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Starting a Stationery Shop During the Pandemic

How Brittany, founder of Holyome Design Co., found success launching her business after she lost her job.

Published on Jul 7, 2021 by JANE ZHANG

Below is a conversation I had with Brittany shortly after we worked together. We built a brand new Shopify site for her store Holyome Design Co. , which sells stationery goods.

Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Brittany and I run a creative and design studio based out of Niagara, Canada. I do a little bit of everything when it comes to design, graphic design like logos and I also design stationery like greeting cards, stickers, and art prints.

Why did you start your shop?

I started my shop after getting some encouragement by a co-worker. I’ve been designing holiday cards for a few years now and have just been offering them to friends and family. After hearing my co-worker’s suggestion, that idea stuck with me. Then Covid-19 hit and I had time on my hands to do it. This was something I’ve always wanted to do. So I just jumped in and decided to do it.

Why did covid-19 feel like a good time?

Brittany: Yeah, that’s a good question because I feel in some regards, Covid would not be a good time. I personally had more time because the job I was working at prior closed down due to the pandemic. I went through a phase of not knowing what I was going to do next, or what I wanted to do. But I wanted to use the time I had doing what I loved doing, I love designing and illustrating. So in that regard, it felt like a good time, but from a business perspective I don’t know if it was a good time. I started around Christmas which was the busiest time for greeting cards, so it kind of worked out.

Jane: That’s interesting, so many people on Etsy started around the time you started (end of 2020) and people like you turned adversity into an opportunity. I think that’s so interesting because to me, I think the pandemic is the perfect time to start a business. But I am sure there were other people who doubted the timing and think “do people even have the money to buy my products?”, since it might not be considered essential goods. But you were thinking “I still see opportunity”, and that attitude of optimism and hopefulness is a key factor in starting a business.

"I had a fear of failure and that I was not going to do well. I did go into it having low expectations thinking I’d just do holiday sales on Facebook and Instagram. But then, I got my first Etsy sale and I was so shocked."

Given that you started your business during the pandemic, was there anything that scared you?

I feel a lot of business owners might feel this, I had a fear of failure and that I was not going to do well. I did go into it having low expectations thinking I’d just do holiday sales on Facebook and Instagram. But then, I got my first Etsy sale and I was so shocked. I wasn’t even ready for it, I didn’t have the proper packaging and I didn’t even know how to mail it. I ended up paying for tracked shipping when the card was selling for half of shipping. I put my cards on Etsy with such low expectations that I just wasn’t fully prepared. It definitely turned out better than I thought it would. So I think that was my biggest fear, which is “would it actually go anywhere”, “will people like buying my products”.

You weren’t fully prepared and yet you still figured it out little by little right?

Yep, I made some mistakes, but now I know how to do it correctly. laughs

What was your biggest mistake?

Brittany: I think shipping. The lowest cost for tracked shipping in my product category is around the $10 mark. So if someone is buying a $6 card, they’re not likely to spend an extra $10 to have it shipped. I didn’t realize at the time that I could just do letter mail shipping, because Etsy really pushes for sellers to offer free shipping since customers are more likely to buy if you offer free shipping. But I would be losing money if I offered free tracked shipping. So now I offer letter mail. So that was my biggest mistake, not doing proper research on shipping costs.

Jane: Shipping rates is kinda insane. As a consumer, I used to wonder why certain companies don’t ship to Canada, say if they were located in Australia. And then when I look at shipping fees, it could be $100 for a $60 pair of shoes. Shipping is a huge pain point for a lot of sellers. When I go on some of the Facebook communities, shipping comes up very often as a pain point, and it’s a unique problem to product-based businesses.

What was your proudest moment running your business?

After the holidays, seeing how well things did, I was very proud of that. And my ability to figure things out. Once I went through the pain points in the beginning, like how to package my products and how to do shipping, I was really proud of figuring that out. And the sales I got over the holidays, I wasn’t expecting it, and I was proud of that.

It seems that you opening your business at a really good time during the holidays, that surge of shoppers brought a lot of sales of you.

Yeah, and I think credibility helps with my Etsy store as well as I was getting reviews and it showed how many sales I had. I don’t think my Etsy store would be so visible if I didn’t have that credibility and reviews.

What do you call yourself? Do you call yourself CEO? Business owner? Entrepreneur? Founder?

Brittany: That’s a good question. I never know what to call myself. It’s hard because I do so many things, I mean my boyfriend helps me with some things, but business-wise I do most of it myself. I never really know what to call myself. I think mostly call myself owner and designer. But I don’t really know what the right term is, like what the all-encompassing term is for a small business owner.

Jane: Yeah, it’s tough when you’re trying to introduce yourself. Business owner is very universal, but then some people would specifically say they are a founder, which I feel has a start-up feel to it. Entrepreneur also has a similar feel. When I was looking up the terms, I think entrepreneur is the best one to use because business owner is someone who tends to operate a business for profit. For example, you could own a gas station and just run that for profit, and you don’t necessarily have to innovate a lot of the times. An entrepreneur on the other hand is taking a lot more risks, of course even a business owner is taking risk too. But, an entrepreneur is looking for new products or new ways to meet customer needs. I think what’s interesting is that you called yourself an owner, not a business owner. So it sounds like you don’t consider yourself much of a business person, maybe because you come from a design background.

How did you find support starting your business?

That’s also a good question. I feel like I didn’t seek out as much support as I should’ve. I kinda wished that I had done that more. It’s intimidating to see other businesses doing well and were a little bit more established…I had a fear of reaching out but also wanted to seek support. At the time, most of my support came from friends and family. I would ask them for advice and feedback, and they also provided emotional support haha. I’ve been talking to more makers in the past few months and developing relationships which has been really great. I think having that connection with other business owners is so helpful because we can understand each other’s struggles.

How did you find these makers?

Brittany: Mostly through Instagram. I follow quite a few businesses from Niagara and I just started commenting on their posts. And the relationships just started from there.

Jane: Your method of building connections is very easy to recommend to people because I think people in general are afraid of networking. I don’t have a good answer when people ask me that. Commenting on someone else’s post is very low commitment and it’s very easy to start. I really like that. Maybe, it could eventually be sending them a DM to connect.

Brittany: Yeah, you’re right because I had that fear of networking and taking the first step. But the way I thought about it was that people aren’t going to come to me. For me, it was important to take that first step and start building a reciprocal relationship.

How do you define success for your business?

Oh, that’s difficult because I think on the one hand, obviously profits and sales. But then, I think in the more nuanced way that’s not tangible, just continuing for another day. Just juggling this with another job while I keep going. I think that’s the other way I define success, which is consistency, and just keeping up with the small little things. And just continue developing new products and not give up in that regard.

That’s such a great response. I discovered a store in Toronto, and I was reading an interview with one of the founders, and they said the most important thing for them was to just show up for their customers. I think that aligns with what you said.

Why are you a designer?

Brittany: It just feels the most natural fit. I tried a lot of different things career-wise and interest-wise. I just find that design is what I do no matter what, even in my spare time. Sometimes I’ll just design and illustrate things. When I think about the options I have, based on my skills and previous jobs, design feels the most natural. I also someone who is driven by passion over profit, I’m not willing to take the job that I don’t love, even if it pays well. I’m just not the kind of person that can just be unhappy. Design is what makes me happy and that’s why I do it.

Jane: That’s a great answer. You know what you want.


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About the author

Jane is an E-commerce Strategist specializing in the stationery space. She is from Toronto, Canada and previously worked as a data designer and social media strategist. She combines her strengths in business strategy with her customer-centric to help small creative businesses thrive.

Learn more about Jane

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