W ith a clever name like Good Karmal, it’s not difficult to decipher what Patty Triplett West’s company sells. But there’s plenty more to the story than a tasty recipe and some positive vibes. Before she launched her caramel company “with the hope of creating a gift that might sweeten the world,” West was a happy and successful publicity executive at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles. Her career path took an unexpected turn in 2001 when she decided to create a meaningful holiday gift for her friends and colleagues.
She envisioned a sort of fortune printed as a positive quotation and wrapped around a delicious piece of caramel. Her brother, company cofounder Stephen Triplett, offered the pun Good Karmal. When the gift recipients went crazy for her caramels, West and Triplett had a feeling they were on to something. When the friend of a giftee asked to write an online story about Good Karmal, they officially had a business. Soon enough, they had a website too.
“Caramel has always been my favorite candy,” West says. “When I learned that you could make it at home on your stove and didn’t need big, fancy equipment, I was psyched! I borrowed my mom’s old cookbooks and noticed that the recipes for caramel were all different, so I set to work combining the elements I liked from each and came up with my own recipe.”
Today, Good Karmal is a thriving business that offers three flavors of soft and creamy, all-natural, preservative-free caramel twisted in clear cellophane. Each outside wrapper is inscribed with a quote of wise words from individuals ranging from Gandhi to Maya Angelou. Good Karmal also offers gift packages for any number of occasions, from thank-yous and birthdays to words of encouragement and congratulations. You can even customize the sayings on your wrappings. The company is also a big hit with corporations who use a Good Karmal gift to present their brand in a feel-good and memorable manner to customers, partners, or collaborators.
“Our story has always been the same—gifts of all-natural, creamy caramel wrapped in inspiring quotes,” West says. “The hope is that the quotes will inspire us all to be better people, live better lives, and positively impact those around us. Like the quote by Albert Schweitzer: ‘Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.’”
Inspired by Startups
The oft-told story of the entrepreneur who starts her business because she is sick of her day job does not apply to West and Good Karmal. She loved her role at Warner Brothers but has always been inspired by stories of business start-ups. It was the combination of long hours, excessive travel, and a desire to find a new challenge that led her to strike out on her own—well, those three things and some glowing reviews from those on the receiving end of those first gift-wrapped caramels.
“I read The Republic of Tea: How an Idea Becomes a Business when I was in college and thought it would be so cool to be a part of something like that,” West explains. “When I first created Good Karmal as a gift, so many people I admired were sure that it was a winner that I felt confident enough to give it a shot. I really felt like all the signs were pointing just one way—that I was supposed to do this.”
“It’s a beautiful thing when you design an enterprise from the heart and it turns out to have a heart of its own, touching people in ways they never forget. It’s the stuff branding people dream of and too often try to manufacture,” wrote Moira Vetter, Founder and CEO of Modo Modo Agency, in a Forbes review of the Good Karmal brand.
When Oprah Came Calling…
As one might have guessed, there was a little bit of great PR that helped take the former publicity executive’s company to new heights. Understanding that magazine placements and gift guides would be a great way to gain exposure, West sent samples to editors at magazines that she thought would fit well with Good Karmal’s target customer. Since she had been working with magazines and editors for a decade in her previous role, West had a good handle on how to best craft the pitch. Still, even the most high-priced PR agency could never have promised to deliver what would happen next. An early online editorial piece caught the eye of a producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show, who then placed an order.
“Next thing we knew, they were calling to feature us on [Oprah’s] crazy huge Favorite Things holiday show—all within one year of our launch,” West recalls. “We’ve been featured in a lot of magazine gift guides since then, which I view as just an amped-up form of word of mouth, like a recommendation from your in-the-know friend.” And spreading the word of the delicious caramels has resulted in earned media in more than 15 publications, including Food & Wine, Vanity Fair, InStyle, Forbes, the New York Times, Organic Style, and Martha Stewart Living, to name a few. West knew very well that this earned media was far more valuable than paid advertising.
The day that Oprah aired in late November 2002, website sales were quickly heading to a point that was more than Good Karmal’s small operation could deliver in time for the holidays. Instead of collecting every dollar they possibly could, West and the Good Karmal team determined to stay true to the brand’s attention to detail and keep the customer experience paramount. They left some money on the table by putting up a notice on their website that said “Sold out until January” so they could fulfill the immediate orders.
Fresh Just Tastes Better
Good Karmal sells its caramel online directly to consumers and corporate customers, not to retailers (because caramel tastes better fresh). West says that when she started the company, she envisioned selling to stores in order to drive growth, but every year Good Karmal has succeeded in bringing in new customers and growing revenue without having to use wholesalers.
“In addition to significant retail consumer sales on our website, we sell corporate gifts with custom logos and messaging to big companies like Nike and Microsoft as well as small mom-and-pops looking for a unique client gift,” she says.
A business degree from the University of Virginia has served West well when it comes to the marketing, accounting, IT, management, and finance aspects of running a business, but the real-world experience she took from her time at Warner Brothers taught her how to keep her head in a stressful, fast-paced environment.
“It also taught me to trust my instincts and tackle new challenges with confidence,” West says. “Every failure or disappointment that I’ve encountered with Good Karmal I’ve been able to view as a gift, an opportunity to learn and grow.”
The fact that Good Karmal started as a thoughtful gift for others seems to have set the tone for the company’s sense of purpose. Today, Good Karmal donates a portion of all sales to environmental charities.
“When I was just starting to form the idea of this company, I plopped down in the business books section at Borders in Burbank, California, and started reading,” West says. “I discovered Building a Business the Buddhist Way, and that really sparked the idea for the giving piece. I’d always had a portion taken out of my corporate paycheck for charity, and it was important to me to continue that. I think that message attracts a certain customer who feels the same way.”
Overwhelmed by the task of trying to figure out packaging and vendors in the early days, West says she wasn’t as focused then on Good Karmal’s environmental impact. That has changed as the company has grown. “I became more aware of the impact of these choices and more conscious of eco-friendly options,” West says. Today, Good Karmal strives to use earth-friendly packaging, choosing either recycled or reusable containers produced from renewable resources.
Spreading the Word (and Taste)
Don’t expect to see massive social media advertising from Good Karmal in your Instagram feed or TikTok videos from the staff urging you to buy some for your next corporate event. The company maintains a modest social media presence, preferring to earn its business via word-of-mouth (and taste) references.
“I’ve found that the best way to market Good Karmal is to get it in people’s hands or through a recommendation from someone they trust,” West says. “Until you’ve seen the packaging, unwrapped a quote, and tasted the caramel, you might not entirely appreciate the appeal. So that has been the main focus of our marketing.”
Until then, Good Karmal will let the wrapping quotes do the talking for them. West has been collecting quotes since she was in high school—“way before they were all over the Internet,” she points out—and the staff at Good Karmal is always on the lookout for a quote that fits the brand’s vision.
“We’re looking for positive messages about living a life of bravery, of compassion, and in harmony with nature,” West says.