Growing from a Side Project that Helps Consumers to a Multimillion-Dollar Company that Gives Back
Updated: 4.3.18 Savings

Growing from a Side Project that Helps Consumers to a Multimillion-Dollar Company that Gives Back

By: Jessica Sommerfield

The Crunch: As couponing became more popular following the 2008 recession, people began seeking out more expertise and resources. In response to that, Joanie Demer and Heather Wheeler — best friends and stay-at-home working moms — inadvertently built a business by sharing their coupon savvy with a growing online community. Their site, The Krazy Coupon Lady, has grown from a team of two to a multimillion-dollar corporation with a national following. The company also uses couponing to give back to its local Boise, Idaho, community, establishing the KCL Foundation to provide resources to refugees. The Krazy Coupon Lady not only continues to be the avid couponer’s resource for the best online and in-store deals, but also engages with the younger generation’s more casual, convenience-oriented approach to shopping.

After the 2008 recession, many financially-strapped consumers looking for ways to save money re-discovered coupons. And it was a good time to find them.

Desperate to keep shoppers in their stores, retailers ramped up their promotions, while coupon sites made it easier for consumers to find print and digital coupons. By 2009, coupon redemption had jumped 27% — the first increase in 17 years.

This environment left audiences primed for the 2010 debut of TLC’s Extreme Couponing — the reality show credited with inspiring the binder-carrying, stockpiling coupon-clippers who became part of local supermarket culture in following years.

But for Joanie Demer, one of the extreme savers profiled on the show’s pilot, couponing had become more than just a way for a mother and hobbyist blogger to trim the family’s household budget.

Joanie and best friend Heather Wheeler — stay-at-home-moms turned entrepreneurs — had been sharing their couponing successes, tips, and discount finds with their online following since 2009. Through couponing, the duo built a savings community that has grown into a thriving multimillion-dollar corporation known as The Krazy Coupon Lady.

Photo of Krazy Coupon Lady Co-Founders Joanie Demer and Heather Wheeler

Joanie Demer, left, and Heather Wheeler founded Krazy Coupon Lady to help users learn how to save money every day.

“I think the show shifted our business and was tremendously beneficial for it,” Joanie said. “We talked about whether we wanted to participate in the series and instead decided to focus on being the place people land after they see this shock-and-awe version on TV. We can teach them how to do it in a way that’s reasonable and sustainable.”

Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, The Krazy Coupon Lady is leveraging its website and mobile app to teach its audience how to save money with coupons in today’s retail environment. The company is also deeply involved in its own community through its KCL Foundation, which helps refugees in Boise.

The extreme couponing trend has since subsided, and younger generations prefer to shop and save using digital codes and mobile apps. But, whether consumers choose to approach coupons deliberately or casually, they’re just as savings-conscious as ever.

From Best Friends to Business Partners with a Growing Team and National Platform

Joanie and Heather’s partnership is grounded in a friendship that began when they were roommates in college. Joanie then decided to move to Heather’s hometown of Boise, Idaho. “She introduced me to my husband, so our lives paralleled,” Joanie said. “We got married and became young mothers, and we live about a mile apart.”

Both Joanie and Heather chose work-from-home jobs. While Joanie was a hobbyist blogger who taught piano lessons, Heather tried something new every few months. “She was a mortgage broker, sold furniture on Craigslist — you name it,” Joanie said.

One money-making idea Heather kept talking about was extreme couponing. She joined a coupon subscription website and started stockpiling newspapers, but Joanie was skeptical. “I gave her a hard time for a few months, but she didn’t want to do it alone and was determined to convince me to join her,” Joanie said.

Finally, Heather convinced Joanie to go along with her to shop a brand promotion at a local grocery chain. With a little time and effort, the two were able to save $90 — and Joanie was hooked. “We went back five times that week as we slowly learned more. By the end of the week, we considered ourselves couponing experts,” Joanie said.

Joanie said she would never have pursued couponing as a hobby or a business without Heather’s persuasion, while Heather wouldn’t have set up a blog without Joanie. “We both utilized our strengths, and that’s how KCL came together,” Joanie said.

The first milestone for The Krazy Coupon Lady was discovering it had a substantial following. After a fellow shopper mentioned the website, Joanie installed a site counter and found that more than 1,000 people were visiting The Krazy Coupon Lady every day.

Photo of Joanie Demer on The Today Show

Joanie Demer has helped teach consumers how to use coupons, often through appearances on The Today Show.

“We realized we’re a resource for people who wanted to learn how to coupon,” Joanie said. “So that’s when we decided to write our book, Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey.”

Within a year of starting their blog, Joanie and Heather were asked to appear on The Today Show, and the dilemma they faced emphasized the need to grow their business. Both of them stayed up all night pre-writing and scheduling new content for the day of the show. When they arrived on set looking exhausted, the producers were shocked to find they didn’t have any help.

“They said, ‘Don’t you realize there are interns who would work for you for free?’” Joanie said.

So, they started with contractors. When they were managing nearly 40 remote writers, Joanie and Heather realized it was time to centralize their team and open an office. Five years ago, The Krazy Coupon Lady moved into its first office, and, in October 2017, it transitioned to its current space.

“There are 36 of us in the office now. In hindsight, there’s no way we could have scaled the way we did without the infrastructure and the ability to have face time. We needed to centralize,” Joanie said. “We still have contractors in some locations, but, for the most part, our team is centralized here in Boise, Idaho.”

