Posts in Business
Meet the Team: Michelle!
MichelleBaldwinBlogImage.jpg

Q: Describe yourself in 6 words or less.
A: Do I have to grow up?

Q: What is your favorite thing about working at Constellation & Co.?
A: I love meeting people, interacting with people, encouraging people. I am a people person who loves to share life and have everyday heart-to-hearts with anyone willing to connect. Constellation & Co. is all about community and I'm 110% invested in that. 

*Warning: If you come into the shop and start me talking, I may not stop for awhile. Atticus, the finch, is your only buffer and way out. 

Anywho, come in and say hi! :) 

Q: What are you doing when you're not in the shop? (Other jobs, hobbies, etc.)
A: When I am not in the shop, I'm probably doing something with my church community. I LOVE my church family and am in a season where I get to pour heavily into it and get a lot in return. I'm not from here originally, so, to FINALLY have a group of people surrounding me, supporting me, praying for me... investing in my life after what felt like such a period of readjustment and isolation is just amazing. 

Something fun to know about me is that I'm an illustrator and writer by profession, so there's drawing, designing, book writing, etc. going on. Sometimes, though, I'm simply binge watching a foreign TV show so I can learn about another time period or culture. And of course, spending time with my fantastic husband. He's the best.

Q: What is your favorite place in Seattle? (Shops, restaurants, parks, etc.)
A: It's a toss up between Uwajimaya (The Kinokuniya Bookstore, you guys!!! Ah!) and Pike Place Market. I really enjoy being in market place environments where there are lots of colors, sounds, smells, and things to discover. I like finding cutesy stationery items, eating all the delicious snacks, and searching for the world's best teas (I do have a collection!). Also, how beautiful are the flowers are at Pike Place Market?

2017 Highlights
Our brand new " New Year's Blessing " card is available in the shop and online now!

Our brand new "New Year's Blessing" card is available in the shop and online now!

Happy New Year!

Thank you so much for supporting our little shop in 2017. You make our dreams come true. Before we march forward into the New Year, I'd like to share with you some highlights from the past 12 months.

In 2017, we...

  • Launched our Constellation & Co. Card Club subscription service
  • Started hosting Hand Lettering Workshops with Songbird Paperie
  • Sponsored an adult pub league soccer team that Sara played in
  • Became the first Sailor Pen stockist in WA state
  • Launched our Empathy, Kindness, Respect shirt with Cotton Bureau and raised over $3k for refugee aid
  • Hired our incredible new shop manager, Melissa
  • Celebrated with our talented letterpress printer, Brooke, as she graduated with a Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology
  • Welcomed new team members Brie, Lara and Beth
  • Hosted an awesome winter intern, Bryn
  • Sent off our beloved Meredith to pursue her photography career full time
  • Hosted a Pop-Up Shop with Gingiber
  • Listened to Sara talk about stationery business on the Proof to Product podcast
  • Sent Sara to Paper Camp+ and then made about 1,000,000 systems changes to the business and shop
  • Had our best craft fair weekend ever at the winter Renegade Craft Fair
  • Designed and printed quite a few new products, including: 37 cards, 8 notepads, and 2 enamel pins!

Conviction, Craftsmanship, Community

As a small business and as members of the community, we feel a serious responsibility to give back and support others. With your help, we donated over $4k in 2017! When you shop with us, your purchases make a difference. Here are the organizations and causes we supported in 2017.

Small Business Saturday 2017
sign.jpg

Join us on Saturday, November 25 to shop small and celebrate the magic of small business!
We're so excited to celebrate with you! Here's what we have planned:

Open extended hours: 10am to 6pm!

Free stationery gift bag for everyone who stops by (as supplies last)!

10% Small Business Saturday discount for all in shop purchases!

Launch of our donation drive to benefit Treehouse
From Small Business Saturday until Christmas, we'll be accepting donations of new, warm shoes and socks for foster kids in Seattle. We'll be chipping in donations as well, so every purchase you make this holiday season will do some extra good! 

Unveiling of our new holiday window display!

Holiday snacks!

1,000 Words About: Printing and Me
static1.squarespace-7.jpg

I recently started a personal project to write 500 words every day. I've been writing about a variety of topics - personal essays, short stories, sports, podcasts, etc. I skipped my writing both days this weekend, so it's 1,000 words today. (Plus I'm terrible at editing myself.) Today's topic is printing related, so I've decided to share it here. My friend Dan suggested I write about how I chose printing as my profession. I've decided to share my letterpress printing timeline. The more I think about printing, the more I realize that I never had a choice in the matter. Printing chose me and wouldn't let go. (Not that I'm complaining.)

June 23, 2007: I walked into an antique store in Arcadia, Florida and saw a tabletop printing press. I didn't have any idea what kind it was, how to use it, or what it was worth. I just knew that I needed it. I paid $100 (way more money than I had to spend at the time), and brought it back to my dorm room. I was in college studying graphic design and spending my summer break as a teacher's assistant for a high school summer program. I worked during the day and spent my evenings cleaning and organizing the lead type that came with my press. I've always loved antiques. As a kid, one of my favorite family activities was browsing antique stores with a particular item in mind. This antique press intersected beautifully with what I was learning in History of Graphic Design. I loved that era's aesthetic, work ethic and machinery. That day in the antique shop was a chance encounter that changed the course of my life.

