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Opening a Brick & Mortar Stationery Shop – feat. Megan & Cedar of Paper Goat Post

November 3, 2020

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Picture this: You’re holding the key to your brand new “in person” stationary shop. You walk in and beautiful stationery that was hand selected by YOU lines the shelves. Does that sound like a dream come true? If you answered yes then you don’t want to miss today’s episode! Megan & Cedar of Paper Goat Post are coming on the show today to give you the inside scoop on what it looks like to open a brick and mortar stationery shop. They’re chatting about how they secured their location, developed their business plan and brand strategy, selected their inventory, and so much more!

Let’s be friends! Find us on Instagram @bizbirthdaybash.

What actually sparked you two to open up your shop, Paper Goat post?

Lifelong Love for Stationary

Megan (2:11)

I’ll give you a little backstory of the shop, we had tons of event experience and really have always wanted to open a shop from when we were little we just that was kind of our thing that we wanted to own a shop of some sort, we had no idea what it was actually going to have inside the shop. But we just thought it would be fun to do. And I remember I was like a little kid kind of brainstorming, like displays like we loved going to a local shop by us that had a gift wrapping area. And so we always wanted to have that service for our customers and just some things that we’ve gravitated towards over the years. Our mom loves stationery and writing thank yous and just that, you know, art of corresponding in a more formal way, is something that we grew up with. So it was kind of just like in our blood. Our mom loves stationery and writing thank yous and just that, you know, art of corresponding in a more formal way, is something that we grew up with. So it was kind of just like in our blood.

Experience with Event Planning at Universal Orlando 

And after years of being in the event industry doing huge corporate events. We did grand openings, we both worked at Universal Orlando and their event production department for years before we actually opened the shop. So you know, we opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and did all those big huge events. But we were kind of at a point in our career where we’re like, what’s next, and we had brainstormed about things. And then we kind of stumbled upon the location and that fast tracked us to say let’s make our dream a reality.

So I’d like to say it was something we’d always had hoped for. We knew universal was a great company to work for. So we knew we were either going to leave there to work for ourselves or stay there. So it wasn’t really an option to go to a different corporate company we would have wanted. We wanted to work for ourselves.

Cami (4:06)

Yeah, so I love that and I love that you guys already have that event experience to back it up because it definitely shows. I didn’t even know that about y’all. It definitely shows through with just the caliber of everything you do at your shop and all the workshops and all the parties.

What are some of the first steps that you took to begin the process of opening up a brick and mortar location?

Stumbled Upon the Perfect Location
Cedar (4:45)

We kind of did this a little more untraditionally. We always wanted to open a shop, In the future, but We thought it was more like a 5-10 year plan. However,  we stumbled across the location just north of downtown Orlando. And of course, we did the thing where, you know, you see a house kind of like a real estate market, you see a house and you’re like, How much is it and you start going to an open house that you don’t even need to buy a house. So we kind of did that with our first location, we saw a for lease sign, called the landlord and asked, “How much is it?”  And then he asked us to come with our business plan and tell him our ideas to them and see what he thought. 

Jump Started Their Formal Business Plan to Present to Landlord 

So that kind of jump started all of our thoughts and our planning over the years, and we sat down that weekend after calling them and made a little one sheet a little quick, because we plan, we definitely did not have a business plan altogether, we typically threw something together with stationery and perhaps party. And that’s about it, we drafted our very first logo overnight, and put together a little business plan on one sheet. Turns out that our landlord also loves paper and was super thrilled about our ideas and actually shared a different location with us. 

Calculated the Financial Risk 

So our very first location was not the one that we called and inquired about. But he shared that location with us. And I thought that it would be a great fit. So we went back to the drawing board. And ultimately, we calculated the risk, and what it would take to open and what we would lose if we went for it and signed a lease and acted on the location. This was in February, and we had until November when the space would be open. So we had a good portion of the year to really figure things out. So we calculated, you know, if November comes and we’re not ready. And this isn’t what we want to do. What are we losing? And are we willing to take that risk at that point? 

Decided to Take the Leap and Prepared Brand Strategy

So we decided we were willing to take the risk. And then we really dove into planning, coming up with exactly what our brand was going to be, what our mix was going to be putting a more solid business plan on paper. And we really use that time, which I think was key to our success at the beginning, we really use that gap of time, from when we signed the lease to opening to build brand awareness in the city, we partner with a lot of local folks, some other podcasts and kind of creative groups to build our brand awareness and build the hype of what was coming to Orlando. So I think that really helped at the very beginning as well. And although we kind of did it backwards, we definitely think that, you know, in hindsight, that really diving into what your customer is, and what gap you’re filling in that location is really key to finding out and if it’s going to be successful for you. And if it’s worth it for you to open or start diving into a brick and mortar business.

