If you want to grow your company, it’s imperative that you take the initiative. Find shops you’d like to be carried in and reach out to them. Make sure you only contact those shops that would be a good match. Try to find interior shots of the store. What other lines do they carry?
Everything we do at Sycamore Street Press is with the goal of living a simple, beautiful & creative life, and in helping others do the same. There are so many people who have inspired us on this path, and we’d love to learn more from them! So we decided to start an interview series on the topic. Today we’ll hear from Sarah K. Benning, an American fiber artist currently living in Menorca, Spain.
Tell us a little about how you got starting doing botanical fiber art.
My stitched plant series (can it still be called a single series when it is actually now 98% of what I make?) started about 2 years ago when I was living and working from a small apartment in Albany, NY. If you’ve never been to Albany, it’s freezing cold and dark for what feels like 10 months out of the year. Definitely not super conditions for a thriving plant family, but those conditions didn’t stop me from amassing a large collection of potted houseplants and cacti. Unfortunately, only a few of them feebly held on until spring. Their stitched counterparts became a lasting memorials to the lost greenery and served as a kind of wish-list for future plants.
Now, living and working from a sunny apartment in Menorca, Spain, the abundance of greenery, foliage and cacti alike, has only fed my passion for plants. Botanical subject matter continues to be a source of inspiration and a major character in my compositions.
Let’s face it. Shipping and fulfillment are not the most exciting aspects of running a small product-based business, right? But they’re a necessary evil. I started out doing all the shipping myself on a little table in my living room. I’d wrap everything up with brown paper and string, then walk it down to the local post office, where I’d wait in line with my stack of boxes. I liked getting some exercise and became very friendly with the local postal clerks, but it definitely wasn’t efficient.
Fast forward almost nine years, and we’ve learned a lot of ways to speed up the shipping & fulfillment process. We go over these key parts of running a business, along with a lot of other subjects, in my online classes, Stationery Business 100: Start Strong and Stationery Business 200: Wholesale. But I’ve also included some free info below to get you started…
Set holiday shipping deadlines, make sure they are listed in your shop, and make announcements on social media, too.
As you can imagine, the holiday season is stressful for small manufacturers. Be prepared for lots of emails wondering when the order will ship, etc… Set holiday shipping deadlines, make sure they are listed in your shop, and make announcements on social media, too.
One more note about holiday shipping. We’ve noticed that the USPS doesn’t update the tracking very consistently during the peak holiday shipping window. You will get lots of emails from worried customers about their package not being updated. Usually at this point the customer has the same exact info as you will have. One thing we do is to have them call their local branch with their tracking number to get any updates.
Keep in touch with your customers. Send them an email when the order has shipped with the tracking information. If something is going to be late, let them know and maybe offer a little something extra. If you offer custom work, update your customers as their order progresses through production.
Customers, and especially wholesale customers, really appreciate this attention to detail.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
What is Customer Relationship Management? It’s a software/web-based program that allows you to manage your contacts, leads, accounts and campaigns.
Contacts: Enter in contact information from suppliers, reps and other people you regularly interact with
Leads: All of the business cards from NSS? Create a “lead” entry and you can record your history. Keep track of when samples were sent and how you found out about your leads. This will help you determine where to focus your energy in gaining new accounts. Create follow-up tasks that send you emails reminding you to send an email, samples etc..Did your lead place an order? Convert it to “account” in your CRM.
Accounts: Manage your existing accounts with precisions. When was their last order? Any notes specific for that customer? Upload POs, invoices, quotes etc..
Campaign: Create, manage and track your marketing plans. Examples of campaigns: Tradeshows, banner ads, cold calling, email, direct mail, webinars, etc…In most programs you can enter in expected revenue, # of contacts (emails, mailers etc..) and new leads from each campaign
If lack of inventory storage space is an issue, and rent is high where you live, you could check out fulfillment centers. In a nutshell, you send them all of your product and when orders come in, the fulfillment center ships it out. Now, the level of detail varies by center. Some will require everything prepackaged, and some will do minor assembly (envelope, card, cello bag).
No worries about shipping.
Fulfillment centers have great discounted shipping rates.
