It was a kismet moment when neighbors Laurent Besançon and June Blanks passed each other on their shared lawn in Capitol Hill last summer and began discussing a new business idea that would help companies and their employees navigate the new work-from-home environment.
Their brief conversation blossomed into the company COOLER, a curated gift box that sources from LGBTQ and people of color-owned small businesses around the country.
“Each box is created in a combination of a perfect moment of a shared experience among company team members, because they get the same box, with mental resilience items that help you in the time of this pandemic,” says Besançon.
COOLER boxes are designed to combine a “sensory” experience with gifts like chocolates, sourced from “Compartés,” an LGBTQ, Los Angeles business, and self-coaching cards that companies can send to their employees.
“We wanted to create those water cooler moments that you used to have in offices,” explains Blanks. “We provide solutions for companies and individuals based on showing you care.”
Blanks had been running another business, Junius Coffee, Washington, D.C.’s first cold brew coffee, since 2013. Similar to COOLER, Junius Coffee consciously sources its products and works with their company partners to provide “cultural building.”
The co-owners were able to establish COOLER’s mission immediately because of their complimentary experiences in running their own businesses, being in the LGBTQ community, and having daughters that attend the same school.
When employees receive their boxes, they can compare their experiences with their gifts on calls in less formal ways. Some items like activity dice and conversation cards can be used virtually to create connections despite distance.
Blanks says the feedback COOLER has received is a “reflection of appreciation” that customers feel from their gift boxes. Besançon added that they’ve even received photos of people excitedly opening and interacting with their COOLER boxes.
“It’s as if we have contributed to creating these perfect, little moments,” says Besançon.
Blanks and Besançon said that working from home is here to stay in one form or another, either as businesses begin to operate hybridly, with some employees in office and others at home, or as businesses commit to remaining virtual.
“COOLER is still a product that will help team building,” says Besançon.