May 12, 2009: I attended a one day workshop with letterpress printer Paul Moxon. I came in knowing very, very little. I left knowing much more, but most importantly knowing that I must continue to get inky. I was weeks away from college graduation and a cross-country move to Seattle. All of the crisp, clear plans in place for my career were suddenly blurry. What I'd trained four years to do and what my heart was pulling for were growing farther and farther apart.

October 26, 2009: I took a letterpress class at the School of Visual Concepts taught by Chandler O'Leary. I was 1 month into my first post-college job, and it was a comically bad first job. (Well, it's comical now but wasn't at the time.) Getting my hands inky again and seeing my first design come to life on paper... It was all I needed to quit the bad job. (The CEO dropping by my desk to ask me if I was going to go home and commit suicide should have been enough to quit, but I suppose I was young and naive.) I loved my letterpress class. By the end of the 6 weeks I was sending dozens of emails to Seattle area letterpress printers, offering my services as printer's devil, letterpress indentured servant, or anything else I could do to gain more knowledge and keep getting inky.

December 12, 2009: I started my apprenticeship at Myrtle Alley Press. My first tasks were organizing spacing material and leading. I'd quit my job, so I had plenty of time to throw myself into this new part of my life. I remember how exciting every little task felt. I got to be around printing - watching, asking questions, listening, learning. It wasn't long before I was learning to print on the platen press. That year was sort of like my master's program. Except instead of spending time in a classroom, I had inky hands. The act of printing on the platen press was so daunting at first. I was nervous about smashing a hand, felt out of my element and uncoordinated, and my legs ached badly at the end of each day. But the bigger a challenge is in my life, the more determined I am to conquer it. It was only a matter of time before the press and I found a common rhythm. I loved troubleshooting my projects to make the next one better than the last. I loved seeing the prints stack up. I still love that now. 

static1.squarespace-8.jpg

January 10, 2011: It was time to set out on my own, and I'd just signed a lease on my first studio space. On the day before my 24th birthday, I bought my first full size platen press. We moved it that day too. (I've probably got another 1,000 words in me just about moving presses.) I loved letterpress at the time, but buying, moving, and refurbishing this press skyrocketed that love to a whole new level. I was confident about printing on the platen press at Myrtle Alley, but I got to know my press intimately. As the above photo illustrates, this press was in terrible shape. I spent $500 (way more money than I had to spend at the time), and we moved it into my studio. I named her Josephine. I spent countless hours alone with this press scraping off rust, cleaning out gunk, oiling joints, and finding replacement pieces. I had no guarantee that this press would ever print, but I believed in her. I had no guarantee that I could actually make a living with letterpress printing, but I believed in me. 

February 27, 2017: Today. In the last 6 years, we've moved Josephine two more times. I've bought and learned how to print on several more presses. We brought a press back over the border. I've passed on a few presses to other printers, including my first little press. Our current print shop is part of a beautiful storefront space, so everyone gets to see letterpress printing in action. I've taught many workshops. I've had the privilege to take on many interns. I've designed and printed so many projects for so many people, including a full catalog of greeting cards for our own wholesale line. I've hired and trained an assistant, who became my replacement when I decided to be a full time mom. So much has changed. And yet...

I'm still printing. When I'm printing, I'm home. I listen to the sound of the press, feel its rhythm. My body works in unison with the press to create something beautiful. My hands and feet are busy with the task at hand, but my mind goes elsewhere. My brain works best when I'm on press. It's a quiet, safe place to work things out. It's productive and physical. I still love it. 

Practically, printing is the way I create the things that make me money. But it's so much more than that. Printing found me in a Florida antique store. Printing gave me a dream for the future that was bigger than all the jobs I didn't get. Printing helped me quit a bad job and believe I was worth more. Printing got me out of my comfort zone. Printing gave me a tool to bring my thoughts, ideas, words, and art to life. Printing helped me grow up. Printing is a lifelong challenge to pursue. Printing gave me community, a business, a purpose, a future. And I still have inky hands.

 

National Stationery Show 2016

We recently exhibited at the National Stationery Show in our first solo booth! (You can read the recap of our first NSS experience in 2014 here.)

We were inspired by Lucky Horse Press to try soft walls. We designed and built a simple, easily transportable booth that we can reuse for future trade shows. Since we're always going to be a cross-country plane ride from New York, we wanted to avoid shipping a crate back and forth if at all possible. We are really happy with how our booth turned out! Here's what we did.

Our friend Eli is a talented metalworker and he fabricated a beautiful aluminum frame for us. All of the pieces were 5ft long or shorter and fit into an army style duffel bag that we could check on the plane. The pieces fit together easily and are tightened into place with an allen wrench. All together, the frame poles weigh around 70lbs. We checked the connectors (another 15lbs) in another bag with our clothes to keep the weight low.

We purchased canvas drop cloths from Home Depot for the booth walls. I really wanted to use sail cloth (nautical!), but it turns out that sail cloth is super expensive. Drop cloths are huge and reasonably priced. One of the walls got a coat of paint for contrast underneath our wood logo sign. We sent the walls out to Turning Star for professional fire proofing. I hemmed the panels on my sewing machine at home. 

