Paper Chase Press
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Short Business Description:
Custom printing your books, cards, invitations, posters, and promos in our LA shop since 1976.
Paper Chase Press is truly a family business. They have survived hardship and heartache, and are back stronger than ever. After taking over the company from her father following the recession, Nicole and her husband Kane used their experience as art dealers and gallery owners to breathe new life into it. Despite living in a time where activities and media increasingly happen online, thanks to these two, print has never been cooler. Their client list reads as a zeitgeist of artists and designers in LA and around the country – many of whom become collaborators and contributors to their growing collection of shoppable goods. Though building a thriving business has been more than a full-time job, the pair managed to add two gorgeous children to the mix along the way. Enjoy a look into Nicole’s beautiful studio to see where the magic happens – and excuse us while we go invest in some paper goods.
Before running Paper Chase Press, what did you do?
I worked as a photography dealer and did public programming for arts organizations including The Aperture Foundation and Art Los Angeles Contemporary.
What pushed you to take over the reins of your family business?
My husband and I came to LA in 2008 to open a gallery in the empty storefront neighboring Paper Chase. My father had been running the company for 32 years and was ready to retire, but the business was in free-fall – the recession hit it hard. Through the gallery Kane and I launched a publishing imprint to make books with each of our artists and it was from these publications we began to see how enthusiastic everyone was about print. So when we had heard from my father that he found a buyer to sell the business to, we stepped in, took out a loan, and got started.
Did you have any formal business training before stepping in?
Not officially, but I was raised in the shop from the time I was a baby so I got to see first-hand how the business worked.
What was your biggest fear before taking over the business?
That I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills.
Your Glass Ceiling Turning Point
Was there any specific moment that led you to run your own business?
For years I longed to be my own boss. Taking over Paper Chase was that moment.
How did you get the courage to do so?
I saw the opportunity and I took it. There wasn’t a chance to consider whether I had the courage or not.
Is there anyone in particular who influenced your journey?
I grew up in an very optimistic household. No matter what crisis we might have been undergoing, there was always a positive outlook to the future. Having taken over the business during such a difficult period, running the company became a battle for survival for the first four years. But no matter how dire it might’ve been, I was always confident it would eventually get better. The positive outlook my parents instilled in me has been critical in my running the business effectively.
The Business of Your Business
What did you do to change the course of the business from what it was when your parents owned it to what it is now?
So much! New clients, new staff, new equipment, new production methods, an enhanced product offering, e-commerce, an updated look and feel to the brand, etc.
Was there a point in time when you decided to scale your business? If so what led you to make that decision and how did you finance it?
We’re in the midst of that decision-making process now, actually. We took a detailed look at what is needed to grow the company, and how long it will take to raise that capital through profits alone. Check back with me in six months for a final answer on this one!
How do you find customers and vendors?
We do almost all of our manufacturing in-house, but the few things we work with vendors on, we undergo extensive trial runs to determine whether they’re up to our standards or not.
As for customers, we do all kinds of outreach; sales meetings, cold calling, mail and email campaigns, referrals, collaborations, cross-promotions, you name it. We’re of the philosophy that every type of business can benefit from access to beautifully printed goods, so our sales team is free to utilize whatever avenue they see fit.
How have you raised the public profile of your business?
Old fashioned word-of-mouth has been one of our most effective strategies. In the beginning, when we had both the gallery space and the printing company, we produced a lot of events, sometimes as often as three or four times a month (including openings, book parties, lectures, and more). And every time we did, we would open the back of the shop where our manufacturing facilities are located and give tours to anyone who was interested. I got some of our most important clients and projects this way.
Have strategic partnerships played a role in the success of your business? If so, how did you go about cultivating them?
We launched our collaboration series Paper Cuts as a way to build more formal partnerships. The series has been elemental in growing our audience and press coverage. Fortunately, the process of cultivating projects is simple. We find who we want to work with, reach out to them, and in general something comes of it.
What obstacles have you faced that you were most surprised by?
We had a major flood in our building last summer—that was the worst kind of surprise. If you operate a manufacturing facility, there is an added level of exposure in your business. Have a contingency plan and get good insurance!
What are the benefits and challenges of working in a family business?
Having access to the knowledge and experience that my father possesses about this business and printing in general is incredibly beneficial. It did take us some time though to get to a place where we could communicate effectively – it was one of the big challenges I had to overcome when taking over the business.
Where do you see Paper Chase Press in the next five years?
As a bigger and better version of where it is now.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m deeply inspired by the people I work with. They bring immense knowledge and passion to each project we produce.
Are you part of any professional networks?
Yes — The Print Industry Association of America.
What do you do to stay sane?
Spend time with my kids. Nothing provides perspective like two small children!
Has motherhood changed how you do business?
It’s forced me to become a lot more productive.
How do you balance work and family?
I don’t really believe in the notion of balance. The amount of attention your personal life and your business require of you changes all the time. Sometimes being able to split your time evenly between the two is an option, and sometimes it isn’t.
Do you have any health tricks?
Sleep (which I never seem to get enough of)
Water (drink tons)
Oregano oil (at the first sign of a cold)
What is the best thing about running your own business? The most difficult?
I love what I do for a living.
The amount of responsibility can be immense.
At what point did you think, “I made it”?
I don’t think there will ever be a point when I sit back and say to myself, “I’ve made it”. My ambitions and objectives are always changing. Hunter S Thompson said it best, “Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life.”
What advice would you give to people who are just starting out in business?
Assemble a good team that you can rely on. Invest in great design. Be aware of the competition but not influenced by them. Pay close attention to your cash flow.
Photography by: Katrina Dickson