Jay Rudman started with his stationery store at 3629 N. Halsted in Chicago and brought it national with a new business model.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Paperly connects stationery enthusiasts – buyers & sellers – via fun, social, at-home parties.
How did you come up with your business idea?
We have been in the stationery business for ~10 years (only the last 2-3 years as Paperly). Throughout, we would receive calls from women around the country who asked, "I too want to be in the stationery business; how do I go about doing so?" Unfortunately, before we launched Paperly, the only answer was, "You'll need a lot of time, money and expertise." From these conversations, we knew there was plenty of unmet demand. We simply had to figure out how to best satisfy that need.
We quickly ascertained that the at-home party model was the best route to go for Paperly. At-home sales enable Consultants to quickly grow their business by focusing exclusively on the sales & marketing aspects of their business, while Paperly focuses on everything else (i.e. product development, operations, customer service, etc.)
Do you own a business with family members? What do you think are the benefits and challenges to running a family owned business?
I own Paperly with my wife, Cindy. The benefits of running a business with a family member are plentiful, including complete trust of your business partner, a shared daily experience (i.e. you never get "how was your day, honey" at the end of the day) and the thrill of creating something together (akin to starting a family).
The challenges, for us, have been few and far between. Probably the hardest part is at certain times of the year – i.e. summer vacation, holidays, etc. – both partners are out of the office simultaneously. Fortunately, we have a great staff that can operate the business in our absence. Yet without our constant stewardship, the business will tend to stagnate.
Have you outsourced any portion of your business? Has that worked for your business?
Yes, we have outsourced most of the printing of our products. It has helped tremendously! Because the printing business is based on economies of scale, we could not have achieved our favorable cost structure if we hadn't outsourced that portion of our business.
Finding employees to work in a new and growing business can be a challenge. How did you find your employees?
One of Paperly's employees used to babysit for a friend's child. Another was a neighbor of one of our employees. In general, Paperly's hiring philosophy is: (1) try to hire candidates who are only 1-to-2 degrees separated from yourself, since those candidates have already been vetted by your contacts, and (2) take your time to ensure you don't make a "bad" hire, because one "bad" hire can seriously disrupt the work environment we've worked so hard to develop.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for Paperly?
To be successful in direct sales, a Paperly Consultant needs to share her business with everyone she knows: friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, etc. That same philosophy holds true for Paperly – we too need to share the Paperly opportunity with everyone, especially those who love stationery. Social marketing enables that to occur. Websites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others have helped generate leads. We envision further leveraging social media in the future.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Triple your estimate for how long it will take and how much money you will need. If that doesn't scare you away… go for it! It's an AMAZING ride.
Thank you, Jay. I'm sure entrepreneurs in all fields will find your experiences and advice to be helpful.