Thursday, January 22, 2009

Retail Therapy: papernstitch

Quick Facts:
+ Two employees (Brittni & Jeff)
+ Between the blog and the site, works over 35 hrs/wk (some weeks much more than that).
+ Sorta wrote a biz plan
+ Oct. 15th, 2008 was the official launch day.
+ Brittni Wood, Owner


1. Name one thing that completely took you by surprise when you first launched your exhibition site - something that neither biz how-to books, small biz workshops or advice from friends running similar sites prepared you for.

This is a tough question because I feel like there have been many surprises, almost all of them being pleasant. I think the biggest surprise thus far has been the overwhelming support and warm welcome I have received from the blogging community. The first day the site was up (before the official launch date), I remember sending out emails to some of my favorite bloggers to introduce them to the site. I sat there, nervous with anticipation. I had no idea how the site would be received. (This is probably something that many of us can relate to when starting something new.)

Slowly, I started receiving responses and encouraging words, and now, only three months in, I am starting to build relationships with all of these wonderful people. I feel so lucky. I never expected this so soon.

>> click here to continue reading about papernstitch

2. Were there any stand out books, resources or tools that were especially helpful during the planning phase or even until now?
Well, I did read several books when papernstitch was in the planning phases that I thought would help. I wouldn’t say that any one of them were especially helpful to the process of creating the site or even a guide to what could be expected, but I did find Craft Inc. to be a good read filled with inspirational stories about business in general. Above everything else, the most useful resource to papernstitch has been Jeff! He custom built the site from scratch and is constantly tweaking and re-working things to make the technical aspects of the site run smoothly and be user-friendly.

3. Being on the other end of the spectrum, as a curator, what lessons have you learned in terms of getting the word out about your own work and the way you present your work to various press avenues.

Oh, this a good question. As I mentioned before, I have been very fortunate to work with some of the most incredible people, who are as charming as they are professional. And that is certainly something that I have noticed is spilling over into my correspondence with press in regards to my own work. Years ago, I thought that when approaching a gallery, site, blog, etc it was all about professionalism and nothing but, because that’s what I was taught: be professional. I think there certainly is truth to that, but I may have taken that too seriously before.

One thing that I really respond to when I receive emails from people introducing me to their work is personality. I find that I can get a better feel for someone’s work or point of view when I know a little something about them before looking at their imagery. This is something that I find myself doing now as well when I contact people about my own work. Oftentimes, we forget that there is a person on the other side of that email, letter, phone call and they don’t want to be bored. So, entertain them while maintaining professionalism.

4. I see that you have a very nifty submission function on the site. I'm assuming that most of the designers featured on your site approached you. Do you actively seek out new designers/crafters? If so, where?

Most of the time, we are approached by designers and artists through the submission function of the papernstitch site or through email. Occasionally, I will come across someone’s work that I think is perfect for pns, and I approach them. Usually, I find their work randomly just browsing for things to post about on the blog or shopping for myself (I approach many of the people that are featured on the blog- but get submissions through email for that as well). I may find someone on one of the design blogs I read, a local shop where I live, Etsy, Dawanda, anywhere really. I guess you could say I am always on the lookout.

5. When it comes to choosing artists/product lines, what 3 things can artists do to stand out in your mind? On your site it says: First and foremost, we are looking for high-quality work with originality. I think we're all a little biased when it comes to objectively judging our own creations and sometimes it could be tricky to see what we produce ourselves in a different light (ie. not high quality or not original). One thing I always advise people is to spend a whole LOT of time surfing Etsy, Dawanda and other shops. Invest the time to research what's out there, what similar artists are producing - it's the only way for you to see your work objectively. Do you have any similar advice/suggestions?

Certainly when you are in a curatorial position it can be hard to put personal taste aside and focus on artistic merit, but I try to remain as objective as possible, whether I am judging my own work or someone else’s. My advice is similar to yours. I think it’s important to be able to compare and contrast your work to others, but do so constructively. Don’t beat yourself up for not being as great of a painter as Lucian Freud, for example. Work to your own potential, not somebody else’s.