They take care of all shipping needs (boxes, tape etc..).
No need to rent bigger space.
No inventory at your fingertips.
Lose some control about packaging and small details.
FC could be across the country, which would result in high freight cost.
Might have to package all of your product before shipping.
There is a fulfillment cost per order, which doesn’t really make sense for retail orders, only on wholesale orders.
At Sycamore Street Press, we have chosen to keep our shipping in house. It seems that fulfillment centers make the most sense for those who live in expensive cities and focus on wholesale with little to no retail orders.
Once you’ve found a list of suppliers and manufacturers to look into, you’ll want to start asking for quotes. I’ll be honest, it’s quite a tedious process, but it’s just necessary. If you do it well, it can really help your business!
MY TIPS FOR GETTING QUOTES:
When you’re starting out with smaller quantities, you may not need a custom quote. If you’re ordering lower quantities of envelopes, for example, you might just order directly from a website. Of if you only need 50 promotional postcards or flyers printed, you may be able to get an automatic quote by just plugging in your information on the manufacturer’s website.
Get multiple quotes. Don’t make the mistake of going with the first quote you get! Get at least 3. The more the better, although you do of course have to stop at some point.
Ask for a quote in writing. I do think it’s often a good idea to call first (before you ask for a quote) to get a general idea of what they can offer you and how they might be to work with. But when it comes to the actual quote, I recommend emailing it in so that it’s clearly written out.
Be clear and concise. Don’t write it all in one big paragraph where details tend to get lost. Instead, make bullet points or even a chart.
Don’t forget the details. You have to list out every little detail in your quote requests. For example, with printing, you should specify
Quantities: It’s common to ask for a few different quantities, to see the price breakdown. For example, 250, 500, and 1000.
Size: both the size of the paper you will print on (press sheet) and size of finished product.
Colors: How many, for methods other than digital.
Paper Stock: Will you provide it or will they? If they will, do you know which kind you want them to get? If not, you should at least know the weight and paper type. 60lb text? 120 lb cover? Coated? Uncoated? Matte?
Other finishes required after printing: Trimming, die cutting (cutting into a non-rectangular or square shape), scoring, folding, etc…
Delivery: Will the items need to be shipped? If local, will you pick them up or do you want them to deliver?
Turnaround Time: How long will it take them to finish the job?
Proofs/Press Checks: What kind would you like? Is a digital PDF proof over email enough? Do you prefer a high res proof? Would you like to be present at the printshop for press check?
Follow up. As we all know, it’s a busy world, and sometimes email doesn’t get answered. Don’t be afraid to follow up and be persistent to get the quotes you need.
Ask for revisions, if necessary. It’s not uncommon for there to be errors in the quotes you receive. Maybe they quoted the wrong paper or the wrong quantities. If you write a very organized and detailed quote request, that will help cut down on some error, but it’s still pretty common to find errors. Just let them know, and politely ask for a revised quote. Again, don’t be afraid to follow up.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you know you’d like to work with a certain manufacturer or supplier but their prices are a bit high, don’t be afraid to ask if they have any wiggle room or if they can match a lower priced quote from a competitor.
You guys!!! We officially launched curated goods in our online shop! Kirk and I have been dreaming about having a shop of curated goods for years… It’s a HUGE step and risk for us, but we are so excited and love it and we think you will, too. Please go check out the shop and let us know what you think!
We have gifts for babies, kids, mothers, fathers, sisters, friends — hopefully pretty much everyone on your list, to make it easy on you. I hand picked every single item, and every one is either something I have already or would LOVE to have. Thanks so much to everyone for your support over the years and helping us make this dream come alive!
As a stationery company, it only makes sense that you should be marketing through the mail. But unlike “direct mail” where you pay for a list that probably doesn’t fit your target demographic, you’ll get your addresses the old fashioned way, through research and hard work.
January, May, and August are popular times to send wholesale mailers. These months coincide with the major trade shows* and are times when retailers are ready and wanting to buy. In January, their stock is depleted after the holidays. In May, they might be depleted once again and are looking forward to all the new stationery. In August, they are loading up on orders for the upcoming holidays.
