Big Career Moves features people who have made a big career change or who left a career to follow their dream job. To suggest someone, contact Jill Carlson at email@example.com.