We used a simple grommet kit to apply grommets to the walls. I wanted to buy an expensive grommet press, but it actually didn't take all that long to do the grommets by hand. It's kind of fun and was a good pre-NSS stress reliever. 

We packed up our 6 checked bags, 2 carry ons, 2 backpacks, 1 car seat, 1 stroller, and 1 toddler and headed to the airport! Getting the baggage moved around was a giant pain, but it saved us a bunch of money on shipping a crate, and then we didn't have to wait for our crate to be returned at the end of the show. And also we don't have to store a crate. (Apparently I have a crate phobia.)

When you get to the show, this is what the booth looks like. Not so cute! We took two days for set-up, but we were out of the Javits Center by dinner time each night. We had a hotel very close by, which allowed us to carry suitcases back and forth as we needed them. While I'd like to have spent less on the hotel, the close proximity was really really nice.

We started out by hanging the cloth panels on the frame with zip ties very loosely, and then we tightened them evenly in all directions to get the panels as taut as we could. The 2 short sides were very smooth - the long side was a little more wavy. I kept reminding myself: "We're going for a natural, nautical look. It's supposed to be fabric." The perfectionist in me likes to argue, but our brand isn't polished perfection. It's honesty and groundedness - simplicity, natural elements and masculine energy. In my opinion, the booth fit our brand well. (Although it's easy to play the comparison game when you're looking down the aisle and other booths are fancier than the house you live in.)

Our beautiful logo sign was made by Bill Sayer - PPointCreates on Etsy. We hung the sign (and all the cards) with adhesive velcro dots from Uline. For the small letters and the line, we did velcro dot surgery and cut them down to smaller pieces. The sign stayed on the wall for the whole show. (Hooray!) The cards were a little more finicky. We used a handy box of straight pins to reinforce the cards that fell down. That's one of the benefits of fabric walls!

We splurged on furniture and rented some fun vintage pieces from Patina. It was really nice to round off the nautical theme with the furniture pieces, and they were super handy to have. Sitting and storage are important! We used FJÄLLA boxes from IKEA to hide all of our extra booth stuff. Our flooring was navy blue carpet tiles from Flor. Our lighting was simple clip lamps from Home Depot that we painted gold. We picked super high lumen LED lightbulbs that kept the booth bright without being hot.

We wanted a booth that was practical to transport, fit our brand, and didn't break the bank. All of the elements for the booth definitely added up in price, but nearly everything can be reused again for future shows. As much time and planning as the booth takes, in the end it's all about the product. We released 20+ new cards and a series of A to Z Signal Flag postcards that won a Best New Product award in the Eco Chic category!

It's a HUGE honor to win an award like this, and we are so grateful. It can be hard to quantify the benefits of doing a major trade show with the time spent planning, financial investment, travel time and costs, etc. Getting recognition like this certainly makes it easier to see the fruit of all that hard work. (I'm still staring at the award on my desk like I don't really believe it happened.)

We're still tired from the trip, but we're also still glowing a little bit. I LOVE meeting our buyers face to face - hearing their stories, sharing my inspiration for each product, seeing what they order and getting to hear why. It's all exciting and inspiring and it gives me new fuel for the fire. Thanks for the memories, New York! Until next time...

A lesson in doing the thing you said you'd never do
FullSizeRender.jpg

We recently purchased and moved a 2,000 lb. Heidelberg Windmill printing press. It is a beautiful 10x15 red ball press manufactured in the 1970's. For more information on Heidelberg presses, check out this APA article. I also really love this blog: The Windmill in My Garage.

I always say I'm never moving another press when we finish a big move. We've moved our studio 3 times, and have moved presses and equipment in and out more times than that. Usually we tackle moving with rented equipment and buying pizza and beer for every guy we know. This time, we decided to pay someone to do the move for us. Ballard Transfer Co. moved the Windmill and our new paper cutter with two guys, a forklift and a giant truck. One of the guys did so with a cigar in his mouth. (He was awesome.) They were professional and experienced, and made it look like moving a 2,000+ lb. press was no sweat. I'm so glad we made the decision to hire movers. I actually slept the night before and didn't have a mini panic attack on the day of the move. Hooray!

So, why a Windmill, why now?  

My maximum speed on our treadle-operated C&P is around 500 prints per hour. The minimum speed of a Windmill is 2,200 per hour. When we were a one person business, it made sense to have one press. We're now a business with six employees. We're filling larger orders than ever, and we're working on building relationships with sales reps for continued growth. This means we're printing about as much as we possibly can on the C&P. In order to keep shipping orders ASAP the way we want, something needs to change. We could have extended working hours. (Less rest time, less family time, less working on new products time.) We could have bought another C&P and put the baby in full time daycare. (Taking us to only 1,000 prints per hour, and costing a flobbidy jillion dollars.)

One morning I searched for "letterpress" on Craigslist (dangerous!) and saw the Windmill for sale. This is not the first time I've seen printing equipment for sale and changed direction drastically to make it happen. As I always say, there's no "letterpress store." You can't drive to IKEA and pick one of these bad boys up. When the opportunity to buy printing equipment presents itself, you have to move quickly. We talked the decision through at length (although quickly) and decided to buy it. 

