When I attended a local event last year, I started chatting with someone I just met and she asked how I started Quirky Paper Co. As I went on to tell the story, my friend who was also listening commented, “Oh, I didn’t even know that.”
And then I realized, perhaps no one really knew the whole story behind how my business was started.
As I approach one year of working on Quirky Paper Co. full-time (more on that later), I thought it would be fun to look back at how this business really got started, and how I got to where I am today. And for that, we have to go back…way back…
Growing up, I was naturally drawn to working with my hands and creating. I loved to colour, make beaded necklaces, construct Lego buildings, and get my hands on every crafty project out there.
My mom is the master of staying in touch. We moved to Canada around 2000 and I observed as she continued to stay in touch with friends and family. She would write Christmas cards and send an annual update to everyone. During the holidays, our countertop would be filled with cards she had received from her friends around the world. She was always really thoughtful and would remember to send birthday cards and acknowledge others with a thank you note.
And so, growing up, I started making cards to give out to friends and family. My parents actually kept all the cards I gave them over the years. Looking back on them now, I realize how much it’s a part of my identity, and how natural it is for me to make and give cards.
In high school, I pretty much spent most of my money hoarding crafting supplies, and one summer, I decided to make a handcrafted line of cards. I was pretty into scrapbooking at that time, so the cards had lots of stamps, paper layers and cutouts, and embellishments. My aunt worked at a post office and offered to let me display my cards there. The very first day they were displayed, she gave us a call to let us know that one card had sold! It was so exciting. This was the first time in my life that a REAL person paid REAL money for my work! It really was such a great feeling.
THE FIRST CHAPTER
After high school, I knew I wanted to pursue art & design, so I headed off to attend Emily Carr University. At this time, I was no longer making my handcrafted cards, but I started developing my design skills through my school projects and internships and volunteer positions. When I graduated, I travelled for a bit and then was lucky to find a full-time graphic design gig. It was a remote position, and so I spent most of my days in PJ’s, sipping tea, and working on fun projects. At this time, I realized that I had free time in the evenings and on the weekends - what did I want to do?
I had always wanted to participate in a craft sale, and realized I still had many supplies (like envelopes and clear sleeves) from the days of handcrafting cards, so I decided to sign up for an event about a month away, even though I hadn’t made anything yet. When I called to book my spot, the organizer asked, “What's your business name?” And then I realized...I didn’t even have a business name yet! “Uh…um…Cheryl Loh Designs?” Awkward.
Since the event was coming up quickly, I got busy making. As I worked into the evening creating new greeting cards, I realized that it gave me a huge burst of energy and excitement - it was so fun and rewarding to create! I am always chasing this feeling - it’s the reason I had decided to pursue a creative path in the first place.
I wish I could tell you that my first craft sale was incredibly successful and my life was perfect after.
That first craft sale in November 2013 was a major flop. When I got there, I realized that I had absolutely no idea how to talk about my work and talk to customers. I was so shy that I could barely squeak out “hi” as they stopped by. In addition, my table was tucked away in the back in an awkward corner. By the end of the day, I had made only 4 sales - 2 of which were to friends who stopped by, one sale was to a sweet couple, and the last was to a guy who stopped by as I was packing up. He bought 6 holiday cards, which helped to cheer me up after that disappointing day.
Once I recovered from that sale, I realized that there were lots of things I could’ve done better and I was determined to keep moving forward. I set my sights on starting up my Etsy shop (another thing I’d always wanted to do), and on attending a different, larger craft sale that I felt was more geared towards the audience I was looking for. I worked on honing in on the type of cards I wanted to create, and realized that I wanted to bring my own cheeky humor to my work. I came up with lots of new ideas and excitedly started working on new designs.
My Etsy store launched in January of 2014, and a few months after, I received my first wholesale order request. Amazing! Except…I had no sales materials - I didn't have a catalogue, price sheet or wholesale policies in place. I honestly didn't know much about selling wholesale at that point. I scrambled over the weekend doing research, looking at examples, and preparing a catalogue, my wholesale policies and pricing. The theme of not knowing how to do something, and then learning how to do it on the fly is pretty common when it comes to running a business. Sometimes you just can’t prepare for every opportunity that’s presented to you. You may not always feel ready, but you just try to be resourceful and learn how to best approach it, and know that it doesn't have to be perfect and can always be improved.
Now that I was more familiar with selling my work wholesale, I started reaching out to potential retail partners, and continued to attend local craft fairs. It was a great chance for me to meet more of the creative community, get experience selling my work, and gain feedback from customers.
In the spring of 2015, I got engaged! Which meant that most of my free time was spent planning the upcoming wedding. With my full-time design job and wedding planning, I found that I barely had any energy left to grow the business. Unfortunately, it had to be put on pause as I went through the big life changes in 2016 of getting married and also buying our first property.
In 2017, I had hit a point where I realized that I was pretty burnt out. I realized that we all have limited time in our day, and I could not keep adding more and more work on to my plate - something would have to give. For me, personally, I wanted to place a bigger priority on my health and well-being, and so I decided to let something go, in order to make room for something new.
With the support and encouragement of my husband, friends, and family, I decided to leave my full-time graphic design position and transition to working on a freelance basis, giving me the time and space to really focus on growing my business, while still having different streams of income.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
The very first day of me working on my business full-time was July 3, 2017. Woohoo! My days are very different now, but, yes, I’m still usually in my PJ's sipping tea. Okay, I do try to wear "real" clothes once in a while.
Since then, I’ve been hard at work creating new designs, refining the direction for Quirky Paper Co., focusing on selling wholesale and establishing partnerships with sales reps. It’s been a lot of work, it’s been challenging, and it’s also been a lot of fun.
Some highlights from the past year include:
- Creating new products and designs for three releases, in August 2017, January 2018, and May 2018, growing the line to include 100+ greeting card designs
- Getting a chance to connect and learn from the best in the business at Paper Camp
- Growing my wholesale accounts from 20 stores to 80+ stores spanning across North America, and getting the chance to work with some truly amazing store owners
- Launching an online wholesale shop to help make the ordering process easier for my retail partners (I thought this would be a huge undertaking, and it was! But I also enjoyed the process and though it was a big investment of time, it has made my workflow way more streamlined)
- Establishing partnerships with 8 awesome sales reps, covering me in 16 states in the USA
- Joining a mastermind group with fellow creatives and paper pals, where we meet online monthly to help support each other as we grow our businesses
- Working on fun collaborative projects with local businesses (to be announced soon!)
So, what’s next for me?
I still have a lot more growing to do, and I hope to continue to improve upon many of the things I’ve learned over the past year, and to continue to explore new possibilities and growth for my business. And as always, I want to continue to create things that bring a little more joy and inspire connection in everyday life.
The end of my first full year is a great time for reflection, and I’ll be exploring the key things I learned over the past year in my next blog post, stay tuned!