Thursday, September 11, 2008

Retail Therapy: Paper Doll

# of employees:
It is really mostly just the two of us, but we have a couple gals that help out on weekends and around the holiday.
Did you write a business plan?
Sort of. I think it is helpful for organizing your plans.
Day your doors opened: September 2000
Owners: Sisters Stacy and Kelly Swett
How many hours a week do you each work?
We both work at least 6 days a week. My only job is the shop, but Kelly still has a "real" job 5 days a week. I do the day-to-day tasks, and we work together on buying, etc.

>> click here to continue reading about Paper Doll

>> Think you're ready to open up a shop? Read on and find out what really goes on behind the register...

1. What compelled you to go into retail back in 2000? Did you have any retail experience before opening the shop? Do you think it's necessary?

I've probably wanted to have a shop my entire life. After running other people's stores for years, and trying my hand at Corporate America in advertising, I decided it was time to do my own thing. Kelly was working at a museum in Colorado and wanted to move to Chicago, so we decided to do it together. We chose stationery and gifts because, at the time, that was lacking in the Wicker Park neighborhood. And because we both have always been really into correspondence, and had a love for paper goods.

Retail experience is a must! You learn so much. Not only about the business end, but about being in a shop all day.

2. Name one thing that completely took you by surprise when you first started Paper Doll - something that neither biz how-to books or any "SCORE " workshop prepared you for.

Books and classes can only go so far, you need experience. I can honestly say that nothing surprised me. I was really prepared. Legal stuff is a constant challenge. Trying to keep up with all the different taxes, permits, and licenses. Even when you think you've got it all under control, something new always pops up.

3. How long did it take you to set up the shop? Start from the day you said to yourself I'm opening a shop to the day your doors opened. Any hard lessons learned about setting up the shop that you'd like to share?

I would say we were up and running within six months of making the decision to do it. We started small and just kept growing, slowly. Adding more merchandise, better signs, bits of advertising. Our space was so tiny, six years into it we decided to move to a bigger spot. That was pretty much the scariest thing we've done. Higher rent, remodeling, moving, being closed for a week, people not knowing where we went. But it worked, we are still here two years later!

4. Do you have a magical buying formula? Can you please share a few things you learned about buying and deciding how much inventory to purchase for the very first time.

Again, start small. When things sell, you can always order more. And then you have a better idea of what your customers want. We started out by filling the shop with things we like. Luckily the things we liked were/are things our customers like too! We still operate pretty much with that same philosophy, but have a better read on what people want to buy. We also like to change things up. If we get sick of items or feel that they've had a good run, then we move on to something new. We really pride ourselves in having something for any type of person, and any age.

Most things we buy are directly from the designer. We love knowing who makes things and how they are made. Customers love to hear personal things about artists.

We sell things at every price point. From a $1 button to $3000 wedding invites. Even with something like boxed note cards, there is a variety of price points from extravagant letterpress to basic thank you notes.

5. You've received rave reviews on sites like citysearch and yelp. It's clear that you have customer service down pat. Can you recommend to our budding shop owners 3 ways they can improve customer service that can make a huge impact on their bottom line?

We really love our customers! We have such a diverse mix of people who have become regulars. Hipsters, yuppies, moms & babies, kids, older people who've lived in the neighborhood forever, tourists. We treat our customers like friends.

The shop is very approachable (not too girlie), even to men, which is cool. We are always playing good music, which helps. And we have Maude (the house pug) as our secret weapon. Men love playing with her.

We have fun when we work. People really get a kick out of the sister thing. Sometimes our mom is here too, which is always hilarious.

We sell a lot of custom wedding and baby announcements, but we are the complete opposite of the "wedding machine." Clients can listen to Joy Division and pet a dog while I work with them. It is a very comfortable environment.

I've turned so many people into good thank you note writers, it makes me proud! I even have little kids picking out their own custom stationery!

6. If Oprah decided to give you $10,000 tax free for your business, but you had to spend it in one week, what would you do with it?

I think we would buy "fancier" display shelves and probably do a little remodeling.

7. Some say that the best business partners complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. Can you illustrate this balance using 3 points.

Kelly is only here a day or two a week, so she brings a fresh viewpoint when she comes in. Helps me snap out of the day-to-day blahs.

I will check in and price new merch all week, and then she'll stock it when she comes in. She is the greatest re-stocker!

We are similar enough, and different enough to balance each other out when we are doing the buying. We always come to a happy medium.

We never fight! It is so great. We are really lucky to have each other.

>> So you think your goods are perfect for Paper Doll?

8. What is your process in choosing merchandise and what 3 things can artists do to stand out in your mind?

We find things from many different sources (shows, reps, local artists, internet) which gives us a great mix.

Artists approaching us should have products that are unique & well made, be professional, and do their research. If you are an artist, find out about the shop you are approaching as well as its proximity to other shops you may sell your goods too. Don't try to sell your merch to more than one store on a street. And if you make paper goods, please spell "stationery" correctly in your correspondence. (that is one of my biggest pet peeves.)
9. You've been in business since 2000 - was there a year where you felt some kind of sigh of relief and felt confident that you weren't going to be part of a statistic? They say that in the restaurant business, you shouldn't expect to see any profit until your second year - is it the same for retail in your experience? What should aspiring store owners be prepared to expect?

In the beginning it is really scary because all you are doing is spending money. When you finally start getting some back, it is a great feeling. Our business keeps increasing each year. We are thankful for that. It is important to always pay yourself. I suggest making yourself an employee of yourself, and have a set salary. It makes your bookkeeping for the store and your personal life much more organized. And always pay your bills on time. I am stickler for that. You can get into a lot of trouble if are a slacker. And vendors won't want to work with you. Develop a good financial reputation.

>> VISIT Paper Doll
2048 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 227-6950


Thanks Stacy & Kelly!!


Tammy said...

I love the Retail Therapy blog posts! Thanks so much for blogging these interviews, they are super helpful!!

Melissa de la Fuente said...

So great! It sounds like such a lovely and warm shop and next time I am in Chicago, it is a must visit! Of course, I also adore Maude!

Anna M. Rosete said...

Yey! Paperdoll! I used to spend lunch breaks in this store. Thank you for featuring them, especially Maude!

Feminist Dad said...

No joke, their store is fabulous. I go in for a birthday card, and leave with 8 other things that I couldn't possibly live another day without. It's a store that makes you glad to have friends to send things to.