Workin’ it: building your stationery biz

awesomesauce copyAside from being the Creative Director for SHQ, I’m a stationery designer just like you. I got started way back with online custom stationery when we launched with and now our brand – Simon+Kabuki – is carried by Design Design, Target Stores, Leanin’ Tree and others. So when I was forwarded an email by one of our awesome reps with a link to a good blog article about ways to get around purchasing the full Adobe Suite (if you aren’t ready for the commitment or can’t afford it yet) it occurred to me that we have lots of good info and resources to share with you guys.

Here are a few things that I know:

1. I could not make my living without Adobe software so I throw down the big bucks about every other upgrade but if you need a workaround solution, it’s out there. Check out this article:

2. The National Stationery Show in NYC should be attended at least once in your career. You’ll meet awesome people, be inspired and get a good understanding of what the competition and marketplace is like. You kind of need two days to really walk the show or a really comfy pair of super cute shoes. If you are traveling, book a hotel early to get the best deal and walking distance location. Getting a cab at certain times of day sucks.

3. If you’re really serious about your stationery business then having a booth at the show should be considered. We had a 10 x 10 booth for Simon+Kabuki and the cost of booth space, travel, furnishing, samples, and presskits was in the neighborhood of $15 – $20k. But we were coming from California and we kind of really went for it. If you’re considering showing, there’s a group of smart designers that have a workshop called Tradeshow Bootcamp to help you prepare for the show and learn more about your business.

4. If this is how you make your living, you’ll need to design for what will sell, not just what makes you happy. Save the happy stuff for your personal collection so you don’t have to get pissed when a junior level team member with an accounting degree tells you that she doesn’t really like green, it reminds her of vegetables. And remember that what sells for one partner or region may not be the same as in another place. Your customers will push for what they believe will sell so if they are asking for it, it’s not a bad idea to deliver. We’ve been totally shocked by some of our designs that made us the most money. Sometimes our partners knew better than us. Crazy, I know.

5. Relationships with your peers and vendors are as important as the ones you share with your clients. Get involved in some good online communities, read the best publications (you probably already read Stationery Trends, but if you don’t, you should) and develop a relationship with your suppliers. The paper peeps, press repair guys and ink suppliers at are really important to the health of our business, the more they know us the better equipped they are to help us out when there’s a rush or let us know when we could be doing a better job.

And last but not least, don’t ever quit designing. Whether it’s for cold hard cash or to warm your crazy heart, it’s what you need to do be you. I told my husband this morning that I’m going to paint our perfectly nice kitchen cabinets. He replied, “Cuz you’re a psycho and you need another project?” and I said, “Yes.” Then he said, “okay, just wanted to make sure there was a good reason.”


  1. Nice reading article. We have a lot of other stationery industry insights that deal more extensively with marketing on our site for the local wedding and stationery retailer.

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