There was the professional sports team that wanted to reinforce to the potential coach and general manager that the team was located in New Jersey — and that New Jersey has a style and personality all its own.
There was the consulting group that wanted its hundreds of summer interns to understand the pride the company feels about being located in the Garden State.
And there was the hospital — the one that knew there was no way it could properly thank the group of nurses who arrived to help during the pandemic — that wanted to send those visiting nurses back home with a reminder of the state they assisted in its time of greatest need.
Each company turned to Just Jersey, the unabashedly pro-New Jersey retail outlet just off the Green in Morristown, for the perfect gift bag of swag.
Jersey-themed coasters (name the theme or the star and it has it) are a big hit. As are the numerous food items (think pasta shaped like the state, or Jersey Girl chocolate bars). There are T-shirts, jewelry, pillows, signs of all shapes and sizes (even a few made out of pieces of license plates, yellow and blue).
You name it, and co-owners Tina Bologna and Paul Miller probably can provide it.
That’s why the store — the unexpected result of a hugely popular expo and holiday pop-up nearly a decade ago — is eager to add another element to its business model: becoming the go-to outlet for unique corporate gifts and attraction-and-retention efforts.
“I think it had always been in our mind that we have great things for corporations that want to celebrate the communities in which they call home — and in which their employees and customers live,” Miller said. “We feel we have items that are a great way to celebrate the state and would help distinguish their corporate giving or their talent-acquisition efforts.”
The governor shops here
If you think Just Jersey seems like an ideal place for Gov. Phil Murphy to shop, you’d be right.
“The governor sends gift baskets,” co-owner Paul Miller said. “We’re working on a project for him now.”
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has been in the store, as has U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), who is the representative for the area.
The store is about more than just promoting the state, it’s about promoting small businesses in the state. This aspect appeals to the sustainability passion that brought Bologna and Miller together years ago while working at Sustainable Morristown.
“For us, this was a logical extension of our commitment to sustainability,” Miller said. “A lot of people know the environmental piece, but the economic piece isn’t as fully embraced or understood. Being able to lower your carbon footprint by sourcing local and keeping money circulating in a local economy is an extension of that commitment.”
Bologna said the two feel the store should appeal to corporations that value supporting the local economy, too.
“It’s a fun way to do the right thing,” she said.
The coasters are the most popular item. And it’s not so much about their size and shape (standard and very sturdy), but the Jersey themes they have on them.
A town name with a ZIP code or geographic coordinates? Got that.
Famous Jersey stars? You can get one with more than a dozen sports heroes (Carl Lewis, Franco Harris, Carli Lloyd and Derek Jeter), actors (James Gandolfini, Jason Alexander, Ray Liotta and Meryl Streep) or inventors (Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and J. Robert Oppenheimer).
Rock stars? Bruce and Bon Jovi have their own.
There’s even a few with a little Jersey attitude — and some with a lot.
Just Jersey has more than 7,000 items available (from more than 300 vendors) at its store and online.
Half the store, Bologna and Miller said, is products that are directly connected to the state by name or likeness.
The other half — and here’s the fun business catch — are products made by Jersey-based small businesses: Think jewelry, candles and hand-crafted wood signs or bowls, among a variety of options.
It all gives the store a certain look.
“Our items are not overly packaged,” Bologna said. “We tend to have things that look handmade with natural materials — recycled materials, if possible — but without crossing over into ‘grandma crafty.’ When the call starts out, ‘I’m a crafter,’ we step back a little bit.”
The love of New Jersey goes well past our borders. Just Jersey has sent packages to 49 states (still waiting on Alaska) and around the globe. In December, the company sent 197 packages a total of nearly 180,000 miles.
The farthest customer in its history came from New Zealand — who, thankfully, was looking to pick up a gift for someone that lived in New Jersey.
And if you’re wondering if anyone from the Isle of Jersey has called, they have. They wanted to be a vendor. They were told, “Wrong Jersey.”
That being said, products that are sustainably made always get extra attention.
Bologna and Miller are determined that their small business will help other small businesses, too.
“We’re about supporting like-minded people who are producing products with the intent of starting a business,” Bologna said. “If they want to run their brand like a business, then they’re a good partner for us.”
That support goes to what some would consider overly generous deals with their vendors — they split everything 50-50 after working together to determine a price.
“Our margins aren’t typical to other retailers,” Bologna said. “But, we’ve made a commitment to make sure our vendors are paid fairly. It’s expensive to run a business in New Jersey; we want to do what’s right by everybody.”
That support can go even deeper. When a man trying to create his own Jersey-based barbecue sauce called and said he was struggling to find a manufacturer, Bologna and Miller put him in touch with another vendor they felt could help.
And they are thrilled one of their first vendors — a jewelry maker who was working out of her basement with two kids in tow — is now selling nationally.
When Just Jersey did more than $100,000 in revenue in its first year, Miller and Bologna knew they had something. And they were thrilled when year-over-year increases helped it grow more than five-fold since.
Or, until the pandemic.
That’s when they were grateful for their online presence — “It kept us going,” Miller said — and realized the corporate opportunities that were out there.
It wasn’t just the hospital thanking its workers, it was the New York Jets sending out gift baskets to those who normally would have been in-person attendees at their draft party. It was companies wanting to stay in touch with their suddenly remote workforce.
The chance to sell outside the store, which still is responsible for more than 75% of its revenue, was apparent.
Just Jersey has a small outlet in a few Morris County hotels — and it is part of a proposal for a vendor competing for space in the new terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Those are good for branding. Miller and Bologna feel the greater growth opportunities will come in the corporate space.
Swag bags — they really are gift boxes — come in all shapes and sizes. And costs.
Jersey, not jerseys
Co-owner Paul Miller feels Just Jersey’s name helps it do well on web searches.
“When people want something from Jersey, we usually come up,” he said.
There is one slight problem with the name. Occasionally the store will get a call for someone looking for a sports jersey. “We tell them Just Jersey, no ‘s,’” he said.
Most gift boxes cost between $50-$200, the two said. But they have done some at higher price points. And they have filled big orders: As many as 700 for one customer.
If they had their wish, Bologna and Miller said they would love to put a gift box on the desk of every new employee.
Creating those gift boxes would be a fun exercise.
Bologna and Miller said they have starting ideas for boxes, but said each tends to be a custom creation. And, if you want your corporate logo on a product, Bologna and Miller said they have worked with vendors in the past to get that done, too.
Bologna feels it’s a win-win for corporate giving as well as attraction and retention.
“It’s a great way to enhance their brand with their employees,” she said. “How great is it when you can bundle a number of great Jersey-themed products to create a unique gift of locally made items?”
Reach Just Jersey at: justjerseygoods.com or call 973-590-2820.