The question you may be asking right about now is this: "Aren't you the treadle operated and handpress loving person who swore off motorized automated presses?" Yes. The answer is yes. I have said no way, no how, I'm not doing it. Never. Never ever. I'm not putting a motor on my C&P. And I've been a little snooty about the "handmadeness" of printing on a Heidelberg. I've been all about the slow, methodical, hard way. 

So what do you do when your business starts to outgrow the slow way? It's scary to invest in a new press. I have a lot to learn, and it's humbling to stand before a 2,000 lb. enigma. It's scary to admit that your business has changed. It's scary to admit that you've changed. 

Windmills are incredibly beautiful machines that take skill and practice to operate. They are certainly not a walk up and push a button kind of thing. I honestly didn't understand their complexity until I had one in front of me. Humble pie is being eaten. 

Buying this press has raised questions about who we are as a business. Is our identity connected to the exact method in which we print? Is our brand just about the slow, treadle-operated way? Is that why our customers buy our cards? I don't think so. I believe our brand identity is about what we have to say, our commitment to quality & simplicity and the real, honest people behind our company. 

Buying this press raises questions about my role in the company, too. When we started, it was just me. Literally alone in a tiny room, with just the C&P. And that's not who we are anymore. We have a beautiful team of talented, caring people who bring more to the company than I can do alone. They are the other stars in our constellation. They have supported and kept us going and growing this year as my role has changed. I'm a mom now. I don't have 60 hours a week to give. I don't print, package and mail each thing that we sell. All of this is still done with meticulous, loving care. But my role has changed. Honestly, it's been weird for me. I'm learning about who I am in my new role. I work from home often, managing scheduling and new clients, making big picture decisions and designing new products. I think about cash flow and marketing and social media and the future of our brand. I change diapers. I search for new lines to add to our retail shop. I implement CRM software. I send e-mails. 

I'm not always inky anymore. And I miss being inky.

We have been very close to maximum efficiency for the presses we have, the team we have, and the amount of hours we want to work. If we're constantly doing production printing, we can't be doing the things that make Constellation & Co. what it is. If our production printing can be faster and more efficient, we can focus on the things we love:

Writing, designing and producing new products
Printing with wood engravings and hand-set type
Sending handwritten notes and snail mail
Spending time with our customers in the shop and at events
Enjoying time with our families & friends that inspire the things we create

So the Windmill represents many things about the next era for Constellation & Co. It's about celebrating change and growth. It's about having the capability to produce awesome stuff in the quantities we need to keep growing. It's a new thing for me to learn and experiment with and a way to get inky again.  For the first time in awhile, I'm spending time alone in a small room, just me and a press. It's a beautiful, full circle kind of thing.

What I learned at Business Camp

I attended Tradeshow Bootcamp's first ever Business Camp in Los Angeles last month, and it was incredible. I've been so busy implementing everything I learned, that I'm just now sitting down to share my thoughts. I wish I could bottle up everything that was said, everything I learned, every hug I shared with awesome business ladies, and the general buzz of being in a room with 100 other business owners. I can't, so you must must must go to Business Camp next time.

In the meantime, I'll share my major takeaways. There was so much solid gold information shared, but this is the stuff that really jumped up and down for my attention as it applies to my specific business & boss lady role. And since it's been a month, you get to hear about how I'm implementing those takeaways! Win win win.

1. Don't let e-mail dictate how your day goes.

Beth Penn from BNeato Bar majorly schooled my brain about how I've been treating e-mail in my day-to-day. On her suggestion, I've been doing my best to only deal with e-mail once a day, for a set amount of time. I'm not letting e-mail be my to do list for the day, and I'm not letting e-mail derail what I'm in the middle of doing. It's pretty much the greatest change I could make. E-mail has been a source of stress and guilt for me for years, and it doesn't have to be. 

2. Keep the team connected and aware.

My staff can't read my mind. Seems obvious, but I've been leading my team like they can. The panel discussion on hiring was super insightful. I've already hired my team, but knowing what to do next has been a challenge for me. When I started the business, I never dreamed that I'd be leading a team. I'm still learning. 

We have an amazing team of part time staff, and they're all only in the shop 1-2 days per week. If I want us to be on the same page, we need to have staff meetings, more communication, 1-on-1 chats and a plan! I need to plan ahead to have tasks for everyone to do, every day. And since Business Camp, we've done just that! We had our first ever full staff meeting (with coffee and Top Pot donuts), and it was hugely helpful. It was so beautiful to see everyone together that I cried. (No shame.) We've also instituted a secret Facebook group for staying in better communication, and I've been keeping everyone busy by delegating more and more tasks to my very capable team. 

3. Move the needle every day. 

The hilarious and lovable Jen Gotch gave us this nugget of wisdom that has been my mantra this month. Move the needle. Every day. Don't just do the busy work. Do something that will grow your business. Every day. Delegate the small stuff. Do the big stuff. For me, this is the kind of needle moving stuff I've been working on: Send catalogs & handwritten notes to shops I admire. Design new products. Work toward new product lines. Research other forms of manufacturing. Buy a new printing press!!!! Make a social media strategy and stick to it. Write about what I'm learning and share it. Commit to the 2016 National Stationery Show. Make time for ideas. Make time for rest. (For me, resting is moving the needle for tomorrow. I do not default to rest.) 

