8 years, 10 months ago
I am bootstrapping a Letterpress Business, or, at least, have been trying to for seven years now. What I have going for me is that I have a fully complimented Letterpress shop, and I have a Letterpress background going back to the late 1960s. I live in an area that is not letterpress Saturated. We have a very large, very well known Letterpress operation (that I helped to set up) about 40 miles south, and another one (that I also both trained, and helped to set up) about 30 miles to the south. I am in Central Florida.
However, I am a printer and an artist. Not a marketer, not a hipster, not a Bookarts Graduate or Graphic Arts grad with a list of connections. Neither do we have a deep cash source. I am, instead, attempting to get this operation off the ground in what time I have, in that I have a career day job. I have a web site for my studio/shop, a blog, strong connections with the Tampa Bay Book Arts Studio (TBAS / University of Tampa), I run the Florida Letterpress Group with one Wayzgoose under our belt, and, in fact, I have done some business. But . . .
I have put tons of money into Wedding venues, ads, shows, and I am active on FB, Instagram, Twitter . . . the non-printing on-line marketing has been distracting to the extreme, and seems almost to take precedence over printing, but then, I am not doing a lot of that. I feel like I am spinning my wheels.
The two Letterpress operations which I mentioned above are understandably very uncomfortable when I chance to visit them, they see me as a potential detriment, or competition I might guess. After all, I was part of their start-up. I would like to know some of the things these folks did that contributed to their success, but I can tell when the conversation becomes more and more stilted, that I don’t need to go there with them. It’s fine for me to keep their machines going, but after that the walls go up. A little hurtful, but then, I get it.
We are a pay-as-we- go operation, with no deep pockets to tap. We would love to move from our current operating situation to a dedicated space. Right now, my C&P is at my home studio, as is my type, imposition stone and composition tools. My guillotine cutter, Kluge, and book stitcher is in a small rental unit about 3 miles away, so we have to shuttle back and forth between the two places a lot. Inconvenient, but it works. And we can afford the rent.
So, with only about one to two days a week to dedicate to my Letterpress Business, and a need to increase our client base so we can grow, and no real way to access a cash infusion, are there any suggestions on good ways to get our name out there apart from what we are already doing? (Etsy, Website, Blog, FB, Instagram & Twitter?)
I am probably asking a lot, I am old enough to know there are no simple fix-it answers. So I guess I am fishing for ideas, not being a real business savvy sort. I cannot throw another 500 bucks into another wedding venue or years worth of local shows, adds, servers, web services with no ROI. (return on investment).
Thanks for your indulgence.
kelly mcmahonParticipant@kellymcmahon8 years, 10 months ago
I too am running a small letterpress shop in a not-so-saturated area…and I’ve had much better luck focusing my efforts on LOCAL business, local craft fairs, etc. The bulk of my custom work is filtered though local graphic designers, who are more than happy to have “bespoke” wholesale printer. And I’ve built a wholesale/retail line, which I have sold at the national level (at trade shows), but also sell at local craft fairs–not wedding venues–where I’ve met local shop owners and am now carried in stores here, too.
That said, it is absolutely essential to have an online presence (with a portfolio, or at least recent samples, maybe a wholesale catalog if you do greetings cards), but I find it an exercise in futility to compete with the massive online saturation of a few large letterpress companies and the smaller, more “hip” boutique printshops.
Best of luck to you,
Kelly8 years, 10 months ago
Thanks for the response, Kelly! I had wondered as to whether I should appeal locally or not. I have noted that when I do meet folks, at shows or shops, I spend half my time describing what Letterpress even is. This includes our local University here in DeLand, FL!! It seems that before I even show what I do, I have to first teach a short-course about what letterpress is, and why they need it. I guess that’s called “client development”. I may look into having a DVD made of my process, and bring it along to my next local show! Maybe even hold an open house . . . that is, when we can unite the Bindary/ Stitchery and the Press/ design center under one ‘visitable’ roof!
I guess I set my target away from the locals based upon my observation of the other two local, apparently very successful shops down in the Orlando/ Winter Park area. I live about 30 miles north of Orlando, in the DeLand area. The largest Letterpress close to me is probably the largest in the country, and does half Letterpress, half seriography / silk screening. They are in Orlando. The owner(s) have told me they never once approached the local community, they built their presence on line, almost entirely..
