Although many people may try to tell you that the internet killed the old fashioned letter, that’s just simply not true. Many people still get out their pens and stationery to write short notes or letters to friends. It’s because of them that wonderful businesses like Swanky Paper are able to do so well.
Heather Cowdell is the woman behind this creative business. Where most stationery businesses have a hard time separating themselves from mass printers and their competition, Swanky Paper has some benefits that aren’t usually seen. I’ve had the opportunity to use some of her note cards, and I’ve seen for myself that the print quality of her cards are impressive. Customization is also included in the price, right down to the color scheme on the card set. Of course, Heather doesn’t need my approval. One look at her list of testimonials from happy customers will tell you everything you need to know.
I recently received the opportunity to ask Heather a few questions about her business and learn a little more about her experiences as it has grown.
What is Swanky Paper and how long have you been in business?
Swanky Paper is an online boutique style stationery shop delivering unique brightly colored, and well designed paper products. I produce personalized note cards, invitations, bookplates and moving announcements with much more to come.
Swanky Paper opened for business in October 2007 and SwankyPaper.com launched in February 2008. Since October 2007 Swanky Paper has built an excellent reputation by offering great products, fair business practice, and quality products, while adding many new products and designs as well as updating our equipment.
What niche does your business fill? What separates you from your competition?
Swanky Paper has found its niche with consumers who are looking for truly unique and distinctive personalized paper goods.
My competition displays much talent; however there are two major details that separate me from my competition. First of all, my products are not mass produced. I pay careful attention to the details of each note card, invitation and any other product ordered from me. Secondly, my designs are incredibly unique and cover a wide range of styles for my customers. Some of my designs use vibrant and trendy color combinations that stand out, while other designs are more subdued using softer hues, simple graphics and classy designs.
What was the inspiration behind Swanky Paper? Did you always have that entrepreneurial itch?
I was inspired to start Swanky Paper, not for a lack of personalized stationery available, but after having received a cute note from a friend I thought, “I can do that”. Only I wanted to make it better, something a little more extraordinary and eye-catching than I had seen in the market.
I have always had the entrepreneurial spirit. I guess I started early with the classic lemonade stand, followed by my attempt to sell painted rocks as paper weights to the neighborhood. I continued to come up with new product ideas or concepts to make existing products better, but sat on all of them. It was not until my idea to get into the stationery business that I finally decided to take the leap and actually make one of my dreams a reality.
How many styles/designs do you offer? Which ones are most popular among your customers?
In the personalized stationery category, currently I offer over 40 different designs with several color combination options for each design. However, I am always open to new color combinations should a customer want something else. I do not charge for custom color changes because that is a key part of my service.
From those 40+ designs I have taken the most popular and most eye-catching to create different categories. You will find those same graphics from the stationery category reformatted and worked into address labels, moving announcements, invitations and bookplates.
Currently the top five most popular designs include; Dandelions, Queen Anne’s Lace, Daisies, Tart N’ Tiny, and Charms.
How long did it take for you to build this business from idea to launch? Were there any roadblocks along the way that you had to face? How did you manage those problems and what did you learn from them?
I began toying around with the idea sometime in 2004, but it was not until 2005 that I starting creating designs and researching how to start a business to make it a successful one. It was roughly three years from initial idea to launch. Were there Roadblocks? Does having two babies, in two years count?! As a Work At Home Mom I quickly learned how to manage my time so that I could focus on my family and still make time to develop a business plan, research products, design stationery and process orders. It is all about time management and prioritizing. I am often the last one to bed in the wee hours of the night because I am working on a custom invitation or processing orders.
What do you enjoy most about working from your home? What do you dislike about it?
I love being able to stay home with my two boys and raise them myself. I truly count this as one of my many blessings. I love that my schedule is flexible and that I am my own boss. I do not think there is anything I dislike about being a WAHM. It is all a balancing act. As I mentioned previously, I quickly learned to polish my time management skills in order to run a successful business and a successful family.
How do you manage your work schedule around everyday life and your family? Do you have any special tips you’d like to offer other work at home moms like yourself?
It is all about balance. As far as being a mom, my mornings are devoted to the kids. I often take care of errands, have playtime with friends (mommy’s friends too!), or tend to the household chores. My day to day work schedule varies and some are a little more demanding than others with processing orders or other projects. On those days, my super supportive husband is great about playing with the boys and taking over bath time so that I can meet my deadlines. In addition, I tend to keep late hours. I have always been a night owl so working on Swanky Paper orders at night works for me too.
I only have a few tips to offer other WAHMs. First, if you are going through the effort of starting a business, READ! READ! READ! Set it up right. One of the first things I did was to check the California State website, specifically the business portal. I found everything I needed to know about setting up a business. Whether you are setting up an LLC, a Sole Proprietorship, a Corporation, or simply filing a DBA, figure out what will suit your business and your goals best and follow through with it. I continue to read everything from books to online articles to help give me tips on how to run a successful business.
My only other tip is you have to love what you are doing. I wake up every day to my beautiful family and as an added bonus I get to play on the computer and create fun stationery for you! Loving what I do hardly seems like work.
What were some of your favorite resources as you were starting your business? How did they help?
My absolute favorite resources have been other professional businessmen and women. Through them I have received a wealth of knowledge on business start up, web development and marketing, and suggestions on product resources. Plus, it provides me an opportunity to get to know a fellow business person and pick their brain. I have learned that business contacts do not have to be in the same industry. There is a lot to learn from any industry leader.
Another extremely useful resource has been my local library. The price tag of business related books can become costly, so I have relied heavily on the library for really useful books. Libraries often have the popular titles in the business literary world.
And lastly, use the Internet. In today’s world we can find anything on the Internet. I subscribe to several websites and business related blogs that send daily or weekly articles on everything from marketing tips and business strategies to establish an Internet presence. The web holds a wealth of knowledge.
Where would you like to see your business go in the coming years? Do you have any personal goals?
In the short time that Swanky Paper has been in business I am thrilled with the growth thus far, however, there is always room to grow the business. I love designing and creating so there will be more designs in the future. Along those same lines, I also have plans to add more product lines using the designs that customers love so much.
Personally, I am excited about where Swanky Paper is headed. With more product lines and new designs being added, I am sure that one day Swanky Paper will rival other stationery giants on the web.
What was the most rewarding part of starting Swanky Paper?
The most rewarding aspect about starting Swanky Paper is the feeling of success. You never know what will become of an idea, even when that idea is researched and developed into a business. The fear of failure is strong. For me, the fact that only a year ago I was finalizing what paper products to use and getting ready to reveal my designs to others. Having built my business this far gives me a great sense of achievement. You can only imagine how thrilled I was when I finally showed off my designs and complete strangers loved them! They were a hit! That alone gave me the confidence to continue and I am certainly glad I did.