What a strange and wonderful experiment this has been! The question: can two sets of sisters who know nothing about retail (other than how to shop) create a successful business?
After nine years of lab work called Scrapbook Generation, I'm happy to report that the answer is a resounding "yes!"
An elementary teacher, a semi-retired school administrator, a graphic designer, and a college student somehow managed to find a new direction in 2004 -- together -- and have never looked back.
In the beginning, all we had to do was order stuff and work in the store. Easy! A little later, we added a few classes and a few crops. However, as time went on and the economy took a turn for the worse, by 2006 that wasn't enough anymore. We added more classes, weekend retreats, literally anything we could think of that would help keep the doors open. It wasn't easy. I worried every single day about money and about what would happen if we failed. I had chart after chart of what we needed to make each day in order to survive. It was a depressing time. One month, April of 2006, we only made $2,000 more than our fixed expenses. I'll never forget that month!
We worked really hard to get people in the store. A series of free classes on products and techniques on Saturdays helped, and soon, we added a free sketch class. The classes were popular, and at some point, one of our customers suggested we bind the sketches into a book and sell them. It seemed like a great idea!
About that same time, we started creating monthly kits. If I were to single out one thing as saving us from going the path of many other local scrapbook stores, I would definitely choose kits. The kits jumped in popularity, and with that regular income generated every month, we began to pull out of the dark days.
Another thing that gave us an edge was the talent of Allison Davis. I so wish I could show you her first layout -- made for a display in the store -- composed pretty much of a couple of strips of paper and a photo! But as she made more and more pages, she began to develop her style. Before we knew it, she had been chosen for the Creating Keepsakes Hall of Fame, and later, for their Dream Team. We loved getting the latest issue of CK and seeing the layouts she created and the articles she wrote!
Along with the faithfulness and support of our local customers, who long ago moved into the friend category, travelers have also been important to us. We credit them as the reason our sketch books and kits reached beyond Springfield, MO and became so popular both here in the United States and internationally. We can't tell you how many times we've been told that "I saw someone using one of your sketch books (or making one of your page kits) at a retreat and now I want to buy them myself." It has been phenomenal. And then there was the explosion of the Super Sketch Club -- all I can say is "wow." This club has transformed our business in ways we never thought possible.
The last few years have been a blur of retreats and special events and sketch books and kits. Incredibly, three years ago we were able to move into the bigger building next door. And just this summer, we were able to expand once again -- back into our former building, turning it into a warehouse for an online store. In just a few months, we'll be publishing our own magazine. April of 2006 is a distant memory, no longer painful, but instead a remembrance of what we overcame to get to this point.
As I look back, I can think of more than a time or two when the four of us disagreed on something. But I'm so very proud of my sister Karin and my daughters Stacey and Allison and the shared experience of working hard toward common goals; creating something -- both successful and rewarding -- from nothing. We have a distinct division of labor based on the skills and talents each possesses, and we use those skills on a daily basis to work together for the good of all. These have been the best nine years of my life. I can't wait to see what's next!
-- Debbie Sanders