You may also want to consider sending your mailers out at unexpected times of year, which could help you stand out more since stockists will be receiving fewer mailers.
*The gifts shows in January and August and the National Stationery Show in May. Find out the exact dates (they vary from year to year) and send out your mailers a week or two before the show, so that buyers are sure to see it before they go, but not so far in advance that they forget about it.
Types of Marketing Material to Mail:
Keep reading for more information on the different types of marketing material…
Catalogs & Line Sheets
A digital catalog is fine if that’s all you can afford (and you aren’t working with reps), but if you are able, a printed catalog sent through the mail is a powerful tool. Shop owners and buyers love getting beautiful catalogs showcasing products that would look great on their shelves.
Angela Liguori and Moglea have an example of a beautiful online digital catalog here and here.
Postcard or Other Show Specific Mailer
Traditionally, manufacturers send out postcards to potential buyers to announce upcoming trade shows. As you can imagine, in the stationery industry, we’ve really upped the ante. Try to make your mailer as memorable as possible while remaining within budget.
For example, one year Kristin Ley of Thimblepress had the idea to fill push pop holders with confetti as her National Stationery Show mailer. They were such a hit that all the retailers asked if she was selling them, and now they are one of her best selling items and an iconic part of the industry.
But your mailer doesn’t have to be a completely new genre of stationery. A really fresh, well designed card should do the trick, too. At Sycamore Street Press, we often take one of our brand new greeting card designs and print a custom message/invitation to the show inside. It’s been simple and effective for us.
How are you tracking your product? What is your best selling card? Do you have 60 of this item for a wholesale order? All of that information should be readily available. Set up a notification in your inventory system, if possible, when your inventory diminishes to a set quantity. I.E. Card “X” has 100 left in stock, time to reorder/print. Finding the right system for inventory is difficult, though, as I’ll explain…
For many years, Kirk and I dreamed about opening a brick and mortar shop. It would be filled not only with our own creations, but with a carefully curated mix of goods befitting a simple, yet beautiful life. But the dream didn’t come true. There were various reasons — the town we live in isn’t the best fit for a shop we’d want to open, we’ve been focused on growing our stationery brand, starting a family, etc…
But at the end of 2012, I decided it was time to take action. I knew the time wasn’t quite right to open a brick and mortar, but why not expand our online shop to include items made by other makers? We decided to go for it, so in January of 2013, I hopped a flight to New York to attend NYNow, one of the biggest gift trade shows in the country. I spent two entire days walking down every single aisle of the show, gathering catalogs and meeting vendors. I started to make a list of items I’d like to order for the shop.
And then some crazy stuff happened in our life and work — it was kind of like the perfect storm, you know? To be honest, it had been building for awhile, but I didn’t fully realize it until I got back from that trip. I went into survival mode and once again, the shop expansion got put on hold.
Keep reading to see how we are finally going to make this dream come true, along with the items we’ll be carrying…Read More…
During the first few years of running Sycamore Street Press, I usually worked 6 days a week and anywhere from 12 – 16 hours a day. I loved it, but it was crazy, and I knew it couldn’t last.
Then I had a baby. When she was tiny, I didn’t work very many hours at all, but by the time she was a year old, I was back on a regular schedule. As you can imagine, this new schedule entailed a lot fewer hours at work than the old one, though. Instead of 80 hour work weeks, I was usually working about 50 hours a week, with a good portion of those hours being at night after she was in bed.
The great part about working for yourself is that you have the flexibility to set your own schedule. You can just decide to cut 30 hours out of your weekly schedule, like I did, without having to ask permission. The not so great part about working for yourself is that if you drastically reduce the amount of hours you put into your business, your business could really suffer. And mine did.
As I said, the first few years we were in business, Sycamore Street Press was steadily growing. Then in 2012, the growth stopped. In fact, our revenue actually declined by 11%. With a young family to feed, that scared me.
To be fair, some of that was due to some big changes in our industry (the stationery industry). The overall market had shrunk, but the amount of independent stationery manufacturers (like ourselves) had skyrocketed. However, I also realized that I hadn’t been smart about the way I had transitioned into balancing a baby with my business. I had just cut my hours without being strategic about how I would make up for it. That needed to change.
