Entrepreneurs: Melissa and Randy Rolston, 47 and 49, respectively, founders of Victorian Trading Co. in Lenexa, Kansas
Description: Wholesaler and retailer of Victorian-themed artifacts and antiques
Startup: $200 in 1986
2005 projected sales: $15 million
Celebrating life: In 1986, Melissa and Randy Rolston celebrated the birth of their baby by sending out personally illustrated and printed Victorian announcements. Impressed friends requested the Rolstons do their announcements, and a small greeting-card business was born. Now, nearly two decades later, they've expanded their business to include a line of replicated, functional items, including lamps, jewelry, clothing and furniture, dating back to the Victorian era.
Haunted headquarters: Along the way, the Rolstons "upgraded" their location from their attic to a beautiful, century-old building, which they later discovered was once a jail and night court. Their warehouse occupied the courthouse, and the shipping department replaced the dunk tank. Employees entertained themselves with spooky tales. The company has since outgrown that building, employing up to 140 people and working with factories in China and India and artisans nationwide.
Antiquity meets modernity: Stationery was once the Rolstons' primary focus-now it accounts for only 10 percent of sales. In addition to selling via catalog and in more than 6,000 gift stores and museum shops in North America and Japan, they've had to embrace the internet and e-mail to sell to today's high-tech customers. One thing remains constant: their mission to preserve history. Their next big project is to publish a compilation of stories they've heard during their search for items. "I see us as historians," says Melissa. "We're recreating artifacts that are just too good to be forgotten."