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A Catawba College Employee by Day, an Entrepreneur by Night: Meet Dawn Holcombe

April 11, 2017

Category: Staff

By Cyndi Allison Wittum

dawnbasket1.jpgLook for Dawn Holcombe in the "Shark Tank" on ABC one of these days.  Dawn, an employee in the Housekeeping Department at Catawba College since 2012, is creative and sees possibilities wherever she looks, including while working in her day job at the college in Ketner Hall. When Dawn noticed that the white board cleaner was expensive and not especially effective, she came up with her own solution which saves the college money.

In 2015, Dawn entered Catawba's Ketner School of Business "Big Idea" competition with Dawnlady. Her Dawnlady system would mix white board cleaner, liquid detergents and also feature a melt wax section for candle making. She imagined a cool touch base for safety.

The biggest issue with getting a new product on the shelves is the investment. Dawn said a prototype for Dawnlady would run her around $30,000, a prohibitive amount for most home inventors, including Dawn.

dawnbasket2.jpgDawn continued to mull over entrepreneurial options for formally launching that product as she began to design gift baskets, one of her favorite hobbies. She enjoys coming up with a theme for each basket and getting just the right sort of items to create one-of-a-kind creations for family and friends.

Over time, people began to ask where the baskets and coffee cup packages had been purchased, and special requests started coming in. Dawn's fans told her that she should begin selling her baskets. That advice was the start of Useful Creations by Dawn, a self-funded venture soon to have an LLC.

What sets Dawn's basket creations apart is that she uses no filler, and she purchases the items specific to the receiver. Her first step when asked to build a basket is to ask about the recipient's interests, hobbies, and favorite colors.

When Dawn begins to load the basket, she starts at the bottom with a larger item like a pack of baby diapers in a baby shower basket. This becomes her base rather than a cardboard filler box or Styrofoam in store bought baskets. She then slowly and artfully builds the basket with theme-related items and caps off the presentation with some type of special topper such as a bow, flowers, or scarf with a jeweled dangle.

Dawn does all of the hands-on work.

"I'm picky," she says. She does not want a basket to go out that is not perfect, and her baskets are works of art and useful.  "If it doesn't look just right, I start over," she explains.

dawnbasket3.jpgAnother difference with Dawn's creations is that every item included can be used or recycled. She uses sturdy baskets, nice for display or storage, and real coffee cups and mugs. Her goal is to be earth-friendly while giving customers affordable products that are unique and special.

"You never know the impact you may have," she notes.

At this stage in the development of Useful Creations by Dawn, she has developed a partnership with S&D Coffee whose products are featured in her cup or mug basket designs. She also looks for unusual items through Outlaw Soaps, Ladybug Blessings, and Avon. Since she enjoys helping out others who have small businesses or who are stay-at-home moms with products to sell, Dawn also includes contact business cards. If you love the Avon lotion in your basket, you will have a direct contact for an Avon Lady.

Down the road, Dawn hopes to have her own shop and to hire delivery drivers. Currently, she can only deliver after working hours. That limits her to four or five baskets per month, but with the requests increasing due to word-of-mouth. And, as far as space, the basket business has taken over an entire room of her home.

Baskets are not just gifts; they are part of Dawn's mission.

"I believe that if your business makes a difference in someone's life, God will put the right people in your path. I thank God every day for the opportunity to create a gift for someone."

Contact Dawn at