Back to the Future with

The Original Time Capsule Co.

by Jennifer Harrison

As a teenager, Jeff McCarty wanted to create the ultimate high-school memory book. He saved the usual photos and trinkets; but he also threw cups, tee-shirts, and other three-dimensional objects into his cardboard "memory box." After high-school, he started adding relics from his birth year to the collection.

Although McCarty, now 33, never got around to making a high-school memory book, "I had a box full of cool stuff," he said.

From his menagerie of memorabilia arose a provocative question. Why couldn't people make time capsules for life events such as births, weddings and graduations? The answer became his life's work.

After graduating from Herron School of Art, Indianapolis, McCarty worked as a graphic artist, Eighteen months later, at age 24, he quit his job and began developing his brainchild, personal time capsules. To support himself and create seed capital he freelanced as a graphic artist.

His first product was Baby's Time Capsule, a colorful tin filled with supplies such as a scrap book, stationery for letters to the future (written by parents and grandparents), instructions, and stickers to seal the capsule and designate a date for opening it.

Mark Lee, a young restaurateur and graphic-arts client of McCarty's, saw a prototype of the time capsule at McCarty's office. Lee became entranced with the product and offered to invest $20,000 in the business. Before all was said and done, Lee dished-up $40,000 in venture capital. And McCarty ran-up $90,000 in credit-card debt to fan the fledgling firm to life.

The Original Time Capsule Co., based in Greenfield, Ind., introduced Baby's Time Capsule in March 1992 and sold only 1,800 units that year. In contrast, the company expects to sell 250,000 time capsules in 1998, with revenues of $2 million.

But the company faced a number of obstacles before finding its market. For example, the product was hard to explain to consumers. When product was finally ready to be shipped in 1992 people, "just didn't get it," says McCarty. He took the capsule to a consumer retail show in Cincinnati. He talked to hundreds of new and expecting parents, but sold only 37 units.

Months later, McCarty exhibited at a hospital trade show, and the time capsule generated brisk sales as a gift to be sent home with new mothers. Marketing directly to the consumer, McCarty realized, had been the wrong strategy. He and Lee began to focus on trade-shows and retail markets instead.

In 1993, after McCarty displayed the product at the Chicago Gift Show, sales jumped tenfold to over 20,000 units, and revenues reached $225,000. Retail outlets swelled from 60 to 1,000.

At first, Lee's involvement with the business was limited, as he was managing five restaurants. Lee has since sold three restaurants, and now spends about 80 percent of his working hours running the business with McCarty.

They recruit independent sales agents at gift shows and through trade magazines. And McCarty hired a national sales manager in 1995. This gave McCarty time to develop new products.

A Wedding Time Capsule was introduced in 1995. The product was a hit, and overall sales almost doubled, just missing $1 million on 92,000 units.

With such rapid growth, the company needed more space. Construction began on a 15,000 square-foot warehouse and office space in 1995. The company now employs 14 people, including McCarty and Lee.

Other products introduced include: My Graduation Time Capsule, and My First School Year Time Capsule kit. The company recently entered a joint venture with Times Square 2000 (producers of the New Years celebration at Times Square), which will sell My Millennium Time Capsules.

McCarty's vision of the past has made him a millionaire before age 40. And he likes creating his own future just fine.#

January, 1999, Nation's Business a publication of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Copyright 1999.  All rights reserved by Nation's Business.