The other is in Winter Park, and seems to do mostly wholesale greeting cards, pads and notebooks. They go to the Manhattan show. Again, while they do the local Winter Park scene socially, they seem to focus on a national market. Or so it seems.
This to say, it’s influenced me not really look locally. But that may be the problem, I have not really focused in my own back yard, just thinking that my back yard does not seem to fit my client profile. But that is an assumption on my part, so your advice is well noted, and taken ! (my wife will also say “told ya so! ” 🙂
One area of endeavor that has been disappointing over the past seven years, which I had surely thought would have been better is Wedding Announcements. I am starting to think that custom consigned work just isn’t what we are cut out for. We do have an Etsy shop with cards, though not extensive.
Our web site is http://www.paperwrenpress.com, it has a fair assortment of what we do, and links to our Etsy, just to give an idea. It also links to our blog.
Well, we are a little discouraged, but hopeful. It’s been seven years now, I think we are still in the process of discovering who we are in this industry. Custom Printer? Greeting Card Designer/ Printers? Publisher? ( I would love to get into fine book printing and binding, but I think that is something to do once we “get well off the ground”.)
Thanks again for the response, Kelly, and I will take your advice starting Jan. 1, 2015, and re-level our artillery to just outside our own doors!
-gary // paper wren press.
Jessica C. WhiteParticipant@jessicacwhite8 years, 10 months ago
I’m in a similar boat, having run a letterpress business of sorts for the last 5 years, after finishing grad school in 2009. I feel like this is the first year that I’ve done comfortably (financially) well, and things are finally starting to look up. I did it by saying ‘yes’ to EVERYTHING when I first started: craft fairs, custom printing, design work, teaching and workshops, even custom book binding and papermaking, and the list goes on. Over the past few years, it’s been a process of elimination to decide what works for me and what doesn’t, and even though I still stay crazy busy, I don’t feel like I’m spinning my wheels quite as much – I just stopped doing the things that aren’t working, or that I just don’t enjoy.
I agree with Kelly, that the local business has become my main focus, mainly craft fairs, shops, and galleries (local meaning Asheville area, plus about a 5 hour driving distance all around). Think about what you do that sets you apart from other nearby printers, or what you can do differently to make your work stand out, and make that your focus. There are many other printers in this area that are better than I am at design and custom work, so I don’t do that anymore, but I’ve discovered that people really respond to my artwork, so I try to keep prints framed and hanging up around town as much as possible. This, along with a couple of teaching gigs, keeps the bills paid.
It’s absolutely important to take the time to explain what letterpress is to people – the more they understand, the more appreciation they have for the work that we do. Be glad that they’re even interested; when I had a studio in a public location, I was usually asked for suggestions for the best place to go for lunch! Maybe you could even offer workshops, or a short course at the local university – it doesn’t hurt to ask!
I hope this helps, and hang in there!
Jessica8 years, 10 months ago
Thank you, Jessica. You and Kelly have both confirmed what I have been thinking.
I am laying a different set of plans out for the next year, which will major more locally, and more in terms of education. What you both have pointed to does connect! Heh, here is where I wish I had everything under one roof where I could have open house events. But that day is coming.
I’ll pop in from time to time to post how things go.
Hey, from the deep south: Y’all have a great Thanksgiving, ya heah?
-gary // paper wren press.
kelly mcmahonParticipant@kellymcmahon8 years, 10 months ago
It sounds like you have all the makings in place to be a small, custom shop that focuses on your strengths–LETTERPRESS FOR THE PEOPLE!
I loved your sneak peeks on instagram, of the young couple printing part of their invitations–that is one thing that you can certainly do differently than the other local printers.
My local strategy was this: I printed a bookmark size flyer, about 500 of ’em, that said (elegantly and enigmatically) “What is Letterpress?” with my website and a lovely collection of sorts. I tacked flyers on all the bulletin boards I could find in my town and the surrounding towns. And every few months, going back and pasting more until I was all out. And eight years later, I still get emails from folks saying they took my flyer and are now getting married (or starting a business and need cards, or want to stop by and check out what I do). It was simple, cheap, and had a great return on investment.
Like Jessica says, you have to keeping talking about letterpress–show folks how passionate you are, and the work will follow.
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