Stationery Academy 2013
I'm going to preface this post by saying: I hate August. It's not just the heat and humidity that simmers my loathing - the month boils me up into full-on panic mode. Why? Well, by August all my fall weddings are done and inquiries for spring weddings don't start up until late September. So I spend most of August either stressing out that no one will ever, ever (ever!) hire me again or stressing out on last minute orders for programs and escort cards. Most of the time, it's a combination of both.
Yeah. I hate August. I even try to plan ahead - last year I told myself I'd take the whole month off and go somewhere else. I wouldn't even look at my email. Or analytics. Or shop stats. Nothing. But what did I do? Well, I'm certainly not writing this email from a villa on St. John like I planned.
So when I found out that Stationery Academy 2013 would land in August this year, I signed up early-bird style without hesitation. Ok, maybe one hesitation: it was in Dallas. If I can't stand the summer heat in Massachusetts, Dallas will darn near kill me. But air conditioning is a glorious thing, so I knew I could hack it.
First - what is Stationery Academy? Well, it's a small conference for people who are thinking of jumping into the stationery business, or who are already in the biz and are looking to grow. I'm at a crossroads with Wicked Bride right now - do I expand, or do I keep chugging along, doing what I'm doing? Stationery Academy was the perfect place for me to figure that out.
But I was nervous about going. I'm not a people person by any stretch of the imagination - and I wouldn't know a single soul there. I resigned myself to the fact that it would mean three days of hideous awkwardness, pulled my big girl panties on, and hopped on a plane to Dallas incredibly early Thursday morning.
The first event was a cocktail party that evening. Since I work out of our house and typically in pajamas, I took the opportunity to wear some sparkles. Because let's face it, the cat's just don't appreciate a cute outfit. At the cocktail event, we all introduced ourselves and started in on some exercises about our fears and motivations. We also got some sweet swag. I was so shocked by all the gifts, I forgot to snap pics.
The next day, we headed over to the conference room where the swag train continued:
We were given a beautiful branded binder to hold all of our worksheets from the night before, a notepad from Jonathan Adler, a stone coaster, and a mini bag stuffed with all of the business cards of the attendees.
On day one, our fearless academy leaders Natalie Chang and Whitney English spoke about their road to the stationery business. Their stories were both impressive and illuminating.
The super talented Jamie Burns was on hand to document the day. I try my best to dodge lenses, but she did catch me in a sideview (that's me in blue).
Then we were surprised by monogram phone cases! How sweet!
There was also a lot of shop talk and I when I called Mike that night from my hotel room I was feeling pretty good about things because everything we covered I had already been doing. And not only that, I had figured it out all by myself (through a lot of trial and error with other businesses and a whole lot of free business courses online).
That night, we also went out to dinner at a local place called Desperado's, and the place settings were just adorable:
The amazing hand lettering is done by Natalie - and the tags were even tied with bandana ribbon. Crazy cute. Hand lettering fascinates me - mostly because I can't do it. My writing looks like a note a serial killer would leave behind. Or a doctor. Maybe I should've been a doctor...
Anyways - at the end of day one, I was feeling pretty positive. I was also seriously considering going the wholesale route and toyed around with the idea of attending the National Stationery Show and getting my album into stores.
Little did I know by the same time the next day my world would be completely upended.
But let's start with the day two swag:
On this day, we got a monogrammed mouse pad and luggage tag, some mini note flags and a poppin pen! I love how everything was branded in the Stationery Academy colors and patterns.
Which brings me to what day two was all about: your branding and signature style. Gah. I knew this day would be tough for me. I've struggled for years with my own personal style because I'm very eclectic. I can be in leggings, a denim top and riding boots one day and then decked out head to toe in a kate spade dress and heels the next.
On day two we had speakers Rachel Shingleton, Emily McCarthy and Jennifer Faught detail product photography (insanely helpful - the second the plane landed in Boston I ordered a new 50mm lens for my Canon Rebel), signature style, and pitching sales. Then we broke off into small groups to have one-on-one time with all of the speakers.
