Hello Brick & Mortar: Bumps, Births and Unexpected Changes

I just moved my brick & mortar shop. It happened under the most ideal circumstances: a slow time of year, generous offers of help, and I moved next door with an interior door that opened to the new space. We didn’t even have to walk outside.  Everything went off without a hitch. Still, it was completely overwhelming. ~ Emily of Clementine

Hello Brick + Mortar: Tips for Stationery Entrepreneurs by Clementine via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

Do you remember working for someone else and carefully squirreling away sick and vacation time and then cashing it in? Me too. It’s the one thing I really miss about working for someone else. Working for yourself means that whether planned or unplanned, time off can cause a panoply of anxieties and imagined disasters. Oh, and it’s not paid. But with some planning and kindness I’m certain we can make a few molehills out of mountains.

1. Expect (and plan for) the expected. Birth and sickness; marriage and divorce; home or studio moves; business expansion or re-organization. Whether joyful or sorrowful, planned or unplanned, there are a host of life events that will happen and they will put your business on the back burner. The best plan, of course, is to have a plan that works for you.

Hello Brick + Mortar: Tips for Stationery Entrepreneurs by Clementine via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Iron Curtain Press print via my instagram

  • Monies. Financially, it’s great to have 3+ months of expenses in savings.  I know, I know, but it’s good to have a goal. If you’re bad at saving monthly, set up a savings account that you don’t touch, but make deposits into when times are a bit more flush.
  • Make a plan and tell people. If you’re getting married or planning for the National Stationery Show, you have time to talk to your staff, family, and friends about how they can help and support you. But it’s also good to have at least a rough outline of what you might do if something more emergent comes up. Never underestimate the love you’ll feel when others jump in when you have to bow out.
  • Always assume you won’t have time tomorrow. Each morning on my drive to work, I make extravagant plans for what I’m going to do that day. Yet by 4 o’clock each day I’m checking off one thing I planned to get done and 18 things I didn’t know would come up. The lesson, of course is: Stock up when you have time. Print cards, update your website, make sure your bills are orderly. If you have that all squared away, please write a post on how you did it. I shutter at the thought of someone having to jump in to pay my business bills or manage the store in my absence, but knowing it’s a possibility makes me far more organized than I would be.
  • Live your life. My biggest challenge, owning a small business, is establishing the line where work ends and life begins. I don’t have it figured out. I may never figure it out.  I love what I do and it contributes to so much personal happiness. Yet the attention I give to work, impacts my family, my health and my freedom. I try to shy away from judging my own actions as right or wrong and focus instead on making choices that feel like mine and standing behind them. Take time off to care for your family, hire help when it’s overwhelming, dissolve and leave unhealthy partnerships, and take that leap when it thrills you.Hello Brick + Mortar: Tips for Stationery Entrepreneurs by Clementine via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Anise Press, Live Your Life Print

What should you communicate to your retailers during times of personal change? You only need to communicate if your personal/business changes will cause delays. If there’s something happening in the future that you can plan for (a wedding, a baby, a website overhaul), it’s great to send a quick note (mass email is ok) alerting us to your absence and letting us know who (if anyone) will be filling in for you. You don’t need to over-share and I don’t recommend it, but you are human. I adore you because you’re human and, especially if something joyful has happened, it’s exciting to hear snippets of how your life changes shape your business.

2. Give support when you don’t need it. Whether it’s heavy lifting, social media cheerleading, a meal, or just the offer to listen, being a genuine source of support for those you appreciate is the best way to build your own safety net. You could also send a card, if you have one lying around. 

Hello Brick + Mortar: Tips for Stationery Entrepreneurs by Clementine via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Odd Daughter, Sometimes Life Demands Ice Cream

What does this mean for your relationship with retailers? We’re in this together. If you’re aware of things we’re going through, a kind note of any type is always (always) appreciated. You better believe I delighted in every card and note I received from you all during my move. Thank you, thank you. And then Belle & Union sent me a whoopie pie, so she won that day.

Hello Brick + Mortar: Tips for Stationery Entrepreneurs by Clementine via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Belle & Union, Whoopie (in letterpress and confection via my instagram).

3. Gather your troops. The support you need will be different depending on the circumstances. But regardless of the situation, always be aware of whether and how you communicate what you’re going through. I think it’s helpful to surround yourself with at least three types of people (all of these traits may be found in one person, but it doesn’t hurt to diversify).

  • Cheerleaders: For whatever reason, in whatever way, these people make you feel better. As soon as you feel better, thank them, thank them, thank them.
  • Confidants: You can cry and swear and complain in front of these people. You can over share and feel ok tomorrow. Thank them, when you’re done crying.
  • Heavy lifters: These are the people who show up to help you pick your kid up from school or to schlep your ridiculous store 30 feet to the north. Thank them with something tangible (also, with words) and return the favor.