4. Work on the things that need to change to make way for growth.

Growth is always the goal, but it can also be kind of a scary reality when it shows up. One of the big growth goals we have for this next year is to start working with a sales rep. I've heard Carina Murray from Crow & Canary speak about reps a few times, but new things stood out to me this time. The big one: Be ready to scale. You don't work with a rep to bring in an extra order or two. You work with a rep to grow! 

We've grown a ton this last few years, and we're finally reaching the end of what our treadle-operated, hand-fed platen press can do. It's been a hope/fear (a hope and a fear...do you have those too?) of mine this past year, and we're there. Our recent purchase of a 1970's Heidelberg Windmill will help us make the next jump of growth. (I'll share more about that in detail later this week.) Sarah from Shed Letterpress and Rachael from Pistachio Press told me all about the Windmill perks while at the Business Camp after party, and within a few weeks I had the opportunity to buy one. Growth, we're coming for you! 

5. You're the owner of a successful, growing business. Act like it!

Tara Gentile blew my mind with her talk about perception. My fears and doubts and worries color my judgement about the business. When I'm buying into those negative things, I make decisions for the business that don't make sense. Just because I'm still learning doesn't mean I'm not doing some things right. It's so easy to lose perspective and forget the wins we've had. My customers, staff, and fellow business owners have a perception of my business that is actually more in line with reality than how I tend to see it.

I remember when Constellation was just me with one rusty press in 100 square feet, and some days I act like that's who we still are. But we're not! We're a team of 6 people, 3 beautiful presses, in a storefront space, with products in 150+ stores in more than 4 countries, with a beautiful retail shop and a bright future! I say these things not to boast, but because I genuinely forget that they are true. I'm committing to celebrate our wins, and make decisions based on reality so that people's perception of us matches up with the decisions I make. 

I share all of this for a few reasons. First, if you're a product-based business lady (or business dude), I want you to go to Business Camp. Or if you can't go to Business Camp, go to a different event. But go! Invest in yourself. You're an irreplaceable part of your business. What you'll learn and the people you'll get to connect with will give you fuel for the fire. Second, it gives me great joy to share what I'm learning with all of you. Small business is not a magical, mythical, dream journey. It's hard, a hustle. Everything is always changing, and you're always changing to keep up. I want you to know that we're in it together. I've be given so much over the years by others who have shared what they are learning, and I want to be sharer too. Words have great power, and I'm always going to use mine for good, to help others.

Ask Sara Anything: Volume 1

I've been asking a lot of the questions lately. As the business grows, my role changes. I've been working on finding my "CEO mode" as our friends over at Aeolidia like to say. It sounds so silly to call myself CEO since we're still a small, intimate business. But in reality, I don't do absolutely everything myself anymore. I have a small but mighty team of incredible people who help me get things done, and it's my job to keep the proverbial ball rolling. It's become vital for me to ask the right questions so that I know where we need to grow. But it has occurred to me that it's also important to have an open door for important (or silly) questions from others.

All of this is a very off-topic way for me to introduce a new blog series: "Ask Sara Anything." I've posed this question to my team, and will answer whatever questions they have. I'd also love to answer your questions! You can e-mail (hello AT constellationco.com), tweet @constellationco or send me snail mail (and I will be your best friend forever). Here's my first set of answers. I look forward to answering your questions next!

Brooke wants to know: 
What is your favorite letter shape?

Curvy ones. S because it's the beginning of my name. & because it's awesome and symbolic. 

Chelsa wants to know:
What's your spirit animal?

Bison. (Although anyone who knew me in college will argue that it's a bird. But Portlandia ruined bird love forever.)

Chelsa wants to know:
What was it that first peaked your interest in letterpress?

Two things:

Meggs' History of Graphic Design & Douglas Higgins' History of Graphic Design course at the Ringling College of Art and Design.

My fortuitous purchase of a $100 Kelsey table top printing press at an antique store in Arcadia, Florida.

Brooke wants to know:
What's your comfort food?

Anything Southern or breakfast. Fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, grits, bacon. French fries. Dark beer. Strong coffee.

Brooke wants to know:
If Elvis were alive today, what would you talk with him about? 

I'd ask him about Johnny Cash. 

Meet the Team: Brooke

To continue our "Meet the Team" series, I'd like to introduce you to Brooke, my print shop hero. Brooke came to us last fall with letterpress experience and a flexible schedule. After a month long internship to learn how to print on the platen press, she was ready to tackle printing our products 3 days a week. Good thing, too... it turns out newborn babies and platen presses aren't always compatible. Brooke is a detail-oriented printer, a thoughtful co-worker (her handwritten notes and freshly picked wildflowers make even the worst days sweet), and always up for a good conversation. I can't even begin to tell you how thankful I am that she's on our team! Here are Brooke's answers to my "Meet the Team" interview questions:

Q: Describe yourself in 6 words or less.
A: Always choose whimsy.

Q: What is your favorite thing about working at Constellation & Co.?
A: My favorite thing about Constellation & Co. is the community.  Hands down.  I love walking in the door, seeing some happy combination of coworkers, family members, and Atticus the finch and saying, "Well, the gang's all here!"  People have always been my favorite part of any position, and Constellation & Co. doesn't disappoint.  I have been warmly welcomed in to the fold of this family business over the past six months as a new printer, and I couldn't be happier.  The conversations we share during the days of pulling hundreds of prints and hustling sweet merchandise can range from baby fashion and Tolkien trivia to moving discussions of civil justice, how to truly carry out our life's work, dealing with loss, and how to save the world with love.  Second favorite things about Constellation & Co: learning and practicing letterpress techniques, running antique presses, lending a hand in design decisions, and finding strength and confidence as a lady printer in a red apron- it's a good life.

