Q&A with Kalyn Johnson Chandler, Founder of Effie’s PapeInspiring Stories of Our Owners•Jul 12, 2019• 6 min read
For Kalyn Johnson Chandler, stationery has always been a family affair. From a young age, her love for pretty paper stemmed from her love for a very special woman: her grandmother, Mrs. Effie Hayes, who is the namesake of Chandler’s business, Effie’s Paper: Stationery & Whatnot. According to Chandler, her grandmother was someone who believed that “a woman should always carry a hanky, wear the perfect shade of red lipstick, and be able to write a wicked thank you note.”
How did you come up with the idea for your business? Were there any personal experiences, passions, skills, hobbies, etc. that influenced you?
I am a formerly practicing lawyer turned fashion stylist turned graphic designer. I know, it’s a lot! I practiced law at a big law firm for a little over 10 years before making my segue to the entrepreneurial world.
Before I started Effie’s Paper, I was helping busy professionals get dressed. I was working with doctors, lawyers, and bankers – people with very demanding jobs and very little time – so my approach with them was very high touch. I ran my styling business the way I had learned to run my law practice. As a result, I was burning out quickly. I was having trouble scaling the business, and I was also physically exhausted from carrying clothes to the dressing room, helping the seamstress tailor them properly, carrying shopping bags, and being on my feet shopping all day long.
I started my styling business because I love fashion and style and helping people look and feel good. But what had once been fun for me as a hobby was turning into a downer for a job. I joked with my husband that I wanted to have a widget that would sell itself while I slept.
Let me back up a little bit. I’ve loved stationery and paper products since I was a little girl. My grandmother and company namesake, Mrs. Effie Hayes, worked for Mitchell Greeting Card Company when I was a kid. My sister and I had an entire cabinet in my grandparents family room filled with stationery. It was awesome!
I guess you could say that stationery is in my DNA. But it wasn’t until I was planning my wedding that the idea of starting a stationery company began to germinate. I had hired a London-based graphic designer to create a bespoke wedding stationery suite for us. Her printers were in India and we were running up against monsoon season, which meant that, in addition to learning how to art direct her and her team, I had to find a printer in the U.S. to print a lot of our wedding collateral.
The more I learned about the manufacturing end of things, the more I felt like having my own stationery company might be the right thing for me. Then about six months after my wedding I was sitting at my desk writing thank you notes on stationery, aside from my wedding stationery, that I didn’t love. That’s when I had my ah-ha moment. I knew that I couldn’t be the only stationery connoisseur craving stationery that had a bit more of an urban modern edge to it. The name just came to me, I created the logo in a Word document, and the rest is history.
What were the toughest experiences you’ve had to endure as a business owner? Points where you wondered why you were doing this at all?
Fall of 2014 didn’t quite go the way I anticipated.
To be honest, I felt like turning my Boss Lady card in and walking away from this thing called entrepreneurship.
In the span of about four weeks, I’d lost two great interns, hired another two that I immediately had to fire, and my website was hacked. It was pretty bad. I was at my wit’s end and not exactly sure how I was going to balance everything on my own. Plus, my husband and I had planned a big trip for mid-November and I didn’t have anyone to “man” the shop. I was anxious, stressed out, and not particularly pleasant to be around. And then in the middle of the chaos, it hit me. Rather than try to fix everything in a short period of time and head into my vacation a hot mess, I decided to shut down. Yup, you heard me. I shut down – literally. I put a pop-up box on the website that said the shop was closed for a little R&R and any orders placed would be filled when the shop re-opened the second week in December.
I hated the idea of losing money and not being available during one of my most profitable seasons, but even more I hated the idea of going on vacation and not being able to unplug, re-charge, and be present with my spouse.
Once I thought about it like that, it was an easy decision to make. It was probably the best decision I could’ve made. I went away and enjoyed myself and really didn’t think about the business or my next steps or anything business-related. I came back refreshed, but very uncertain about Effie’s Paper. I took the rest of December off mentally, fulfilled orders and decided to start fresh in 2015.
Once the new year started I was full of ideas. I wanted to re-brand, re-build the website, and re-visit my product mix and overall mission. I originally started Effie’s Paper because I wasn’t finding the kind of personalized stationery I wanted to purchase. I figured if I couldn’t find what I wanted, others probably felt the same way. But as with any business, sustainability is about being able to scale. Most of us love pretty paper, but many of us love our smartphones and texting more.
I realized that if I wanted to scale the business, I needed to pivot.
The full name of my company is Effie’s Paper: Stationery & Whatnot. This was intentional: the original plan was to start off with stationery and slowly incorporate “whatnots” in to the collection. And frankly, we’ve always carried whatnots – coasters, pencils and the like – but I’d never taken the time to really focus on what the perfect complement of whatnots would be for my paper company.
In this re-birthing phase, I started to think about the pretty things that I love and buy impulsively. My morning routine consists of working out and going to my local coffee shop for a latte. I’m a sucker for cheeky sayings, notebooks, fun wall prints and just about any lifestyle accessory that’s glammy and makes me smile. Et volià, I had my whatnots! Why have a boring water bottle at the gym when you could have a cute one? I drink a lot of coffee and binge watch Netflix like a champ! So, a travel coffee mug with “Slay Girl Slay” just made sense to me. It seems simple and on many levels it was, but if someone had suggested I head in this direction four months prior when it seemed like my entrepreneurial world was crumbling around me, it would have fallen on deaf ears. I needed to step away and rejuvenate my mind, body and soul in order to be able to think cogently about next steps.
It’s hard to believe that it’s three and a half years later. My, what a difference time makes! Yes, Effie’s Paper still sells stationery, but our focus is no longer personalized stationery. On the stationery front, we sell super cute boxed sets of blank note cards (with great cheeky sayings) that make it fun to write those dreaded thank you notes during the holiday season. Today our focus is on pretty lifestyle accessories – cheeky coffee mugs and journals, chic post-it note and notepads, cool keychains and travel pouches, fun desk nameplates and stylish makeup bags. They’re all products that I use, love, and enjoy designing.
When someone asks me what’s the best thing that’s happened to your business, I can say unabashedly, “my website getting hacked.”
When was it that you knew you needed to grow your team?
Like many small business owners, I started my business in my living room on a wing and a prayer.
I was doing everything – designing the products, interfacing with vendors, drafting the newsletters, packaging orders, doing post office runs, and the list goes on. After my first holiday season, I realized that I needed help or I was going to lose my mind. There are only so many hours in a day! Gradually over time, and as needed, I’ve brought people to help out. We are still a startup and we’re run lean, but I’ve got a great team. And now we have office space, although I usually work from home three to four days a week. We generally have two to three interns who help out with everything from social media engagement to order processing to customer service. I have a social media manager, a sales representative, and a director of operations.
In order for the company to grow, I realized that I need help so that I would have time to work on the business rather than in the business.
Handing off some of the daily tasks has lightened my load, but it also means that I have to give good direction to my team so that they can execute (some days and weeks I’m better at this than others, but we’re all works in progress!). It’s a delicate balance, but it’s certainly made all the difference. Effie’s Paper would not be what it currently is if it weren’t for the talented young women I work alongside daily.