Stayed Super Involved the Numbers 

Elisabeth (7:54)

I was going to say nothing to light the fire under you like knowing you’re going to be paying for a lease.

Cedar (8:00)

Yes, exactly. And come with that, you know, that’s one of your first things, you know, like there’s going to be money involved. So we really got a little nerdy about our numbers and started crunching numbers, making sure we knew exactly kind of what our breakeven point was. And, from that day forward, we stayed super involved in our numbers of our business because that is the backbone of you know, what makes it actually successful for both of us. 

And I think similarly to what you guys have recommended when you guys first started, you really need to crunch your own numbers of what you need to bring home. We knew we were going in this together. So we are going to kind of lean on each other. I  was the first one to leave Universal to open the shop and Megan stayed full time for quite a few years after just to help with that kind of income flow. So you really need to do your own numbers and know what you want to bring home and what you want to get out of the business to make it feel right and successful for you. 

At What Point did you guys Feel Comfortable Leaving your 9-5 to Work in the Shop Full-Time?

Maternity Leave Sped This Process Up

Cedar (9:27)

When we first opened the business, I was not taking much home as far as income goes and was really relying on Megan at the time for you know, bills and cell phone, all those things, all the fun things, which was fantastic. And then as the business grew and I was able to take a little bit more home. Then we kind of got to a point where It made sense that Megan was also going to leave. She also got pregnant, and That kind of threw a wrench into things as well. So, her daughter Kate was on her way and that kind of sped up things for Megan’s leave as well

The Business Eventually Needed Both of them Full-Time to Grow

 But I was really at the point where the business paper go post wasn’t going to grow, unless we were both working on it more full time. And we are kind of at a just a coasting point where we needed to have that second person to really move forward with some of our projects and growing. Yeah, let’s say cedar stayed very involved in the operations and running it day to day and she still is more of that key person. But as your business grows, there’s more backend projects that need to be done. So me leaving universal allowed me to do some of that off odd hours. And, you know, not in the day to day, which really, I think helps propel the Virgo post into the next level.

How did you Select Inventory?

They Went to Trade Shows

Megan 18:30

Yeah, so this is probably, I wouldn’t say the most fun and it’s definitely still one of our highlights when we get to sit down and like to pick out inventory and new things to bring to the shop. So it was definitely a fun process at the beginning and got us all giddy about opening a shop. But we pretty early on because we have that time window timing just worked out great. That the national stationery show which I know is a lot of stationers dream to go to that show was coming up. So that’s like a buying show where a lot of wholesalers are all representing their own brand. So we got to go. We booked our tickets and went up there for the stationery show. So that’s really how we found a lot of our paper brands and small makers that were not local to Orlando or the Florida area. So we really got to just go. We had a little bit of a budget of what we were going to spend when we went up there and just wrote a ton of orders of things we loved. 

Got Crystal Clear on Their Brand Philosophy BEFORE Selecting Inventory

Megan (19:33)

I’ll backtrack a little bit. We did a lot of the branding stuff before we went up there and before we like at the beginning process of building the store so we knew our philosophies. So the last part is snail mail gathering in celebration of the thoughtful Arctic giving. So every time into this day, every time we make a purchase on what we put in the store. It has to relate back to one of those philosophies so if it doesn’t fit that it just Not really our type of product. So it may not be in an industry like it may be a beauty product, but it says something celebratory on it or writing related, then it’s something that we consider for the shop. So we just kind of had that in the back of our mind when we were shopping and started getting everything in. 

Do you guys have any systems and things that help you manage inventory and help you manage your numbers that you love that you’d be willing to share?

Cedar (22:07)

Yeah, I mean, we use Square for just about everything, including payroll time cards, inventory, it’s a little bit more. I think, when you really dive into the numbers, it might be a little bit more pricey than some systems that are out there. But they, as we all know, if any of you guys use it, it’s so user friendly. I mean, I do payroll from my phone, sometimes in bed in the morning, in like five minutes. And you know, things like that. And systems like that for inventory. And tracking has been really helpful and not needing to learn like a whole new processing system. Like it’s stuff that we’re all pretty familiar with. And, you know, we’ve either bought something on square using square, and it’s about the same when you’re on the business side using it as well, as far as the learning curve. So I would say that’s great. We also use dubsado.We are also huge fans. That was a game changer a few years ago. 

