In an industry where personal touches and heartfelt connections hold significance, Stacy Stahl’s venture Sweeter Cards illuminates the enduring charm of thoughtful giving and the power of resourceful determination.

That charm and determination are behind what’s become a standout year for the St. Louis business owner. In January, Stahl and Sweeter Cards were the runaway champions of The Pitch at The PPAI Expo 2024, winning over a panel of veteran distributor judges. Stahl had barely unpacked from Las Vegas when Texas-based Rupt Ventures announced that Sweeter Cards was its first strategic investment.

So, it’s no understatement to say 2024 started with a bang for Stahl and her company. And given her background, it’s not much of a surprise that she’s made her company stand out as an up-and-comer in the industry.

The Born Entrepreneur’s Sweet Idea

Raised in an environment where entrepreneurship was the norm, Stahl’s path was destined to intersect with innovation and creativity.

“Having an entrepreneurial mindset is something I learned in elementary school,” Stahl says, “but both my parents are entrepreneurs, so that’s what I grew up watching. I’ve never seen my parents work for anyone else. I’ve never seen anyone climb a corporate ladder. I’ve only seen people start and grow businesses on their own. So, part of that comes a bit naturally to me.”

Stahl’s entrepreneurial journey began early when she launched her first company at 23 – a wedding website where couples shared their engagement stories. Despite its profitability, it didn’t quite hit the sweet spot for Stahl.

“Everything we did was intangible,” Stahl says. “It was an online platform – all user-generated content and social media. I wanted a physical product. I wanted the value to be: I made this, here’s what it is.”

Eventually, The Knot, an online wedding planning platform, took notice and acquired the enterprise, paving the way for Stahl to transition to her next business venture. Then inspiration struck her at her local grocery store.

Stahl says she’s always on the lookout for good gifts. She appreciates the simplicity of receiving a greeting card as a gift herself but acknowledges that many people want a little bit more. And finding a thoughtful gift can prove challenging, since many inexpensive gifts lack significance.

“I’ve always been on the search for a good gift that’s not too big but meaningful, easy to buy, easy to love and not too expensive,” says Stahl. “I didn’t want to spend $85 on flowers, and I didn’t want to buy something that would get thrown away.”

The solution to this problem came during a trip to Stahl’s local Whole Foods.

“Literally every time [my family] goes to Whole Foods, we get chocolate bars. We’ve never left Whole Foods without a chocolate bar,” says Stahl. “[On one trip,] I also needed a card, and I wasn’t going anywhere else.”

While holding the two items in her hand, the concept of combining them into a single product struck her.

“When Sweeter Cards popped in my head, it just checked all the boxes of what I was looking for. There’s just something so simply beautiful and top-notch about it,” she says.

A New Kind Of Card Company

Sweeter Cards’ model is simple: a greeting card and gourmet chocolate bar all in one, making it a cost-effective way to send a message and a tasty treat.

The company’s signature bar, a sea salt caramel dark chocolate confection, is handmade in St. Louis with all-natural ingredients. Each batch is hand-stirred in copper kettles and contains no artificial flavors or colors, preservatives or hydrogenated oils.

Stahl emphasizes that Sweeter Cards isn’t just about the product; it’s also about the people and the process behind it.

“Everything is sourced locally in St. Louis,” she says. “We work with a family-owned chocolatier here in St. Louis. My print team is an employee-owned printer that has been around for 100 years. I warehouse with a father-and-son team.”

Stahl says she wants to work with businesses that support people, ideas, joy and great things. “When people that I work with love what they’re doing, what they’re making, it allows me to have a product that I am unbelievably proud of.”

In an age where virtual gifts and online interactions dominate, she isn’t concerned about selling a paper product.

“[Digital gifts] aren’t fun. Getting something in the mail and opening something, that’s really fun,” Stahl says. “It’s the same thing with opening a bar of chocolate. There’s something that always makes me feel like I’m a little kid.”

With Sweeter Cards, Stahl says, she sought to tap into the timeless appeal of greeting cards. The product is intended to be a combination of sweet and sentimental, which has earned it high demand in retail stores like Barnes & Noble, Paper Source. “We’re also in hundreds of independent retailers around the country,” she says.

Her Journey Into Promo

Adaptability is a crucial part of running a successful business. When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented unexpected hurdles for Sweeter Cards, Stahl and the company adapted.

“When COVID hit, the only thing selling was toilet paper or essentials,” Stahl says. “Very quickly, what I built in a year had stalled.”

However, the setback proved to be an opportunity redefine Sweeter Cards’ place in the market. With remote work the norm, businesses sought to maintain connections with employees and clients. Sweeter Cards, previously printing 40,000 cards at a time, found itself fielding requests for custom orders.