And it did change. In the first quarter of 2015, we grew 33% from Q1 of 2014. Here’s my story about how we turned it around, with the 10 key steps that have helped us… Read More…
When you are first starting your stationery business, finding the right suppliers or manufacturers can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I remember when I first started (almost 8 years ago!) I had no idea whatsoever where to find envelopes, cello bags, paper — any of it! I was fortunate in that I worked at a paper boutique, and the people I worked with pointed out a couple of great suppliers that I use to this day. But I still had to figure out a lot of it on my own.
And we still do! If we’re adding new types of products, or become unhappy with a material or manufacturer we’ve been using, we have to start searching again. But where there’s a will, there’s a way!
As I go over in my online class, Stationery Business 100: Start Strong, assembly is the act of putting your products in packaging. I know it sounds super exciting (right up there with doing your taxes), but if you are thinking about starting a paper goods company, this is some vital information that you will be glad you read!
Click through to read the stationery assembly tips we’ve gathered over our almost 8 years in the business… Read More…
Not in a no-consequences-juvenile-delinquent kind of way, of course. But in the way where you figure out what you want from life and you go for it.
Of course, I know it’s not always as easy as that. It might mean sacrifices. It might mean uncertainty. It might mean spending years figuring out exactly what you are really good at and really passionate about and then just when things are starting to fall into place, those things change and evolve and you start the process all over again.
For me, it meant starting a letterpress company straight out of college and then re-building that same company 5 years later and then once things were falling into place with that, starting a side business making films. (I know, what?! More on that later…)
For Alison, it means lounging on tables and making the most adorable sugar cookies and dancing like crazy and making women laugh and feel good about themselves.
For Elle, it means making the softest baby wraps that magically lull newborns to sleep and traveling the world with her family and being great at connecting with other mothers.
For Alma, it means being super organized and knowing how to say no and being a fantastic graphic designer and knowing how to break that down and teach it to others.
These are just a few examples. What does it mean to you?
Another thing to keep in mind. Elle noted in her panel that success looks different to different people. It does no good to compare. I love that.
So yes, I learned some great little tips on blogging and social media and running a business while at the Alt Summit last week. But as always, my favorite part was just being surrounded by so many inspiring people.
Have you ever wondered how you might like having a family-run business? Well, Kirk and I have been married for 10 years now and running Sycamore Street Press for 7. And we’ve survived, ha! Actually, we love what we do, and feel grateful to be able to do so. We don’t have everything figured out (of course) but we’ve learned quite a bit along the way that I’d love to share.
Keep reading to see my top 5 considerations before starting a family business…
Do you love paper? Have you ever wondered how to start your own stationery / paper goods company? If so, my online class might be just the thing for you!
I know when I started Sycamore Street Press about 7 years ago, I looked around for a class or book that could give me specific advice to starting a stationery business. I found nothing.
Instead, I learned the hard way.
Through trial and error, I learned how to stand out from the competition, how to plan a product line, how to find and work with manufacturers, where the best supplies were, what shipping software to use, and many many more factors (large and small) that go into running a successful paper goods company.
I’ll admit, I’ve made some big mistakes that I could just kick myself over! But those have been some of the best learning experiences which led to growth and eventually to selling our products all over the globe — in hundreds of fine independent boutiques as well as major retailers such as Anthropologie, West Elm, Paper Source, and BHLDN. Our award winning goods have been featured in the Huffington Post, Daily Candy, Design*Sponge, Cup of Jo, Better Homes and Gardens, Country Living Magazine, Martha Stewart, and other fine publications…
Most importantly (to me), my husband and I have been able to support our children while working together and doing something we love. I’m so grateful for that.
The summer after we were married, Kirk and I were working on an organic farm in Denmark when the longest day of the year — June 21st — rolled around. The family who owned the farm invited us to join in the Midsummer celebration — and we spent an evening filled with flowers, food, a bonfire, and good company. It was a magical evening, and one I will always remember.
