It's obvious that Fiona Richards loves paper. As the owner of not one, but two separate stationery companies, Fiona is surrounded by unique designs, intriguing images, and colorful patterns all day. Dominion Post and Salvage (DPS), her first card company, features labor intensive, handmade cards for the sophisticated buyer. This line combines the beauty of vintage ephemera with the sophistication of modern design to create a visually and emotionally compelling style. To address the younger market, Fiona formed Cartolina, which features equally chic and unique stationary at a lower price point. Cartolina combines old block prints and antique cartouches with twentieth century lead type and contemporary colors, resulting in a fresh modern twist to stationery design.
"[I was] educated in Scotland. I have a fine art background - painted pictures for a living for a long time and then worked as a graphic designer for 15 years - I "apprenticed" under 2 very talented designers . I have an "old school" knowledge of graphic design which I think really helps because I have a good knowledge of traditional typography and lithography. I understand the techniques that traditional offset printers use and this really helps me get good service, good deals and a great product from the printer. I have a serious aversion to digital printing and very low tolerance for bad typography!"
"[The most challenging part about having a business is] getting over the fear of success. I have had many sleepless nights wondering how I was going to deal with large orders, inventory control, etc. Nowadays I am past that stage and when i start freaking out about the amount of work that has to be done I just take a deep breath and remind myself how fantastic it has been to have had such good success so far, and that I should celebrate if I run out of cards because it means that we are doing WELL !"
Conquering U.S. and Canada
"We sell to stores all over Canada and the US. We sell to about 200 stores. Some stores are national stationery chains like Paper Source, national gourmet stores like Wholefoods and others are home decor stores and gift stores. We sell to lots of florists and also garden centres."
Landing the First Wholesale Account
"We live in the country - an 8 hour drive to a city. So I was going to Vancouver for the weekend (8hrs) and I took a small box of cards to one of my favourite shops to see if they liked them (at this time I was still a graphic designer). They bought them all. Two weeks later Lisa called me, after seeing my cards in this shop, to see if i would like to work with her and she would take care of all the sales. So I never did another sales call after that first one! I am a terrible sales person!"
Making Contacts at Gift Shows
"We have our products every year at the New York International Gift Fair(twice a year), as well as the San Fransisco Gift Fair(twice a year). We also have our products at the National Stationery Show in New York every spring. These shows are the best way to sign up new accounts. We also make sure that we have new products to launch at the New York show twice a year."
"We have had good luck with the magazines - we just write a nice letter to them and send a box of samples - nothing fancy - just friendly. We have never spent any money on press releases or media packs. We have had wonderful 3 page spreads on our company - we have had loads of seasonal features and lots of general good press."
"I think that press releases and media kits are a huge waste of money and it kills me when i read about new indie designers spending a fortune on expensive PR stuff."
The Power of Blogs
"We always send product updates to the main design blogs - design*sponge and poppytalk-three times a year before the shows. We have very good response from the blogs. We often get new retailers directly from being blogged...and it's free. I do believe that you have to be quite active on the blogs - make frequent comments etc. so that the blogger gets to know you. I think that blogs are an amazing phenomena for small business - such a generous group of people."
"At the moment the problem for us is the fall in the US dollar. We do so much business State side ( We are in Canada). But the US economy is making a bit of a dent in the exchange rate so we may have to raise our prices - OR buy more supplies in the States to bring our costs down. If the US economy continues to slide we will definitely look at doing more international business in Japan, Australia and Europe."
"My husband - he is a briliant designer and illustrator and has taught me a lot over the years."
Words of Advice: Focus, Learn, and Follow Through
"Focus on an industry you love, don't just jump on a current bandwagon. Learn to do everything yourself. It will save you a lot of time and money if you understand every aspect of your industry - including the boring stuff like web development, marketing, PR, accounting etc. After you have done masses of research and you are prepared to commit yourself to your business - work hard and take pride in what you do. Don't spread yourself too thin - focus on a niche and grow slowly."
"All new businesses cost money - being self employed is not CHEAP - as soon as you recognize that you have a position in the market, invest as much money as you can. I hear so many people always trying to get the best price and the cheapest deals when they are starting out, I think this is the wrong time to save money. Most people will barely break even in their first few years of ANY new business. Being a self employed craft person is not a get-rich-quick plan! Work hard, grow your business and the money will start to increase - and as your volumes go up, your costs will come down and you will make more money - it's a basic business plan."