Hello Brick + Mortar: Tips for Stationery Entrepreneurs by Clementine via Oh So Beautiful Paper

My view from the new Clementine, a view sweeter because of the people who helped me make it happen.

4. Double your estimates. Remember the important rule we’ve all learned from reality-tv renovation shows: double your estimates for how long it will take and how much it will cost. When I moved the shop, my initial plan was to close for 3 days. Kindly, no one laughed when I told them this, but after the first day of moving (when 15 amazing women literally picked my shop up and moved it next door) I’d revised that estimate myself, pushing my re-opening back a week. As a brick + mortar shop owner, closing for a day is hard, a week is excruciating. But I quickly realized that giving myself a week was worth it for important things, like my sanity. And staying married.

What should you communicate to retailers when your timeline is pushed back? Nothing, unless we’ve agreed on a deadline that will pass, or we’re waiting for something. Then, the truth. Just send a quick note with a revised timeline. Don’t over-share the reasons. Offer something (free shipping, extra product) if it’s a real inconvenience, but chances are, we can wait another week.

5. Hire someone. They say that when you start feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. The same is true for hiring staff, the moment you realize you need help, you probably should have done it months ago. My staff is very small, but absolutely invaluable.

6. You notice your absence more than anyone else. That list of things you have to do tomorrow is in your head. Your goal of getting your catalogs done this week, is your goal. Your feeling that you’re behind on your National Stationery Show mailers is your feeling. I’m not suggesting that sometimes you do make mistakes that impact your business or your retailers, but we probably don’t notice as much as you do. That said, get it done. You’ll sleep better tonight. And as always, I can’t wait to see it. Also:

Hello Brick + Mortar: Tips for Stationery Entrepreneurs by Clementine via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Card by Emily McDowell, which I plan to buy in bulk at NSS

6. Share your best practices. If you’ve  been through a big life or work change, what were your fears? What good or bad advice did you get and what got you through? (That’s a for-real question, answer below!)

  1. I think work/life balance is my biggest struggle. I recently described owning a business to someone contemplating it as “a baby that never grows up” it needs you every day, wakes you up a night, sometimes throws tantrums and breaks you down some days to the point of crying. [This being said – I’ve never been a parent but I’m going off friends and observations]. It doesn’t exactly hug you back but it does pay you on occasion for your hard work.

      • Ha! Agreed with both of you! I often joke that Julian (my toddler) and Clementine, my 3.5 year old shop are Irish Twins. Neither care when I’m sick or sad or tired, but both give great rewards – though nothing compares to a toddler hug.

  2. As a freelance writer I know all too well what you mean about trying to figure things out for yourself and feeling overwhelmed. I’m a one-woman team, but if I fall ill or a wave takes me under, that means no pay. Just a couple weeks after launching my card company in 2012, I was totally taken for an awful ride with my health. Plans of debuting at NSS 2014 were scrapped because money had to be allocated elsewhere. On top of that, my income was slashed in half right when expenses went up. It really was a hard lesson learned on having a safety stash tucked away, knowing what sacrifices you need to make, turning to others for support, and when to let go of my ego. It was scary, but I managed to push through with laughter and tears and the refusal to let my story end there.

    • Dorkys – I appreciate your story so much and think it so helpful for us all to share the harder/uglier parts of our journeys as small business owners. I always call on my memories of hearing what others went through (and got through) when I’m feeling really stuck. Money is often the hardest part – if we didn’t need it, we’d leap so much more freely, and I try to remember how much freer I feel with savings as a motivator to save, but it’s true, a few sick days or slow sales can push us down no matter how prepared we tried to be. Your line is so sweet and I’m excited to watch where you go, especially with your determination! xoxo, Emily

  3. Ack! Yes! I’ve just moved across the country, from Vancouver to Toronto. So to not only pick up my life, but to pick up my business as well was overwhelming. But you know what? It was EXCITING. Change is good. Transition is good. Some bumps in the road make for a good story, so I just rolled with the punches. Not to say it doesn’t feel good to be settled now, but I was grateful for the challenge of re-establishing myself somewhere new and all the change that comes with that. I’ll be doing that for months, so the journey continues! As for good advice? You know what helped most? When people just said, “You’re doing really good for just getting here!” or “Sounds like you’re off to a great start!” because I so often forget the accomplishments and the hurdles I clear as soon as i’m past them, but it often takes fresh and new eyes to see those same things and remember they’re a big deal. THANK YOU for this post, Emily. For all the Brick & Mortar posts. My eyes are dried out and blinking from reading every single one of them tonight, making notes, cutting and pasting, and gleaning all I can from them. I truly appreciate your generosity with what you’re sharing, it’s really beautiful and HELPFUL to read. Xo.

    • I love your approach to all of this Dani! I remember the uncertainty of transition, but as someone who is now VERY settled in a town and life and a business, I love the glimpse of newness and fresh perspective you bring. Thank you for all of your comments, and best of luck with your line!

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