I am really excited to have been chosen as an Ambassador for my web designer Aura Creative Media alongside my lovely friend Jess Hogarth. Jess is a few years further along in her creative business and was a massive inspiration to me when I was cobbling together my first attempt at a range of cards.
Paul at Aura has been a large part of my two-year journey in the industry and he and Collette have become firm friends of mine. My website has evolved in a few different ways over the last couple of years and each time it’s been a manifestation of big developments and changes in my business.
I’ll be embarking on a little journey of writing monthly articles on various hot topics that I hope might be inspiring or enlightening for anyone thinking of starting up, or is in the early stage of, their own card business. I have reservations about my authority in offering any kind of industry advice and I would hate to come across as though I know it all! Actually I’m faced with new challenges and situations most days. These ramblings will just be snippets of my own personal experience of ‘winging it’: sometimes failing, but always learning.
On that note, I thought it would be a good idea to first introduce you to my baby, Louise Mulgrew Designs, and to give you a quick low-down on my first two years of business. Two summers ago I rocked up to my very first trade show, PG Live with some uni work in hand and no price for my cards. I was in the “Artists’ Section”, which I don’t think exists anymore, and I knew absolutely nothing. I remember being astounded by the price of my little 2m stand (£500!!) and the whole event felt like a massive deal. Actually, although I had lots of kind feedback, not much came out of that show and I consider the real ‘launching’ of my business to be the following February at Spring Fair.
However, I was given one piece of prominent advice at PG which came from another exhibitor. She said you need to decide whether you want to be a publisher yourself and build your own brand or to work freelance and sell you designs to other publishers. In the early stages as a fledgling publisher, I did come close to selling my work and on one occasion I even sold the copyright. But my understanding of my own brand has become clearer, more refined and simplified since then and now any work I do with other companies I do under my name, in partnership or as a collaboration. I believe this to be important otherwise there is a risk of saturating the market with my style, but without the recognition.
So, I chose to be a publisher myself. And it all kicked off at Spring Fair! I took lots of orders from lovely indie shops, many of which are still loyal customers today and I met my first international stockist, the world-renowned stationary haven, Ito-ya in Japan. I also found my first agent, the fabulous Ian Bradley, who patiently answered hundreds of questions over the five-day event on topics ranging from Ikea furniture, to barcodes, VAT, accounting systems and stand lighting. Thanks Ian; you’re a good’un!
Since then, LMD has grown quite a lot. What began as a bedroom-production line, with me wrapping every single card individually, with those infuriating static cello strips sticking to everything, writing invoices in Word and keeping track of orders in a notebook, has grown into a Limited Company. I employ my Dad as my full-time numbery spreadsheet do-er, we have more than 400 independent British stockists and supply nationwide accounts such as John Lewis and Paperchase. We have 7 sales agents covering the UK, we export to three different continents, with distributors in Switzerland, Germany and France, translating our cards into French and German and we make 50,000 strong litho-print runs on a monthly basis. Most recently, I learnt that I’ve been nominated for three prestigious Henries, including Lynn Tait’s Most Promising Young Designer Award. The next big step for us is to employ person number 3 and move across to a new fulfillment/warehousing process which will enable quicker order-turn arounds and the potential to expand into different products.
Phew, really?! It sounds really cool and grown up when you put it like that! Meanwhile I’m writing this after a morning of failed mermaid paintings and a few tears… swings and roundabouts!
But in all seriousness, I’d never have been able to grow in this way without the camaraderie and painstaking diligence of my Dad, who took a feeble salary at the beginning and let me live at home rent-free. His support has allowed us to grow organically and steadily so that each new challenge hasn’t overwhelmed us (well it has for a few days and then we figure it out), or bankrupt us.
So my advice if you’re thinking of kick-starting your own creative brand… do it! It’s so fun and exciting and empowering to make something that’s yours; and the greetings card industry is a particularly friendly and supportive one. Next up, I’ll be chatting through my thoughts on trade shows, and specifically, prepping, planning and making the most of your first trade show.
- Fluffy animal-drawer at Louise Mulgrew Designs. Louise loves walks on the beach, listening to Harry Potter audio-books, cuddling kittens and the full moon. Her favourite yoga posture is Happy Baby and her favourite colour is rainbow.
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