keeping it local

Out of the Box and Keeping it Local

The box was the crux of it all.

The box was the crux of it all.

When we decided to take the plunge and create Picture a Conversation, the idea of staying with local fabricators wasn’t my prime concern. I did have a printer who did a wonderful job on our greeting card sets, but he didn’t have the capability to fabricate a box. I set out to find someone who could do both jobs.

I cast the net wide, getting estimates from companies in Florida, Maine, New York and even an artist in Santa Fe who called herself a “creative doula.”  That title was pretty enticing; I’d created something and it needed some big-time birthing. By having factories in China, each of these firms could give me the kind of box I wanted — hinged top, magnetic closure. But international shipping would have taken up 20% of our production budget, and I was getting cold feet working with people I hadn’t met face-to-face. I began looking closer to home again.

A friend gave me the name of a colleague who could print not only our cards, but the boxes, too.  His office was a ten-minute drive from my house. He couldn’t make the kind of “presentation” box I wanted, but he could manufacture what’s called in the trade a “doughnut” box. Think Krispy-Kreme and the way that lid lifts.

In the end I split the job between two local companies — family-owned Skip Printing with whom I already had a solid business relationship, and family-owned Tepel Brothers Printing whose representative came up with a wonderful box design and walked me through every stage of production. (The image at the left is the very cool backsplash designed by Harriet Tepel who assembled old type pieces.)  Beyond the fact that I needed boxes at a reasonable cost, it felt right to stay in Michigan, to keep the jobs in my home state.  In fact, when I called the salesman from the Maine factory to thank him and tell him I was staying local, he said, “God bless you! We need to keep jobs in America.”

I didn’t know it then, but using local firms was the right move for reasons beyond our bottom line. Being able to meet face to face during this process was crucial. There were glitches along the way; I was learning things I had no idea even existed. Rob (from Skip) and John (from Tepel Brothers) never stinted on the time they gave me explaining things each step of the way. Our job was small, probably minuscule, in comparison to their other jobs but I always felt our project was important to them. They were dedicated to making sure every detail came out exactly as we wanted it to.

On the Friday afternoon after I had signed off on the boxes, hours before we were going to print, John called me. “I think your bar code is too small to be scanned.” This wasn’t his job in the least but he was right, and he had just saved my derriere from disaster. Had I gone the Chinese route, I would have taken delivery of 1000 boxes whose QR code would have been worthless. It wasn’t John’s job to enlarge the bar code but he did that too, and still kept us on schedule.

Over the course of creating Picture a Conversation, I got a tour of the Tepel Brothers factory. I saw in action what a great group of people they have working for them. I learned from Rob that his dad was one of Detroit’s Mad Men who left the advertising business in the early 70’s to start Skip Printing. Rob now runs the business. His aunt, Sue, has done some great graphic design for us and even used one of our greeting cards as her family Christmas card last year. Small as our job was, it felt good to realize we were playing a part in supporting two Michigan companies meet their payroll.

We might be small now, but nothing says we won’t be mighty in the future. As we grow, that growth will spill over locally. Picture a Conversation merits Made in Michigan status, a designation that will open up new opportunities for us. I aim to keep it that way. Someone mentioned she has “resources in China” for when we get “big enough.” I don’t ever want getting big to mean disengaging from those who supported us when we were small. That’s one box I’m staying out of.

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