Thursday, May 1, 2008

Retail Therapy: Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery

This one needs no introductions...


1. I've read reviews of Paper Boat Boutique and Gallery describing it as "a fusion of old school meets new". What makes Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery different from other similar shops?
When picking work to sell at Paper Boat we try to keep in mind what people in Milwaukee will respond to, on top of our own personal aesthetics. Since Milwaukee isn't overrun with hundreds of hipsters, we tend to show a wide spectrum of independently produced work from extremely innovative to more traditional work.

2. You opened your doors back in June 2005, almost 3 years later - what's one thing that has remained exactly the same and what has significantly changed?
I think that one thing that has remained the same is our vision, which has been getting new work to the Milwaukee public, in a physical space, opposed to an on-line shop. Our "upgrade" to a larger space two years ago has been the most significant change since it has allowed us to double our inventory and have larger art shows.

>> continue reading interview
- Faythe shares her tips on how to get noticed and get your stuff out there

3. What are your top three best sellers?
Erica Weiner Jewelry, Emily Kircher Recycling Artist, Supermaggie!

4. How has owning a business changed your life?
Owning a business is my ball and chain, I can't call in sick, I have to pre-plan all trips, I am always broke.... However, I get the gratification of knowing that I am making a huge impact on my local community by bringing in work to a city that otherwise wouldn't get exposed to a lot of what is going on in other major metropolitan cities. Kim and I get to know that we are supporting an international creativity community. I've got to meet a lot of the artists we work with- personally, my life will never be the same and I am so thankful for the experience.


5. How do you go about choosing artists to represent in the gallery?
Our submission guidelines for showing in the gallery have changed over the past 3 years. Initially, we had an "open call" for submissions where artists would send us images online. However, we have grown and we no longer accept unsolicited submissions since we book so far in advance (we are currently booked through early 2009). When choosing artists for the shop I am looking at their body of work including design, form and work ethics.

6. Do most of the artists you carry come to you or do you actively seek out new designers/crafters? If so, where? And what are the top three things artists can do to stand out in your mind?
At this point in our business (keep in mind we have a roster of over 200 designers) we solicit most of our new designers. But, we still received up to 30 or so submissions a month for new work to be considered in the boutique. Since we already have so much work in the shop, it is a lot harder to work with us than it was when we started.

1. Read all of the information on a web site before emailing your work or asking any questions (make sure you know what they want).

2. Have good photos of your work, bad photos = no attention. If you are not a good photographer, just photograph your work outside in natural light, if you make clothes, have someone model for you or use a mannequin. I will often just look at photos and if they don't capture my attention, then I never give it a second thought.

3. Be original in your work content- keep in mind that there are a lot of stationary companies who make cards with owls- so how will you take it to the next level and make a unique, quality product and find a way for the viewer to see those qualities in your work.

I am always looking for new work, and since I do a lot of traveling for Handmade Nation, I'm super lucky because I get to see a lot of other boutiques like ours and often find new work that way. But indie craft fairs are the biggest source for us as well as and is terrible because there are too many ad's and it's difficult to communicate.


Most people advise against going into business with a partner if you can help it. Can you give us a few tips on how you guys make it work?
That's really funny because I don't think Kim or I could imagine having this space with out one another- our partnership is such vital part of our shop. We both fill rolls that support our strong points, however, all major business decisions are decided between the both of us. We communicate about all aspects of our business, often this is done via email since we both work second jobs it is difficult to find time to meet outside of our regular shop hours.

Paper Boat Boutique and Gallery has received lots of love from the press. Do you have any marketing and promotion tips for aspiring and shop owners?
Well, I guess the above answers are applicable. But, I think a big part of having a successful art space is just making sure people know you exist and sticking with it. And, building a solid reputation by curating what is available in the shop so people know that they can expect to find something they like when they come back. Make sure you constantly update your press connections with upcoming events, but do it in advance, many print publications work a month in advance so start to schedule ahead.

What's the biggest misconception that people have about owning a shop?
Owning a small business in any form is a constant struggle- it takes devotion, sacrifice and will be a total labor of love for a long time (uhhhh, maybe forever?!). I think that the biggest misconception is that people often think that Kim and I don't have other jobs and make a lot of money, which is pretty far from the truth.

What's the best lesson that you've learned so far in owning your own business that you can pass on to our readers?
The importance of networking! Getting your name out there, participating in your community (local and on-line), letting people know you appreciate what they do, follow-through and sticking to schedules and remembering that above all your business is a labor of love!

shop - Paper Boat Boutique and Gallery
blog -
myspace -
flickr -

Thanks Faythe and Kim! I hope one day I'll get a chance to meet you AND check out Paper Boat in person!


lizzy said...

this is a great interview with lots of useful information; i really enjoyed reading it. it sounds like a wonderful space!

IamSusie said...

This post got mentioned on Craftzine:

Congratulations! I don't live too far away from Milwaukee, so I hope I can come and check you out sometime!

Marichelle said...

thanks again Susie! And I hope you can pay them a visit soon!