One thing that always helps me to look at my work objectively is taking photographs of my work with a digital camera. Downloading them, cropping them, and then critiquing them just from the photograph. For whatever reason, it helps me remove myself from my work.

There are of course a couple of things that people can do to stand out, in my mind. The first is great pictures! If you have an incredible product, but less than desirable photos (dark, blurry) how can anyone know how great it is? Certainly, originality is very important, but I guess originality is a bit subjective and everyone would have different opinions on what is original and what isn’t. Other things would be craftsmanship and quality. If your products are well-made someone will buy it. We all have different styles, so I don’t think anyone has to appeal to everyone to get noticed. Just find your niche. Lastly, I would say being able to talk about what you do helps to make someone stand out to me (especially artists).

6. Like me, the birth of your sites were fueled by your own frustrations as an artist/seller. How do you balance working on the sites, teaching and having the time to create? This is something that I personally haven't figured out yet... but dying to. So please share 5 life balancing tips that help you do it all!!

Some days it is definitely a struggle to do it all; but ultimately I am somehow able to do it because I love it! And that pushes me through. There are some sleepless nights, and a lot of nights with little sleep, but it’s completely worth the sacrifice.

Here are some ways I keep sane from day to day:

1. Stay organized. This is key. It is easy to drop the ball when you have multiple things going on simultaneously. The only way to keep it all together, at least for me, is to document, document, document. Write everything down. Use category tabs for emails, etc.

2. Get a routine. I have found that knowing that I will do certain things at certain times of day helps tremendously.

3. Take a break. It is so important to take time for yourself and to spend time with the ones you love. It is easy to get bogged down and feel like you can’t stop, but when you get away from things for a bit you can come back with a fresh outlook.

4. Try to laugh it off whenever possible. Things can get stressful real quick, and naturally problems will arise from time to time. Sometimes this rule is tough to follow, but I do the best I can.

5. Make friends. It can be lonely working online to get noticed. So, don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.

7. They say that "A business that doesn't grow eventually dies..." How has your model/site evolved since you first launched back in October 2008? I know Paper N Stitch is fairly new, so please feel free to discuss future plans.

I couldn’t agree with you more Marichelle. Within the few months papernstitch has been around, we have grown quite a bit, specifically in the way of advancements of the site and blog. We have been adding new features to the site each month, and have come a long way since our start. We now offer multiple images per product, user comments on products, and of course, the monthly “most votes” contest. The blog just received a major facelift a couple of weeks ago as well.

We have a lot more planned for the future, including a new blogger favorites section that will begin running January 26th. Each month a new face from the blog world will be asked to create a wish list of 15-20 of their favorite papernstitch products. I think this is going to be a big hit considering our first ever blogger for blogger favorites is Erin from Design for Mankind!

8. 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?

What a fun question. The first thing I would purchase would be a new computer, and I would update all my software (kind of boring I know). I would invest in our exhibitors, and commission some of the artists from papernstitch (past and present) to create some things to be sold through the site - limited edition prints, buttons, etc. This is something that I would LOVE to be able to do. I would purchase a few print ads in my favorite magazines (Bust, Nylon, Domino). And lastly, I would up the ante on the monthly papernstitch contest from $150 to $500 until the money ran out.

9. If someone was looking to launch a business with a similar model, what advice would you give them? Something you wish someone else would've told you prior to launching Paper N Stitch.

Do your research. Put yourself in the shoes of your target market (in this case: the exhibitor’s shoes). Having a great idea is one thing: a very important thing, but not the only thing.

Thanks Brittni and Jeff!!


Melissa de la Fuente said...

How wonderful! And so great that they get to work together! Such a cute photo booth shot and wonderful work spaces! I love their shop and can't wait to check out more!

modernemotive said...

