Jill Sands, Design Director, Toland Enterprises, Mandeville, LA

Toland's founding family looks back on 25 years of all the comforts of home.

Meredith Schwartz, Staff Staff, March 1, 2001

Gifts & Dec: How did Toland Enterprises start out?

Jill Sands: In the 1970s, my husband, Dave, was a sales marketing consultant and involved in a color printing technology called "dye sublimation." It was in its infancy, but he developed a way to apply the color process to doormats. He bought the production rights to the process, and created doormats with six different designs such as ducks, deer, geese, and Labrador retrievers.

Gifts & Dec: Where did the Toland name come from?

JS: It's Dave's middle name.

Gifts & Dec: So, you had a name and a product. How did you begin selling it?

JS: We called [manufacturers' rep] Charlie Kennedy in Dallas. I was an interior designer and had been a good customer of his. Dave had the doormats with six designs, but no way to display them. Charlie said, "Why don't you just bring them in and put them on the floor. That's where people use them." But the customers had never seen such beautiful artwork on a doormat, so many of them wouldn't put the mats on the floor. They literally framed them.

Gifts & Dec: And the business grew from there?

JS: Yes, but for the first few years it was a totally seasonal business. The only stagnant period was in the mid '80s when Dave decided that he wanted the business to stay where it was, and not have to introduce anything new. But he learned that there's no such thing as standing still in this business. You have to keep moving forward, or you start to move backward. We added new products, designs, and innovations. Today we have hundreds of SKUs of doormats, flags, chimes, accent rugs, pillows, comfort mats, and area rugs.

Gifts & Dec: What other challenges did you face?

JS: Too much success too early! We were gearing up for our third holiday season when our bank looked at the numbers and pulled the loan. We'd had a lot of fast growth, and, this being Louisiana, they were used to oil companies where fast growth meant fast drop-offs. Dave traveled all over talking to banks and to our suppliers. He finally found a bank in Chicago that would help us so we could stay in business.

Gifts & Dec: When did you become fully involved in the company?

JS: I edged in by giving lots of suggestions. Not all were accepted, but the ones that were, were successful. I was burning out as an interior designer, so I started full time with Toland in 1991.

Gifts & Dec: Is the next generation of Sandses involved too?

JS: Our son, Jeff, came into the business three and a half years ago. His wife, Alex, who was a teacher, is responsible for our learning center. We reimburse our employees for classes that they take, no matter what the subject matter. Our son-in-law, Jaime Miller, joined the business last fall and is our national sales manager. And our daughter, Abby, is a photographer and does a lot of our catalog photography.

Gifts & Dec: It sounds like one big happy family.

JS: The decision to join the company was something they came to on their own. One of the rules was that they couldn't work for the company unless they had an advanced degree and a minimum of three years of meaningful outside experience. That way they wouldn't question whether they could have done something on their own. Our philosophy was if it worked, it worked, and if it didn't, we wouldn't force it.

Gifts & Dec: What are your plans for the future?

JS: To continue the growth with good product and new designs. To have artful innovative products that are functional and meaningful to the market. To continue raising the bar for ourselves and to have fun while we're doing it. For example, we bring our dog, Sally, to work every day. She's a yellow Lab and everyone in the office adores her because she's the best source of stress relief.

Gifts & Dec: What are you doing to celebrate your anniversary?

JS: We've given a stock sharing plan to our top management and board of advisors to thank them. The difference in their mindset has been amazing; they're starting to think like owners, not employees. Our goal is to mentor the next generation, so that Dave and I can start to step back.

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