With the Midsummer Mingle we co-hosted last month, this was exactly the kind of memory we wanted to create for everyone who attended. Not an exact replica — but the feeling, the beauty, the magic of that night. The whole thing was actually Brittany Jepsen’s idea (the House That Lars Built). She asked a few friends and colleagues if we wanted to co-host, and we all jumped at the chance. And so, everyone from MerMag, Caravan Shoppe, One More Mushroom, Sarah Jane Studios, the House that Lars Built, and Sycamore Street Press put our heads together to plan and execute this event. We wanted it to be like a big thank you gift to our wonderful creative communities.
Did I mention that we only had 3 weeks to put the whole thing together?! Brittany and her interns ended up putting in the lion’s share of the work. But the rest of us weren’t slacking either. Looking back, I think it was a bit crazy for me to agree to do this right after getting home from the National Stationery Show! It was worth it, though. Just looking at these photos brings back so many lovely memories…
I wish that all of you could have been there! But of course, many of you live far away. And even among locals, space was limited. We announced the event on social media, and within a couple of hours, the (free) tickets were all reserved. I think we ended up hosting around 300 people. We hope to be able to do it again next year, though! (And next time, we’ll be able to start planning much more in advance!)
This was Sycamore Street Press’s fifth time showing at the National Stationery Show, and the first time I was completely happy with the way our booth turned out. It was also our best show yet as far as sales and press coverage goes, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Here are my top 5 tips for creating a successful National Stationery Show booth, if you are interested…
1) Great Lighting
I’ve seen people make the rookie mistake of thinking that the overhead lights of the convention center itself will be enough. Those booths end up looking dreary, sad, and lonely.
I don’t want that to happen to you! I know that just renting a booth space is expensive and it seems like lighting should be included. Believe me, I’ve thought the same thing! But you’re just going to have to pay extra for lighting. At the very least, you should order the electrical outlet from the Javits Center, which lets you plug in lights that you can clip on to the top of your booth. We did that for our booth in 2010, and it looked nice.
But this year, we decided to really go for it with our lighting. We ordered 3 Parcan lights from the Javits Center. (Parcan lights are big, Broadway style spotlights that the Javits people hang for you from the rafters.) We were in a corner booth, so we only had two walls. This meant there was one Parcan spotlighting each wall and one spotlighting the island.
Our booth shone! It was like we were on stage. Quite a few people commented on how great (and bright!) it looked. Getting 3 Parcans was a big splurge, and therefore a big risk for an indie company like ours. (They’re $450 each, so it came to about $1350 total.) But I felt like it completely paid off for us.
When it comes to your booth lighting, I’m not saying you should do the exact same things as us. But you do need some form of extra lighting, and you do need to realize how important lighting is to your success at the show.
4 more tips for creating a successful booth after the jump… Read More…
Travel-obsessed as usual, I was searching through the home listings on one of those vacation rental sites when I found it: the perfect magical hideaway. It was a beautiful mid-century modern home nestled among tropical foliage in the Puerto Rican countryside. Lush, colorful trees, flowers, and vines encroached upon the neutral tones and clean, yet playful lines of the home. The combination was so charming.
Hello friends! The Sycamore Street Press Spring 2014 paper goods line is here! I am so excited to be able to share it with you. We have been working like crazy to design and produce 46 brand new items. It’s our biggest collection in the entire 6 1/2 years we’ve been in business! It’s been hectic and down to the wire, but we got it all done just in time to take with us to the National Stationery Show, which takes place in New York City this coming Sunday through Wednesday. (May 18 – 22)
Click the link below to see 5 more images and read about my inspiration for the Indigo collection.
When my mom was 12 years old, her family moved to Paris. Every Saturday, she’d hop a train into central Paris with her friends, and together they’d spend the whole day roaming that beautiful city — playing guitar in the park, checking out clothing boutiques, eating baguettes, and generally having a ball. She quickly picked up the language, a Parisian sense of style, an appreciation of good food, and a certain je ne sais quoi…
That’s her in the photo above, standing in front of the Pompidou Museum. The year — 1978. The outfit — classic. The white suit, the delicate rings on each finger, the contrasting bag slung over her arm… I feel like it would look just as chic on the streets of Paris today.