This Durham parent partnered with a former coworker to launch e-commerce gifting business Persnickety last year
By Renee Ambroso | Photography by John Michael Simpson
There’s simply no time to hit snooze before Julie Homen‘s morning routine begins in her family’s Hope Valley Farms home. First on the to-do list is whipping up breakfast for the kids – Jack, 5, and Annie, 2, pictured left – and caring for their goldendoodle, Salem. Then it’s a blur of grabbing lunch boxes, tying shoes and loading everyone into the back seat of her husband Dean Homen‘s car for school drop-off – all by 7:25 a.m.
There’s an hour and some change left before Julie logs on to work remotely as the content director for Austin, Texas-based startup StitchedIn. It’s in those early morning (or post-bedtime) “fringe hours” – a phrase Julie likes to borrow from blogger and author Jessica Turner – that she turns her attention to Persnickety, the e-commerce gifting business she co-founded with her former co-worker, Irene Hardy, in 2022.
Julie devotes these scraps of free time to sourcing high-quality toys, art supplies, puzzles and presents from other small businesses to carefully curate “no junk” gift sets. These are grouped by occasion, interest and age range for newborns to 7-year-olds. Julie also oversees communications, partnerships and any other marketing needs for Persnickety.
“I’m pretty average in the talent arena,” Julie says humbly, but if there’s one stellar skill she possesses, it’s her knack for selecting the perfect gift. It’s a strength that she’s honed with precision – going so far as to develop her own gifting Venn diagram that she uses to make selections for Persnickety’s baskets and bundles. (Unless those glittery pens you gifted your niece are useful, thoughtful and delightful, for instance, it’s probably not the Goldilocks-level match you think it is.)
Irene, who now lives in South Carolina, discovered Julie’s talent firsthand when the pair worked together at Cultivate What Matters, an e-commerce business based in Chapel Hill.
“I was working full time, in a stressful season and had two small kids,” Irene says. “I was just plain overwhelmed and asked Julie if she had any ideas for Easter baskets that I wouldn’t immediately throw away. I was expecting a couple of Amazon links, but instead, Julie jumped into action and prepared a complete spreadsheet for each kid. … It was such an act of generosity and friendship – and highlighted how passionate she was about great gifting.”
Irene and Julie agreed that they wanted to tap into their respective talents – Julie’s past work experience in communications and marketing for companies like Kimberly Clark, a master’s degree in business plus her passion for gifting, and Irene’s professional niche in website development and graphic design – to help others mitigate the pressure to plan flawless celebrations, a feeling that they’d both experienced as working mothers.
“Persnickety was born out of what I think all small businesses are born of, which is solving a problem,” Julie says. “There’s so much on your plate as moms, it’s easy to get distracted from what’s right in front of you, which, [for us,] is our kids [and] the activities we get to do with them.”
Julie’s managed to manifest a solution that’s fulfilling to her both personally and professionally and that many parents can benefit from, including products like “done-for-you” Easter baskets, birthday and teacher appreciation bundles or the upcoming build-your-own summer bundles.
Somewhere in between it all, Julie carves out time to offer marketing consulting at no cost to small businesses, volunteers (she’s currently helping a group of N.C. State University marketing students with a project) and helps coordinate celebrations for Jack’s class at St. Thomas More Catholic School.
With all this on her plate, Julie still describes devoting her free hours to Persnickety as a “joy” rather than, as one might think, a grind. “When I was in college, someone told me that I should go where my passions and talents intersect, and I would say Persnickety [is that place],” she says. “… I get to use the skills that I have, Irene gets to use the skills that she has, and we get to take one thing off of parents’ plates.”