We love helping small businesses grow, whether they’re selling books as the products themselves, or using books to share about their brand or at an event. You’d be hard pressed to find a more delightful example of that than The Witty Gritty Paper Co., a mother-daughter owned business that recently created a new line of notebook products with us. We spoke with them about what it’s like to run their business, how they get started, and how they go about creating new products.
Can you tell us a bit about The Witty Gritty Paper Co?
We are a mother/daughter design duo creating cute & clever cards, art prints, and all manner of paper hoopla out of our cozy studio in Buffalo, NY. Before we founded The Witty Gritty Paper Co. I, Meredith (the daughter,) had a background in watercolor, illustration and marketing and my sweet mum (Melinda) had a background in finance and creative writing, so it just seemed natural to us when we thought to come together in 2015 to launch our first collection of greeting cards.
We read on your website about how you had to buy your own scanner and printer to release new designs while keeping costs manageable. We totally get the costs of doing small quantities, and creating inventory that you’re not sure will sell! Can you share any stories and tips for those just getting started? Any advice for others who might be bootstrapping their own business?
In my experience, there is almost nothing more frustrating than having an incredible, cutting-edge new idea or turn of phrase that you fall in love with, and then discovering that you can’t afford to produce it the way it looks in your head. There are so many things to consider when dipping your toe into manufacturing for the first time as a baby business; The cost to you, if your margins work for retail, if they work for wholesale (the most common deal-breaker for us), the cost of packaging, the manufacturing practices, the country of origin, materials used, the cost to ship the inventory to you, wether or not the product is too saturated already in your industry, where you’ll store the new inventory, it goes on!
I remember a product we had made for us in our first 6 months of founding our company, we loved our designs, had them made in the U.S. by a manufacturer we loved, they were very high-quality and the type of product that we thought would fly off the shelves. Low and behold two years later I still have every single one. The strange thing was, people loved them, they just never bought them. I like to call these “Tease products”. You know, the type that Instagram devours but for some reason, no one ever thinks to buy. We haven’t had any products since that were such teases but that experience often makes me a little flighty when considering new things to introduce.
My advice is: if you can in any way make it yourself, do so, at least in the beginning. A good example is our cards. We never have new designs printed for us in bulk, because it’s much more cost effective for us to print a few ourselves for marketing and local craft fairs and if they are popular we have them printed in bulk. But not all products are so seamlessly transferred over to another manufacturer, so make sure whatever you begin with can be easily duplicated on a larger scale. Cash is king, so this makes our flow of money much more comfortable when launching new products.
What made you decide on notebooks? Why did you choose Scout Books?
I’ve been hoarding ideas for all sorts of different products since the beginning and notebooks were always high on my list. I personally can never have enough of them and not too many other designers in our trade were making them. Which can either mean it’s a great idea to make them or a terrible one. We took a leap of faith because our notepads and sticky notepads had been such a huge hit over the past year and because we already knew we were adding pencils to the line. As I suspected, the pencils have become a beautiful funnel product for the notebooks and the opposite is also true. They have aesthetically complementary colors, justify each other and make a better gift when paired together.
Finding manufacturing partners can be such a rabbit hole and so stressful as you try to figure out what you can afford and what matters most to you. We chose to partner with Scout Books because environmentally sound business practices is something that was indispensable to us. We also loved that they were offset printed (and knew our retailers and customers would too) and that they were made in the U.S. Turns out, it is nearly impossible to have notebooks made outside of China that still worked for our margins and our brand, so Scout Books perfectly fit the bill and offered something (in quality and integrity) that no one else could.
What’s it like being a mother-daughter owned business?
We get asked this all the time, and honestly it’s not that different than a normal business partner relationship. We happen to have very different and complimentary personalities and it makes our company much more well-rounded than if one of us had done it without the other. I’ll admit that sometimes we struggle with work-life balance as it’s hard to section off when we’re spending time together as a family and when we’re working. We try to keep it simple by sticking with: Always listen to mom about money, always listen to Meredith about creative direction and don’t work the weekends. Okay, at least don’t work all the weekends. 🙂
Do you have a favorite creation you’ve made over the years?
Oooooooooo, my favorite creation has got to be our “Like Your Dog Does Card” I just think it’s so sweet and so original and it warms my heart whenever single best friends buy it for each other on Valentine’s day or parents buy it for their children.
Many thanks to Meredith for taking the time to speak with us about these books! You can find more about them and their delightful notebooks on their website.