Here's where things fell apart for me. During our discussion with Emily McCarthy (my design hero, BTW), I recounted how I've been struggling with signature style. She said, "You do custom weddings, right? Vintage style?" I made a face like I just stepped in dog poo and replied, "I hate vintage. Why do people always come to me for vintage?"
That was a really good question. Something I should've asked myself a lot sooner. When I got back to my room I busted out my ipad and took a look at my collection. It was if I had been looking at my stuff for the first time. And damn. It totally reads vintage. The floor dropped from under me.
During the discussions, previous attendees of the Academy mentioned how one girl realized during the signature style sessions that she wasn't doing anything to reflect her own personal style. She closed up shop, redesigned everything, and came back bigger and better than ever.
I can't do that. I wish I could, but I can't. Whether I like my stuff or not, there's a segment of the population that does. Because they buy it. And send me beautiful notes that they love it. And they are who I'm designing for. Not me. Although, my closet full of eclectic clothing is probably well represented in the collection.
But the point of Stationery Academy is to begin to live authentically - to figure out who you are and to put that out into the world, because if you love what you do, other people will too. What I realized is that I need to get my other business, Sibling, off the ground. Because that is where I'm going to find my signature style. I'll be designing things I like that I hope other people like. And I don't have a ton of pressure on me to get anything right. If people like it, awesome - if they don't? No big deal - but everyone will be getting designer pillow covers for Christmas. And as I learn what my style is, and really hash that out, I can translate all of those lessons into new designs for Wicked Bride, one at a time.
At the graduation dinner that night, I told Emily my plan and even showed her photos of my recently renovated press room which basically, is my style exploded onto the walls and artwork. I promise, I'll take photos soon (with my new lens!) so you all can see how far we've come. But the room has a distinct style and the style is distinctly me. Emily was encouraging, and made a fantastic point about how difficult it is to translate your own style into custom wedding design because you're designing with someone else in mind. But we both agreed that I need to get Sibling going because it will keep me creative for my own needs, not anyone else's. In turn, that will only benefit my brides down the line.
The graduation dinner was bittersweet, and of course, filled with more swag:
This time we got a monogram journal and a sparkly heart from ban.do (Which you can see in the sparkly facebook photo I referenced earlier - yes, I broke out the sparkly top again. It's not like I can wear it to the grocery store. Well, I could...)
Really, this isn't even all of the goodies we received - I was just lousy at snapping pics of everything. The gifts were amazing and generous and the Stationery Academy t-shirt we got on the first night is already my favorite piece of sleepwear.
But after three days in Dallas, I was really ready to come home. I missed Mike. I missed our bed. I missed food that didn't kill my stomach (even though I totally ate it anyways!). Overall, I can't say enough good things about the conference and I highly, HIGHLY encourage anyone who is thinking of striking out in the stationery business to attend. Even if you've been in business for several years and don't know what your next step should be - GO! There was a lot of things discussed that I'm already doing, but so much brought up in general discussions that I hadn't even THOUGHT of. And the National Stationery Show? Well, I'm planning to attend next year to walk the floor. But wholesale? Knowing what I know now that will have to wait. Maybe even indefinitely.
Most of all, I want to thank the incredible hosts, speakers and attendees - it was wonderful to meet you all and I hope we all stay in touch!
Hosts: Whitney English & Natalie Chang
Speakers: Rachel Shingleton, Emily McCarthy & Jennifer Faught
And a shout out to my fellow attendees! Lori Christiensen, Meredith Collie, Stephanie Creekmur, Rita Goodrich, Kari Hodgen, Tonya Kauffman, Nakia Kelly, Darby Lindsey, Laurie Louis, Kandice Matsler, Amy Nelson, Josie Parsley, Christie Pinney, Penny Sampler, Caitlin Stover, and Emily Welch. You're all amazing and talented, and I can't wait to see your businesses grow and flourish!