The team at The Krazy Coupon Lady updates the site and mobile app with the latest deals and coupons from more than 50 national retailers and brands. The site also shares tips on best couponing practices and featured brags that allow users to celebrate their successes and inspire the KCL community.

KCL Foundation Channels Couponing into Community Outreach

The Krazy Coupon Lady’s content team not only posts deals but also tests them with real purchases — and the company uses these resources to give back locally. In 2016, the company established KCL Foundation — a nonprofit that connects the company’s knowledge and resources with the refugee community of Boise.

Refugee families are eligible for government financial aid for eight months while they learn English and apply for jobs, Joanie said. Non-food items — which couponers can save the most on — aren’t included in this provision.

The KCL Foundation uses 1,000 square feet of The Krazy Coupon Lady’s office space as a warehouse for the team’s couponing finds.

“ The education we do on couponing is much more like a grocery store orientation since, for them, walking into a store can be completely overwhelming. We get as involved as we can in helping the new members of our community adapt and start to learn about budgeting and saving money.” — Joanie Demer, Co-Founder of The Krazy Coupon Lady

“Its shelves are filled with items we buy during black Friday sales — comforters, shoes, jackets, bedbug covers — things we know the refugee community needs,” Joanie said. Last year, Krazy Coupon Lady donated $360,000 worth of goods — most of which it purchased for less than half price.

A full-time KCL Foundation staff member collects information from qualifying families and either shops for them or brings them in to shop for themselves. The KCL Foundation also provides families with free classes and tips on how to shop for products.

“It’s great to be able to meet that gap. The education we do on couponing is much more like a grocery store orientation since, for them, walking into a store can be completely overwhelming. We get as involved as we can in helping the new members of our community adapt and start to learn about budgeting and saving money,” Joanie said.

From Extreme Couponing to Loyalty Programs: Nine Years of Insight On Coupon Trends

Since its launch in 2009, Krazy Coupon Lady has witnessed a number of industry trends that have shaped the way consumers view and utilize coupons.

Concerned that stacked coupons and stockpiling practices were cutting into profits and affecting merchandise availability, many grocery chains have enforced stricter coupon policies. On a nationwide scale, quantity limitations on coupons have had the most significant impact.

“When there are limits of one or two on a coupon, that can inhibit the ability to stack a coupon with a promotion,” Joanie said.

But she also thinks coupon limits create a more reasonable standard for consumers than what they’ve seen in the media. “The shopping trip I did on Extreme Couponing — four shopping carts of $600 worth of groceries for $2 — took over 100 hours to plan. It was fun to push it and see how far I could go, but it set an unrealistic picture.”

Brand loyalty has declined as deal-savvy consumers embrace their options to find the best combination of deals. In 2018, the biggest trend has been an increase in retailer loyalty programs that incorporate coupons, Joanie said. These programs — which often preload digital manufacturer coupons to the retailer’s mobile app — are designed to encourage customers to shop more exclusively.

“KCL is making sure we keep from aligning too closely with any one retailer and to help consumers see more than just each retailer’s perspective,” Joanie said.

Retailer-based promotions are also on the rise. “We’re seeing gift card promotions increasing, and we’re going to see deals intended to get people to shop more frequently, which may include online deals. We’ve already seen Target testing one-day promotions,” Joanie said.

Despite changes in retail policies, Krazy Coupon Lady shows shoppers that it’s still possible to save. “They keep changing the rules, but they haven’t changed the game. KCL will always be here, advising people on the best ways to save the most money in the least amount of time,” Joanie said.

Personalizing Omnichannel Savings for Every Type of Shopper

While the enthusiasm surrounding couponing exploded after the 2008 recession, it has been sustained by a new generation of consumers. In recent years, more post-extreme-couponing millennials have been discovering The Krazy Coupon Lady community through digital channels, and the company is shifting its approach to fit the needs of this mobile-first, audience.

“We’re continuing to serve our KCL base but also appealing to millennials who aren’t interested in putting in as much time,” Joanie said. “We’re continuously looking for ways to make couponing easier with our app and website.”

Millennials often start with the Ibotta rebate app, then discover that The Krazy Coupon Lady lists sales that match with items in Ibotta to help them save even more money. Besides Ibotta deals, The Krazy Coupon Lady curates offers from other popular savings apps, including Savings Star, Checkout 51, and Target’s Cartwheel — along with other smartphone-only deals.

The Krazy Coupon Lady also engages with younger users through its YouTube channel. “We give shoppers advice such as ‘start small,’ and ‘if they don’t take your coupons, just walk away,’” Joanie said.

Today, the Krazy Coupon Lady focuses on omnichannel strategies and user experience trends to improve the way consumers access online coupons. “We’re in the process of developing personalization tools because they’re a big trend everywhere,” Joanie said. “They will allow our users to seamlessly curate more of the content they’re looking for and provide more options for both lazy couponers and crazy couponers, as we call them.”

The Krazy Coupon Lady encourages its community members to take a balanced approach that draws from the best practices that have led to its success as a savings resource for others.

“When you get a great deal on toothpaste, buy eight tubes — not eight cases,” Joanie said. “Couponing is still doable, but it has definitely changed. My personal style is a grocery shopping habit that doesn’t involve many coupons, and I make specific trips for couponing.”