Awesome post! This was perfect timing for me! I'll have to read it again to take all the great advice in.

Thanks Marichelle, Brittni & Jeff.

Janick - Nea said...

What wonderful interview!! Brittni is really a sweetheart and really supports her exhibitors 200%! I'm really glad to have *virtually* met her! :)

Clementine said...

What a great interview! This is my first month exhibiting with Paper N Stitch, and I'm so pleased to be there, amidst such great artists and makers. It's really a top-notch group, and I'm excited for the new blogger favorites feature!

voudrais said...

Awesome post! Thanks Marichelle!

great advice, and also great picks! I especially loved the teatowel Brittni chosed

yasmine said...

paper and stitch is one of my favorite sites...this is a super neat interview!

Jan said...

So nice to see PNS and Brittni featured here. She has put a lot thought and work into her site - and it looks great - very user friendly!! She's a guest poster on Scoutie Girl - and she always comes up with something fab.

Yokomono Studio said...

Great interview! This is the second month participating PNS exhibition. It's well designed site. Brittni is so wonderful to work with. She really care the designers!

Marichelle said...

Thank you so much for all of your comments - I was so thrilled to interview Brittni, I've been such a fan of her site.

Thanks again Brittni for being a part of HH - it's clear that you have lots and lots of fans... congratulations again on papernstitch!!! I can't wait to see what you guys have in store for us!!

Xenotees said...

Aw, that's an excellent interview! I'm excited to be participating this month! It's such an easy site to navigate & it looks amazing!

♪ NoĆ«lle - Xenotees ♪

lillyella said...

great interview and nicely organized - well done to all of you! Im so excited to be included in this months Paper n Stitch exhibition and they started up on my birthday - neato! :)


shanon said...

What a great interview! It's so nice to get to know Brittni better. I'm a new exhibitor on papernstitch, and she's been so sweet. It's great to see that personality shine through here as well.

Marichelle said...

hi noelle, lillyella and shanon! It's so nice to meet a few more of PNS' exhibitors. I think it's safe to say that you're all in very good hands!

Unknown said...

I am so overwhelmed by the kind words. You all are so sweet. Marichelle- thank you SO MUCH for inviting me to do this interview. I really enjoyed it and it has been an honor.

Anonymous said...

Such a fantastic interview and spotlight on the power couple! :~) Brittni, we all appreciate your thoughtful and honest answers as always and are so durn happy with your well-deserved success, many kudos!

PNS is fantastic, both the blog and the exhibit site. Beautiful to the eye plus so user-friendly with great thought in the nav, product presentation and overall info hierarchy. (Thanks, Jeff!)

So good to see this here... thank you, Marichelle!

brenda rose said...

i'm so happy to see this interview! i've been loving papernstitch since my first day on the site--brittni is so sweet and attentive to her exhibitors, and the site is so clean and easy to use. it's great to see pns and brittni getting the praise they deserve.

Amy (the b-line) said...

What wonderful insight! I've enjoyed reading Brittni's thoughts on starting this wonderful site with Jeff. I've only recently become aware of papernstitch, but I'm completely hooked!

Heather said...

Wonderful interview! It's great to get more behind the scenes info on Paper N Stitch. I had been wondering how this team managed to do it all! It shows that they love what they are doing and love working with their exhibitors.
I'm pleased to be part of the exhibition and I agree that Brittni is a wonderful supporter of the artists on Paper N Stitch!

belinda marshall said...

want to say hi and thanks for the great interview :)
am exhibiting on pns for the 2nd month and really love it – it's so well put together and gorgeous looking. thanks b + j :)

Elena Rosenberg Wearable Fiber Art said...

What a great interview! May Papernstitch grown and grow! :)

Marichelle said...

hi Amy, Brenda, Amy, Heather, Gretchen and Elena! Thanks for stopping by to show your support for Brittni and PNS! And good luck to everyone who's exhibiting this month!
Brittni, it was great to finally have you and Jeff on the site!!