Q: What are you doing when you're not in the shop? (Other jobs, hobbies, etc.)
When I'm not in the shop, life in Seattle feels busy busy busy.  I work two days a week with a pioneering art program for elders with Alzheimer's disease, intern with a restoration bookbinder in Pioneer Square, and I sling vegetables for an organic farm at Seattle farmer's markets.  My partner and I share a beautiful house on the water near Discovery Park, where we garden, cook meals, and run all over the city together.  I also have a habit of checking out lots of books at the library and not having enough time to read them, but loving the thrill of a deadline.  

Q: What is your favorite place in Seattle? (Shops, restaurants, parks, etc.)
My favorite place in Seattle is the Magnolia Bluff in Discovery Park.  It is simply the best.  

Meet the Team: Chelsa

Our team has grown and changed a ton in the last year, so it's about time to introduce you to the good people who make Constellation & Co. work! Without my team, your orders wouldn't get shipped, you wouldn't be greeted when you walk in the door, the trash wouldn't get taken out, and I'd get no sleep. The team has been my rock in this year of transition to retail shop owner and mama.

For the first "Meet the Team" post, I want to introduce you to Chelsa. She is kind, compassionate, and sweet to everyone who walks through the door. She is my helper in many things, including: wrestling with Quickbooks, filling online and wholesale orders, customer service, and helping shoppers find the perfect gift. I've asked her some interview questions for this post, and as always, her point of view is honest and delightful. 

Q: Describe yourself in 6 words or less.
"Auntie Chel, you think everything's fun." -Quincy, age 4

Q: What is your favorite thing about working at Constellation & Co.?
I love being a part of the behind the scenes and seeing the inspiration for different designs and seeing Sara perfect a custom piece for a customer. I also love giving our online orders a personal touch and helping in store customers find that perfect card or print. It's pretty easy to love coming to work!!

Q: What are you doing when you're not in the shop? (Other jobs, hobbies, etc.)
During the summer, I get my inner farmer on and volunteer at an organic farm once a week. It's such a great break from the noise of the city, a good workout, I get super dirty and get to take home boat loads of free veggies!

Q: What is your favorite place in Seattle? (Shops, restaurants, parks, etc.)
Bakery Nouveau! I mean, anywhere my darling husband is (assuming he's at Bakery Nouveau).

C&Co. field trip to see Johnny Cash cover band, Cash'd Out

C&Co. field trip to see Johnny Cash cover band, Cash'd Out

Our First NSS: The Recap
IMG_8737.jpg

Last month, we exhibited at the National Stationery Show for our first time, and it was incredible. We've been busy printing cards, filling orders and following up with the amazing people we met at the show. Here's the recap of all we learned, what we'll do differently next time, and all the things I need to gush about.

THINGS WE LEARNED

Buyers = Friends The people who placed orders with us were kindred spirits. They laughed at the humorous cards, awww'd at the sweet cards, and were incredibly encouraging. Meeting our buyers face to face was a wonderful reminder that these people are our friends! We enjoyed meeting them, talking with them and hearing their thoughts. I want to keep remembering that through the year. It's hard to remember to follow up with a business contact, but easy to remember to check in with a friend!

Follow your gut. There were a lot of things I was worried about right before the show. Will buyers reject our non-standard card sizes? Will black envelopes be a deal breaker? Will anyone order? Will our work be too different from everything else at the show? (I had moments of second guessing everything I've ever done.) But at the show, the buyers' comments were overwhelmingly positive. Not a single person questioned sizes, envelope colors, or any of the other things I had stressed about. They were super encouraging about our low-tech image making and print methods, and our line's simplicity and masculine appeal. Many of our buyers were male or buying from our line for their male customers. I'm not a dude, but I am married to a dude. And I'm really not a "girly" girl. The stationery industry can be very feminine, and I was worried we'd stick out in a bad way. But it was really nice to hear from buyer after buyer that our work is a welcome change. So I suppose the lesson here is: You followed your gut when you made these choices in the first place. Stick to those decisions. Consider them good ones until you hear differently. Ignore the blinding pre-show panic.

IMG_8679.jpg

Planning for emergencies is actually a good strategy. While asking myself crazy, irrational questions was bad for my sanity before the show, it actually came in handy once we got to New York. I was really worried about checking suitcases with all our paper goods inside, so I put almost everything in two carry ons. (They ended up being 40 lbs. each - sorry Brad!) Well, the 5 hours our bags spent on the runway in Chicago and deplaning the suitcases in flash-flood-warning rain in New York left our checked bags COMPLETELY soaked. Thankfully, they were only filled with clothes, plastic bins with tools, etc., and one box of catalogs. We had to hang dry all of our clothes, and 5 catalogs were damaged, but it could have been MUCH worse. (Also, rest in peace blowdryer and curling iron.)