Stick with the Platform that Works for You

Elisabeth (25:00)

I love your mindset around that like you’re saying, we use square and we really love it, and While we might be able to find something cheaper we still stick with it because this is the platform we love using. And I just want to encourage listeners out there to think the same way about this because I think that is honestly the perfect mindset to have. Because once you find something that’s like magic and works for you and works within your margins, like why shop around for something cheaper, quote unquote, that you might not understand better if that makes sense. 

What are some of the unexpected Challenges/Changes that Came up along with COVID? 

Figuring out the Unique Orlando Market

Megan (27:49)

You know, COVID just kind of brought into light, something that we’ve realized for a while or we’re trying to figure out for a while. And one of the biggest challenges is figuring out the Orlando market. It may not be the same for you guys in different cities. But Orlando is really unique and we weren’t able to really pinpoint or we still don’t really know what it is about Orlando and why a shop like ours. I mean, yes, we’re successful, but it is not as successful as what we see across the country from lots of stores. 

Shop-Local Movement Hasn’t Caught on as Much Yet in Orlando

And friends, brick and mortar owners across the country that we communicate with and our friends with Orlando is very, very different. We haven’t figured out what’s the difference. We think it might have to do with how the new pushes to shop local and really support your own town. Most countries or cities across the country, like love their cities, you know, Charlson, like they’re all about Charleston and the row houses and things like that. But Orlando doesn’t have that and, and it’s just now starting to get that push. So I guess the good thing is we’re in it, we’re in it now is it’s starting to get pushed a little harder. But if you know, we’re years away from really having that local support that really other cities have. So that’s been a really huge challenge. Our customers love us and we’re so thankful for that. And our community, it’s been so great, but you know, the reach it feels like a one mile radius that really we get to reach Orlando is huge. And we’re like, why doesn’t everyone know about us? You know, all those things that you think about as a brick and mortar owner. So that’s been a really big challenge. And, you know, we’re still kind of figuring out about it.

Less Foot Traffic in Orlando Compared to Other Cities

I also think, unlike some other cities, we don’t have a lot of walkable districts in our Orlando so although our little area is called Ivanhoe village, it’s one of the main streets in Orlando.

Learning to Pivot Correctly 

Clarifying their Message/Tagline

Cedar 32:04

That’s idea we’ve another challenge is really just pivoting and pivoting correctly or as best as we can throughout the five years. So when we first opened like our tagline was paper events, gifts, like that was our tagline on our logo on our door. And we’ve changed that since then it just says paper and party now, I’m really taking those challenges and shifting to what Orlando needed and what was missing. As we opened to them a lot more independent gift shops opened in the relative area, we knew that we wanted to kind of step away from that tagline that was on our door. And focus a little bit more heavily on paper and party. 

Ditching Industry Specific Terms

We also, you know, have been an event industry for 15 plus years or so. And we knew what events were and events meant a lot of things, but the general public did not know that. And we know, that was a fail on our part at the beginning party people get like, they know how to party. But having an event was kind of a foreign term to them. So you know, you’re designing wedding invitations, and they’re not looking at their wedding as an event. But that’s what we’ve heard. That’s the technical term. 

So that was another challenge. And then of course, finding good people I know you guys have talked about like assistance and staffing and labor and all those things. finding good people is a huge challenge even to this day, especially because we actually don’t staff, part time people or other full time people. We just have a very on call team and our team William, that we call them. So they pick up hours when we both need to be off or something is going on. And so that very on call team William has been really hard to staff well and keep it staff with people that convey your brand and have similar passion that you have. And if you’re wondering who William is, it’s our fictitious goat in our logo.

We have a lot of aspiring wholesalers in our audience. Can you give us some insight into what you look for when selecting new vendors/product lines for inventory?

Unique Products Reign Supreme

Megan (37:23)

Yes, so we, we always look for something that’s unique. When we see we get lots of emails, lots of you know, mail, catalogs samples, like all kinds of things all the time. But when we see something unique, that doesn’t really look like another maker just kind of stands out. Like that’s really where we gravitate towards and take a double take on and really look at and see if it matches our philosophies. And if it’s something we want to bring in. 

