PEPPERELL — Jeep owners are an enthusiastic bunch. Wrangler drivers exchange a specific wave when they encounter each other in their instantly recognizable vehicles.
Three fingers lift above the steering wheel holding for a two count while the thumb and index fingers hold tight.
All Things Jeep capitalizes on the passion Jeep owners, or Jeepers, have for their burly vehicles.
“The No. 1 thing is you need a niche market with an enthusiast base,” Jean Wnuk said. “It’s definitely a lifestyle.”
She and her husband Norman started the business in their basement in Lunenburg in the summer of 2003. Jean had a difficult time finding gifts for her Jeep enthusiast husband and saw a hole in the market.
Their initial stock was a few stickers printed by D & G Custom Graphics in Fitchburg, locally printed T-shirts and things like cookie cutters found at yard sales and purchased in discount lots of a dozen.
They passed out 10 percent off coupons to Jeep clubs.
All Things Jeep began a “Go Topless Day.” Now Jeep clubs across the globe celebrate the day.
Wranglers are roof optional. They come equipped with removable hardtops or even just with a soft-top.
They got an unexpected boost when a national fashion magazine listed an All Things Jeep T-shirt as a “fashion don’t.”
“Jeep Girls Like it Topless and Dirty” was just not for the glitterati.
Now, the internet-based business AllThingsJeep.com works in Pepperell Place. It has a warehouse, drop-ships some items and has contacts and customers around the world.
Just like in its earliest days, each package shipped to a customer has a hand-written note.
The busiest time of year is just around the corner. They carry specially designed Christmas cards and other gifts for everyone who loves their Jeeps: boys and girls, and men and women.
Along the way, All Things Jeep faced growing pains.
The business became too much for the working couple with two daughters to run on nights and weekends. Jean resigned from her job in marketing.
Almost immediately, Norman’s employer, a high-tech company, closed. The higher-paid half of the couple was out of a job.
“We had no choice but to make this a successful business,” she said.
They put their noses to the grindstone and it worked. “You’re never going to be big enough until you quit your day jobs,” Jean said.
They survived a multi-day, Christmas-rush season internet outage after the December 2008 ice storm. Located by then in Phoenix Park in Shirley, they kept electricity because they were on the same service line as the prison.
Then, tragedy struck. Norman died of heart problems the following November.
Jean’s friend, Ana Lockwood, organized a group of Lunenburg-area women to pitch in and get All Things Jeep through the busy holiday season.
Jean sold the business the next year. Lockwood stayed with the new owners, operating an office in the area while warehousing moved to California.
As it turned out, costs are cheaper in this region than around San Jose.
The warehouse moved back about 18 months ago. They decided to move into a building owned and run by its old landlord in Shirley instead of purchasing a site.
Lockwood remains with the company. She does not have an official title, but Wnuk said Lockwood is in charge of just about everything.
Wnuk signed on as a marketing and project manager.
She no longer drives a Jeep but thrives on the energy in the company she co-founded.
Visit them at AllThingsJeep.com and find a gift for the hard to shop for Jeeper or Jeeper-to-be in your life. They have some snazzy toys.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.