Our next designer is one of my favorites because whenever I need a good laugh, Sapling Press is there. Lisa’s simple cards with a bold and clever sense of humor are right up my alley – and I particularly look forward to her new offerings each year. Lisa has grown her business from a one-woman show to leading and managing a staff and working with other local businesses. I am so honored to share their story today. Here’s Lisa! –Megan
Before starting Sapling Press in 2003, I worked in Baltimore as a full-time graphic designer for a small firm. I became interested in letterpress printing and I contacted the letterpress professor at MICA and she was nice enough to give me a 4-hour personal lesson out of her home studio. I fell in love with printing and within a few months I found a studio space, bought my first press, and registered to exhibit at the National Stationery Show. I had no plan, zero product, and absolutely no idea how to run a business – I just went for it.
I dedicated as much time as I had to printing and growing my business while working my 9-5. Two years later, my husband and I moved to Pittsburgh and I made Sapling Press my full-time gig. However, shortly after moving I had 2 kiddos back to back, started a side wedding stationery business with a friend, and just took some time to reevaluate my product, plans, and goals for Sapling Press. Those years were crazy hard, but I was in it to win it. In 2010, I basically started over and re-introduced Sapling Press with the look and vibe that we’re known for today.
I’ve moved my shop three times within the last five years all within the city of Pittsburgh. Our shop is currently located in a 3-story building in the borough of Lawrenceville, close to lots of great shops and other small businesses. The first floor is dedicated to printing, production, and classes, while the middle floor is reserved for packaging, shipping, and meetings. I rent out the 3rd floor to my husband who has his own design firm.
While we don’t sell any products out of the space, we have a retail store front where our presses sit front and center. Having people stop and stare and seeing kid’s faces pressed against the window definitely took some time to get used to, but we love watching people watch us and the presses in action.
Everything we do is letterpress printed in house. While there are a ton of great letterpress stationery companies out there, I think our minimal design and copywriting sets us apart from some of the others. Smart words on a page – that’s our thing. Humor has also been known to be our calling card. 99% of our products have no real sentiment or intention other than to make someone laugh. A few years ago, I started reaching out to folks in the hopes of collaborating on some cards. The collaborations have lead to great friendships, lasting partnerships, and have resulted in some of our best selling cards. Working with others is something that we’ll always do.
I hired my first full-time employee almost four years ago. There are now seven of us here, and everyone has their own role in the business. The shop employs 3 printers, 2 packagers, and a project coordinator who runs everything else behind the scenes. We meet every Monday to go over the week in regards to deadlines, meetings, custom orders, etc…and then we each go our separate ways and do our thing throughout the week.
As the business has grown, I’ve found myself sitting more behind the desk than behind the press, which has been my biggest adjustment within the business. These days I play the role of creative director, head of product development, social media maven, and all the other non-glamorous jobs that come along with owning a business. When I’m not here at the shop, I’m busy being a mom and shopkeeper at Sapling & Sons, a separate retail shop I opened almost one year ago. I like to stay busy.
I struggle with time management more than anything else. Because I’m a night owl, I sometimes count all 24 hours in the day as possible working hours. I’m a lot better than I used to be, but I still enjoy an all nighter every once in a while. The majority of my ideas, designs, and scheming are all done after midnight. My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. I love watching sketch comedies. I like pop culture. The wordsmiths of ’90s hip hop. I love people watching. When something gives me pause, or I find myself laughing at something, I make a note of it on my phone. Why did I laugh, what memory did that spark, who did that make me think of, and so on. That rabbit hole usually leads me to a new idea which is always just one card.
Because I design in complete collections instead of individual SKUs, I think about how we could expand on that one card. In the end, the result is usually about 8-12 cards within that collection. As time goes on, I’ve realized we seem to have a bit of a formula. A caffeine reference, a grammar reference, a pop culture reference, and so on. I write what I can, keep what I think is good, and then reach out to my collaborators to see what they can add.
Once I go through their ideas, I filter them down a bit, and then share them with the team. The ideas are printed out, and everyone is asked to read them on their own and simply make a note as soon as one makes you laugh out loud. Those are always our winners. Designing this way has us expanding our line by about 40-50 new cards a year, keeps us current, and continues to help the business grow in every direction possible. Our next endeavor is a brand new website, product lines that go beyond stationery, and a collaboration between some of our favorite local designers on a new line of Sapling Press wedding stationery. Gotta love the hustle!
Photos by Matt Dayak
Interested in participating in this column? Reach out to Megan at megan(at)ohsobeautifulpaper.com for more details about Behind the Stationery.