Photo by Adam Finkle

Shelli Gardner shares her secret: The chief executive of Stampin' Up! is not very creative. "I can't draw a stick figure," she says.

This from the self-made woman whose company has made millions persuading customers they can turn that Raspberry Ripple cardstock, some Betsy's Blossoms stamps and a scrap of Gumball-Green ribbon into a treasured greeting card or scrapbook page.

What she does know, says the 52-year-old with the wide smile and short-cropped brown hair, is what Shelli Gardner likes. And on this day, she's delighting in the food on her plate at Cafe Fraiche, a restaurant she decorated, named and installed in her own building at Thanksgiving Point.

"'K, how fun is this?" she says, looking at the toothpicks topped with red honeycomb balls keeping her hummus vegetable wrap together. "Who needs plain toothpicks when you can have cute ones?"

But more importantly, Gardner knows that if she wants something, other women will, too.

Some 50,000 Stampin' Up! "demonstrators" sell nearly $200 million worth of rubber stamp sets, papers, ribbons and metal embellishments to decorate cards and scrapbooks in the multi-level marketing company Gardner, a mother of five, and her sister LaVonne started out of desperation for some adult interaction and to make a little money. What began in her living room 26 years ago has grown into a 300,000-squarefoot distribution headquarters in Riverton and 80,000-squarefoot manufacturing plant in Kanab, where Gardner grew up.

"We felt like if we wanted to do [stamping], why wouldn't there be thousands of women in the United States—and now, of course, we're in several countries—why wouldn't other people want it?" she says.

Now she's betting on her latest creation, Brick Canvas, a building at Thanksgiving Point offering the things she loves: Bikram yoga (which she practices to ease her rheumatoid arthritis), a hair salon (which includes a baby grand player piano), a spa, fitness and nutrition studio, event space and Cafe Fraiche.

Her husband, Sterling, was skeptical. But, he says, "I've learned when she gets a gut feeling I might as well support her because usually it turns out really well." He initially refused to leave his home-building business for manufacturing rubber stamps because it wasn't a "real job." "I've learned to eat those words several times."

Gardner, who has skydived from 14,000 feet over Fiji, says she's a "go big or go home girl." Last year, she decided to "go big" on horseback riding, learning to feed, groom and saddle her own horse. During an August 25-mile endurance ride on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the horse fell on top of her, fracturing Gardner's pelvis and right wrist, as well as her sacrum and left clavicle.

After weeks in bed, she's mobile again—counting the days until she can get back on her horse.

Gardner's injuries made it agonizing to continue her tradition of sending handmade birthday cards to each of her employees. When Sterling offered to sign for her, she said no. "We forget there's some satisfaction from creating something with our hands," she says, "and giving it with your heart."

Back>>>Read other stories in our March/April 2014 issue.