I also packed two of pretty much everything. In different bags. And had a back-up box at the studio, just in case. Something will go wrong, and planning ahead (in obsessive detail) gave me greater confidence to know I could tackle most problems as they came up.

IMG_8726.jpg

You need a helper. Brad came to New York with me, and it was incredibly helpful to have someone on hand to help with set-up, bring me coffee, watch the booth while I went to the bathroom, and for general moral support. I can't imagine tackling the show without my right hand man.

Plan ahead. I went to Paper Camp in October, and started preparing for the show as soon as I got home. I had most of the major things done months in advance. I ended up getting really sick a few weeks before the show, so I didn't pull any late nights in preparation. My body just wouldn't allow it. While I was laying in bed, I was feeling really thankful that I started preparing so far in advance. I've done things for the business in the past in a way that allows me to become completely overwhelmed by stress. Others can thrive under extreme pressure, but it gets ugly for me without plenty of sleep and checked off to do lists. (Trust me.) The advance planning I did allowed NSS to arrive without any major breakdowns. I planned thoroughly, prepared months in advance, and ignored all impulses to majorly change or add to my original plan. I'm sure this coming year will have its own challenges, but I want to prepare similarly in advance. That basically means starting to design next year's line right now. (And we've got our first C&Co. new line brainstorming day on the calendar!)

THINGS WE'LL CHANGE

Solo booth. Exhibiting with Ladies of Letterpress was absolutely the right choice for this year. It gave me a show under my belt, lots of lessons learned, and the validation that this whole tradeshow thing is a good idea for us. But next year, we're planning to tackle our own booth! Brad and I spent time before the last day of the show walking around and looking at locations, booth sizes, etc. We've got a lot of exciting ideas!

Hard walls. The walls we had in the Ladies of Letterpress booth were 3/16" foam core, and they felt really flimsy. They had seams and zip ties in all the wrong places. Every time the booth behind us did something on set-up day, the wall would sway dramatically. I was running to make sure my standing shelf didn't get pushed over every few minutes. Not ideal! I know hard walls are more expensive, but I feel like the extra cost is worth it to look more professional and be less precarious. I'm researching several options - rent them, build them ourselves and ship them, etc. This part is scary, but we will tackle it one day at a time. (Only 11 months left! hahahaha.)

Shoes. I am on an epic quest to find attractive, comfortable shoes for next year's show. I made some pretty terrible shoe choices for this year. Standing in one place from 10 am to 6 pm for several days is rough. I didn't have room for a chair, and Vans are a bad choice for long term standing. (Be they cute and chambray or not!) We ended up taking a late night teary-eyed (on my part) walk to a Manhattan Kmart for Dr. Scholl's inserts. Your cute and comfortable shoe suggestions are welcomed!

IMG_8686.jpg

Sit. We saw several booths with a cocktail height table/bar, and a cute stool. This is genius. You're up high enough to not look like a slacker, but you also get to take a load off every once in a while. Genius.

Eat. Our intention was to go grocery shopping on the night we got into town, and to pack lunches, snacks, etc. for during the show. But our flight was delayed 5 hours, and it was midnight and POURING when we arrived in New York, so that didn't happen. Decent food is hard to come by in the Javits, and will cost you approximately your firstborn child. We were warned, but didn't have a ton of other options. I didn't take very many food breaks during the show, and that's just not a great idea for health. But it seemed like every time I went to take a break, someone would come to place an order or ask questions. Brad did a great job helping, but I wanted to be there. I think the solution for next year is a stash of small, hearty snacks that can be eaten quickly while hiding around the corner.

More gift items! Bigger line! Keep going! I have so many ideas. So many. Notebooks full of ideas ranging from impossibly crazy to simple. This coming year we will continue to focus on growing our selection of items. We've got a whole booth to fill!

IMG_8705.jpg

THINGS THAT WERE AWESOME

Instagram: awesome. I met so many people at the show who I'd been chatting with on Instagram for months beforehand. It felt like a giant reunion with all my best friends from the internet. So many hugs and high fives. We met fellow designers and printers, Seattleites, and store owners/buyers who we've connected with on Instagram. We picked up a huge quantity of followers at the show (using #nss2014), and several people mentioned that they saw us on Instagram and made a point to find us at the show. Social media win!

Our Ladies of Letterpress neighbors: amazing. We spent several days in close quarters with the other ladies o' letterpress, and they were nothing but delightful. It was really fun to experience the show with so many others who were also debuting. We lent each other tools and tape, watched booths during potty breaks, and talked non-stop. I miss them!

IMG_8729.jpg

The weather: perfection. After the first night's crazy rain, the rest of the trip was awesome. It was sunny but still cool, gorgeous every time we went outside. We didn't get much time outside, but it was really nice to walk out of Javits and see sunshine. We filled our free time in New York as full as we could. We caught up with old friends, saw some sights, ate delicious food, and enjoyed the city every moment we had. New York and I have reached a decision. We like each other. It's official.