Enjoy When Wholesalers Understand our Buying Process

And then going back to the inventory thing like we with the wholesalers, there’s lots of lines that come across our doorstep, that we may want to have like those unique ones. But we keep a running list of what kind of ones we like and we’ll go back to them like we can’t always bring them in right then. But those ones that are unique are really the ones that stay on that list for as long as we can go until we can actually put them and afford to open the door with them and bring them into the shop. So I’d say that is like one of the biggest things. 

Drawn to the Story Behind the Maker

And a little bit of like knowing the small maker behind the wholesale line is kind of key to like we’ve kind of stayed away from some of the larger like big brands, I guess like it’s kind of funny, like a big brand wholesaler, we like the small independent, like, makers, for example, like Kate Spade has awesome paper products and stationery and celebratory products. But to us like we just don’t want that name brand. Like we’re we don’t want the big logos. And you know, we’re those kind of people that we really want to keep it unique and more local feel even if some of the lines are a bigger brand per se. 

It has that feel that it feels like us and something we can have a conversation with our customer about about the line and the story behind the line and a little bit of what went into making that card or product that’s in our store. People are picking up the battie Halloween card from Cami’s line, and I always get to say that it’s a local maker that’s a local artist. And they’re so excited for that. Not only do they love the car, but now they have this even better experience that they’re supporting to small brands locally here in Orlando. So it’s really exciting for us. We have little orange stickers that are scattered throughout products in our store that indicate that there are Florida makers so we have little tools like that, that we get to communicate some of those fun tips with our customers as they shop some of those products.

Cami (40:19)

Yeah, and that just up-levels the buyer’s experience too, because people do want to find that like, cool, unique thing, not just something that you could get at like a department store, you know, like, it’s very cool that you have the independent makers and, and I agree like when I’m shopping too I prefer to buy like something that maybe no one’s ever heard of this brand yet, or they’re just like up and coming or newer. So I think that’s really cool.

Presentation Goes a Long Way 

Megan (44:30)

Also, you know even with your products on like a wholesale side, you have to be able to show your buyer, why they need the products and how it will work for them because not everyone gets it. And even our customers that come in like they just see a lot of stuff and sometimes they need the help to like pull it all together. And I think it goes the same for the wholesale side that you really want to show them how to use everything.

What is Your Advice When it Comes to Pitching to Retailers?

Research their Brand & Personalize Your Pitch

Megan (46:55)

I think there’s one thing with pitching to a retail store is we get a lot of like emails or just almost like cold calls to us. Like it’s the first time we’re hearing from someone. But really, as a wholesale line, like, take the effort to learn about who you’re sending that email to, you know, change, change, make sure the fonts in your email, like everything is all the same, not just like the name being a different font that’s like, oh, gosh, II like saying to us that you just used a template, which is fine, like we use, you know, in dubsado, you can make template emails, that’s totally fine. But add a little line in there that is personalized to the store that you’re sending it to. So those little things go a long way. And you really do get noticed for someone who actually sends an email to us.

What’s the Biggest Piece of Advice You Would Give to Someone who Wants to Open a Brick and Mortar Store?

Play off of Your Established Brand

Megan (56:00)

So I know a lot of you guys listening are designers of invitation or a product line in the stationery industry. So really, when it comes to opening a brick and mortar, unlike us, we would encourage you to kind of play off of your current brand that you already have established, you already have some type of following for and really look for products. And even if they’re not products within stationary, you know, a beauty line or a home wear line, whatever Avenue clothing that is going to compliment your brand, like really play up and make the store feel like your brand. So that it’s it tells that story and it creates that experience. And people are familiar with it already. 

And if you’re already at a point where people love you like they’re gonna keep loving your store, even if you go into a brick and mortar location, as well like we sometimes will just buy a product that’s black and white with pops of color, because that’s our brand. And it stands out to us. And you know, we’ll pull in a line like our aluminum candles and perfume rollers. They have fantastic packaging with black and white and pops of colors. So, you know, that definitely stood out to us. So really keeping that in mind as you open.

An Example with Cami’s Brand

We kind of brainstormed about Cami’s products and what that would look like if she opened a store. And if you’re familiar with the jelly cat stuffed animal line, that’s fantastic. I feel like there’s a ton of great jelly cats out there that are like those softer, watercolor you colors, but yet they’re like really quirky characters. kind of funny a little bit. And I feel like that is a great kind of product that would match perfectly with Cami’s current product line and it’s from a different category as well.

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