It was a beautiful sun-drenched day in the colorful market square of Ocho Rios, Jamaica when fate was about to tap Doug and Susan Williams on the shoulder. The year was 1984, and the young couple had taken one of those “Five days for $500… come back to Jamaica” trips with their best friends Andy and Debbie. That typical sunny day found Debbie and Susan shopping for souvenirs while the boys drank Red Stripe under a palm tree.
It was that fateful moment when Susan held up a basket and yelled back to Doug, “I paid $40 for a basket just like this back home.” Doug yelled back, “How much are you paying for that one?” When Susan said two dollars, legend has it that you could see the dollar signs ringing up in Doug’s eyes$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
Susan and Doug were doing flea markets back home selling their artwork painted on old barn wood to make ends meet as a young married couple. And, both thought that the baskets would make a great addition to their flea market endeavors. So, Andy and Debbie, being best friends and all, helped the Williams carry as many baskets as possible on the plane home… and what a sight they were… back in the day when you could do stuff like that on an airplane.
Back home, Doug just couldn’t get the 2000% mark up out of his head. So, he posed the idea to Susan of returning to Jamaica to try and import the baskets back to Mississippi. Now Doug and Susan knew next to nothing about importing, so they learned. Well, Doug did… because the couple didn’t have enough money for both to make the return trip to Jamaica. As the story goes, it was Doug who convinced the Jamaican Trade Council to ship a container load of baskets to Jackson, Mississippi with no money down and 30 days to pay. That was miracle number one of many miracles to follow in the life of a true entrepreneurial company.
Nothing in their life would ever be the same after that first container pulled into their driveway. They unloaded the whole container themselves into their garage, and three flea market weekends later the whole container load of baskets was sold. The bill was paid and another container was ordered. The flea market business continued like that for two years, until one day a flea market shopper, who was buying up baskets for her retail shop, said “You guys should try and sell these at the Dallas Wholesale Show.”
So, Doug and Susan set their sights for the Dallas Wholesale Show; but along with the regular Jamaican baskets, Susan had stumbled upon an idea that would become a turning point for the now full fledged wholesale company named Country Originals. It would be a brand new introduction that came to Susan one day. While studying the unique rounded shape of the Jamaican baskets… Susan saw a watermelon. She sent the design to Jamaica along with kegs of Rit Dye and the famous watermelon basket was born. Some of you, who have been in business long enough, may remember the long line to get into their booth. The watermelon basket and the newly named Country Originals Company were the hit of the Dallas Wholesale Show… the month was July, the year was 1986.
In less than three years from the fateful Jamaican vacation, the little basket idea would grow from vacation to avocation to vocation to viable industry. Country Originals would make Inc. Magazine’s “500 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies” two years in a row (1991 and 1992). They would be listed in Entrepreneur Magazine as one of their “51 American Success Stories” representing Mississippi. And, their own state awarded them the coveted “Business and Industry Super Achievers."
Over the years Doug and Susan, and their company, have developed charitable projects in several of the countries where they do business. These projects arose from situations spotted by Doug and Susan and are not projects sponsored by other charitable groups or government agencies. All the money raised by Doug and Susan’s Kid Foundation is given straight to each project. No money is taken out for administrative costs, as their company absorbs all of these costs. Click on Doug and Susan’s Kid Foundation and read the unique stories about Sister Clara’s Cross (Haiti), The Atuto Kids (Honduras) and The Tom Sawyer Project (Colombia).
Today Country Originals is known as Kalalou, doing business in over nine countries with over 1500 products. It is a new name that represents the unique product mix that fills their ever expanding catalog. The word Kalalou is Creole in origin for a type of soup that is never made the same way twice, much like many of the company’s artisan products. The soup is made in a social environment of family and friends with many stories being told over the chopping of ingredients. Much like the making of the soup, the company’s catalog has printed many stories of Doug and Susan’s adventures as they grew their company. The company, Kalalou…a whole new Country Originals, is still owned by its founders, Doug and Susan Williams.
So, whatever happened to the best friends Andy and Debbie? The best friends who helped carry arm loads of baskets on the plane home from Jamaica… Well, the four are still best friends. As a matter of a fact, they became neighbors and live together on a little lake that has an island in the middle that they call KiWi Island (Kilpatrick and Williams). And, often during their “quarter of a century” friendship, the conversation turns to the memories of that fateful vacation… to that beautiful sun-drenched day in the colorful market square of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.