“We started getting a lot of inquiries asking if we could do custom,” Stahl says. “[A customer] asked if we could print 20 [cards]. I said ‘sure,’ but I had no clue how to do it.”

Fulfilling the order led Stahl to discover the promotional products industry. Within six months, Sweeter Cards had pivoted to accommodate custom orders and promo.

Fast-forward a few years, and Sweeter Cards took the promotional products stage at The Pitch during The PPAI Expo 2024. The live competition, combining aspects of The Voice and Shark Tank, packed the Mandalay Bay Convention Center ballroom as seven suppliers sought to win over the panel of veteran distributor judges.

Stahl presented her flagship dark chocolate sea-salt bar while highlighting that her company is woman-owned and employs adults with disabilities. Stahl’s pitch convinced all four judges to turn their chairs in approval and took 55% of the audience vote.

“Immediately having that win before the Expo made so many conversations easy and fun,” Stahl says. “I’m eternally grateful for The Pitch.”

When she first entered the promo market, Stahl searched for advice from someone who had already achieved success in the industry. That’s when she reached out to Jason Lucash of Rupt on LinkedIn.

“I kept seeing press on him, and I decided, ‘I’m going to reach out to this guy and ask if I can pick his brain.’ I learned so much in a short time because of how generous he was with his knowledge,” says Stahl. “He became a friend and a believer.”

Lucash quickly recognized a kindred spirit.

“I saw a lot of myself in Stacy,” he says. “When Mike and I entered the industry, we didn’t have a ‘promo sherpa’ telling us where to go and how should we do it. Stacy has the same entrepreneurial spirit that we had. She’s bullish on the industry and is doing something different. She just needs some guiding light.”

The connection proved fortuitous, with Rupt Ventures – helmed by Lucash and Mike Szymczak – later making Sweeter Cards its first strategic investment in the promotional products industry.

“I think a huge part of their mission is to find more young brands that are doing things outside of that promo box, bring those products to promo and help them do some cross-selling, share resources, share knowledge,” Stahl says. “They’ve been in the world for 20 years, and we’ve been in it for one or two. I think that that’s really advantageous for small brands, because making a name for yourself in the promo industry when you’re new is kind of hard.”

Lucash adds, “Stacy Stahl’s vision and dedication to creating a unique gifting experience align perfectly with our investment philosophy. We’re excited to support Sweeter Cards in its journey.”

Stahl’s personal goal with the partnership is to continue the company’s trajectory of growth and innovation. With the support of Rupt Ventures, Sweeter Cards plans to accelerate its expansion, broaden its sales team and amplify its marketing to reach a wider audience. Additionally, the investment will enable Sweeter Cards to further enhance its commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.

What’s On The Horizon

Buoyed by a rising profile and fresh investment, Stahl and Sweeter Cards aren’t sitting still. The company recently launched its “Bring Your Own” gift option. This new initiative allows distributors to include their own product in the card instead of a chocolate bar. If it fits inside the signature Sweeter Cards box, the company will make it happen.

“I named the company Sweeter Cards and not something like ‘Chocolate Cards’ because I knew that something else could fit in the card,” Stahl says. “We can stuff Sweeter Cards with pens instead of chocolate. The same thing with socks that fit or notepads that fit. We’ve already done a couple orders with pins, golden tickets, extra marketing collateral, stickers and more. We even have an eye mask project we’re working on.”

Throughout her rapid rise, Stahl has remained committed to upholding high standards and creating a meaningful influence.

“I could never function without integrity,” Stahl says. “I truly couldn’t be prouder of the type of company that I started and run. It feels like all the stars aligned.”

The First Of What Will Be Many

Rupt Ventures announced a second investment, this time in Desk Plants, also located in Austin, Texas, in March. Desk Plants provides the promotional industry with unique, sustainable, customizable plants that are hard to kill. Backed by Rupt, the company seeks to expand its impact in sustainable branding solutions.

Lucash says Desk Plants embodies the essence of what Rupt Ventures stands for: innovation, sustainability and a commitment to excellence. He notes strong similarities between Stahl and Desk Plants’ founder and CEO, Lawrence Hanley.

“As an investor, you bet on the jockey as much as you bet on the horse,” Lucash says. “Stacy is a good jockey with a great horse in the race. Same for Lawrence. And there aren’t other comparable horses to them. It’s interesting to have investments in sectors where there aren’t a lot of other players, finding the people doing it really well and helping those businesses grow.”

Luna is a copywriter with PPAI.