Tradeshow Bootcamp: invaluable. In addition to the camaraderie of the LOLP booth, I had the support of the Tradeshow Bootcamp community on my side. I've gushed about TSBC before, but I'll do it again. Those people are solid gold. I was so proud to have the TSBC Alumni ribbon on my badge! One quick anecdote: A few weeks before the show, all my planning for acquiring the standing shelf in my booth fell through. It was the one piece of furniture I needed, and it was looking grim about how much money I'd have to spend to get it there. I posted something on the TSBC facebook group, and Sam from Near Modern Disaster (a fellow Washington D.C. Paper Camper) volunteered to pick it up at IKEA for me and deliver it to my booth. AMAZING. I got to the Javits, and there it was. I cried when I spotted it, because it was such an amazing and supportive act of kindness. (Her box of whiskey and assorted items of appreciation is shipping soon!)

IMG_8689.jpg

THE DETAILS

Ladies of Letterpress We exhibited in the Ladies of Letterpress shared booth with 13 other businesses. Constellation & Co. had a 5 feet x 8 feet section of the booth, and all of the businesses shared the costs of the booth, carpeting, walls, lighting, some advertising, etc. We were located in the 2400 aisle, all the way at the end. It would have been a terrible location, except that our booth was giant and pretty darn inviting. It seemed like buyers were making it to us, regardless of the location.

If you're a female letterpress printer, join Ladies of Letterpress. (Because duh.) And if you're interested in exhibiting at NSS, this is an amazing way to start. It's significantly less expensive than having your own booth, and it gives you a chance to get your name out there and learn all those first tradeshow lessons with a smaller financial investment.

New Stores! We walked away from the show with 11 new stores in 10 new cities! My goal was 10 orders, so I really can't complain! (For a full list of our stockists, check out our stores page.) You can now buy C&Co. products in 15 US states and 3 Canadian provinces! Our little business is growing, and we're so excited to see what comes next.

Top 5 NSS best sellers: 1. You & Me Card - I expected this. But it also tied with: 2. Bitterness Card - I did not expect this! (Non-standard size, and a black envelope. Who knew!) 3. Independence, Sweet Independence - Another surprise! A lot of buyers mentioned that the summer patriotic holidays are hard to buy for. 4. Library Cards, Overdue Bday & Page Turner - This was actually our only birthday card on the wall. I know, I know! I'm working on it.5. Chipboard Postcard Bundles - Their simplicity and open-ended creativity were attractive to our buyers!

IMG_8722.jpg

Lodging
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment a few blocks away from Javits. It was so convenient to have a walking distance place to stay, and it was really relaxing when we got home every night. Plus, it ended up costing less than most hotels. Hopefully the Airbnb hoopla in New York gets settled before next year. We plan to rent the same place again if possible! The photo above is the view from the apartment building's rooftop deck. There's nothing in the world like waking up to see the sun rise over Manhattan!

IN CONCLUSION

We spent 9 months preparing for the show, and it feels like we've been preparing for it since day one of C&Co. (So I suppose it deserves this crazy long blog post.) During the show, I sustained a level of enthusiasm and excitement that was just ridiculous. It was awesome to see the booths of companies I've looked up to for years, to meet SO MANY amazing people, and to write orders for incredible stores. It never got old. I loved it, every second. (If you don't ask my feet.) It was a joyful, wonderful, life changing couple of days. I cried like a baby when we walked away from the Javits on the last day. The show was 100% wonderful for us. There's been a lot of conversations in the industry about cost, show size, etc. - but from the eyes of this first timer, there's nothing like the National Stationery Show. Can't wait for 2015.

NSS 2014!

We leave for New York today, and we're so excited about the show! We'll make new relationships with buyers, reconnect with old friends, and see all the beautiful paper we can handle. Will you be at the show? Come say hello! (We'll have lots of free goodies to share.) Here's our official release:

Constellation & Co., a Seattle letterpress stationery company, will be exhibiting for the first time at signature mix. The signature mix market, in NYC May 18-21, 2014 brings together a group of trade shows in the Javits Center: The National Stationery Show, Gift>it, C&LA and #fresh. Constellation & Co. will be exhibiting at The National Stationery Show, in the Ladies of Letterpress booth #2463-7.



Founded in 2009 by husband and wife team Brad and Sara McNally, Constellation & Co. has several years of client work and wholesale experience under their belt, and has set out to make 2014 their major trade show debut. In addition to their Ladies of Letterpress partnership, Constellation & Co. will also be joining sixty-three Etsy Wholesale sellers in Etsy Wholesale’s signature mix partnership.

All of Constellation & Co.’s stationery products are printed on antique hand-fed and treadle-operated printing presses in their historic Pioneer Square studio. They use traditional print methods, hand setting wood and lead type one letter at a time. Their new line includes boxed and single greeting cards, postcards, mini cards, art prints, and blank books. The line includes two local collaborations, including a series of vegetable cards that enclose a package of organic seeds from Seattle Seed Co. and a series of cards and blank books featuring Treehouse Point’s handcrafted treehouses (of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters fame). Many of the pieces in C&Co.’s new line feature one of Sara’s hand-carved wood engravings. Dating back to the 15th century, wood engraving is the perfect historic complement to hand-set type and letterpress printing.

Sara and Brad, Constellation & Co.’s founders, moved to Seattle in 2009 after graduating from the Ringling College of Art & Design with a pair of graphic design degrees. For their work in C&Co., Sara is the owner/operator, designer and letterpress printer, and Brad takes care of the web & tech side of things.

 For more information, to place an order, or for additional press information, visit C&Co. at the National Stationery Show in booth #2463-7 or e-mail: hello@constellationco.com.