Growing up, I was always busy creating something to sell or give as a gift. My mom always encouraged me to make things instead of buying them. I peddled pot holders to the neighbors, surf bracelets to the kids on the school bus and hand painted pins to all of my relatives. In October I would begin planning out what I was going to make for all my aunts and uncles for Christmas. One year, I hand drew each of them a calendar with seasonal pictures for every month. Most of my gifts and cards always had my "hallmark" on the back that read April's Ideas. I would have never dreamed that name would be relevant today.
I also loved doing art projects in school. My aunt Tami worked as a designer for Hallmark and I thought that was such a cool job. I took a lot of art classes in high school, but decided to go to college to be a special education teacher. My parents agreed that would be the sensible thing to do.
During my studies at Eastern Michigan University, I had the opportunity to work at an after school child care program in the Ann Arbor school district. It was a very fun job because we did crazy craft projects everyday with the kids. Whenever we had left over colorful paper scraps from projects, I would collect them for my paper making hobby. Pretty soon, I gathered old bulletin board paper backgrounds from the teachers and started making large batches of bright handmade paper.
As my inventory of handmade paper grew, I started making cards, frames and books out of it for gifts. My friend and co-worker, Dena suggested we should do a craft show together and that lit the spark of my childhood peddling days. Before I knew it, I was signing up for a 6ft. table space at the Ann Arbor Artisan Market for a mere $8 a Sunday. My boyfriend, Steve would come and visit me on the weekends from Grand Rapids and help me sell my wares. We were both feeling rich after making $80 in an afternoon. April's Ideas was back in business.
With the help of Becky (sister-in-law) and Karen (assistant), Steve and I participated in 34 art fairs during 1999. It was fun traveling around to a new town every weekend, but after a while it became tiresome. Every once in a while, local store owners in the art fair towns would ask me if I would wholesale any of my items. At the time, I could hardly keep up making enough inventory for the next show so I had to decline. Steve and I knew if we wanted to wholesale, he would have to quit his teaching job, we'd have to hire a small staff and probably move the business out of our house. It was an exciting, yet scary step of faith, but we took it.
Before I started to wholesale, I decided to abbreviate April's Ideas to a.i. paper design. I guess it was my way of saying, "I'm finally grown up and this kid-started business is turning into an amazing career!" I also began to purchase most of my handmade papers instead of making them because it allowed me more freedom in designing new items.
The first large wholesale show we participated in was the New York International Stationery Show. It was the first time my assistant, Karen and I ever had been to the city and we had a great time. We wrote a decent amount of orders and got picked up by a successful rep. group out of Chicago. Next, we were off to Philadelphia for the summer Buyers of American Craft Wholesale Show. That show was even more successful than New York and the time had come to hire some more people and find a place we could set up a design studio.
After searching around the local cities for a possible design studio site, we settled on a town just a few miles from our house. We signed a year lease for a 2200 sq. ft. old pharmacy building in downtown Berkley. We decided on sectioning off the front part of the space for a small retail store, while using the back part for our studio. Since the monthly lease was twice our house payment, we thought the retail space would help cover some of that expense.
With a lot of paint, saw-horse tables, plywood and old doors, we made the studio our second home...literally. Steve and I were probably there more than we were at our house. Steve joined a.i. paper design full time and took over the wholesale business portion.
Wholesale and retail continued to grow as I introduced new items and offered larger selections of products. We were feeling the growing pains on both sides of the business. We made the decision to relocate the design studio to a larger non-retail space a mile away from the store. Then we expanded the retail store, catching fireflies at the original location. The new design space gave us a lot of extra room to grow and allows me to continue to create new products every year.
Our line of stylish & savvy handmade paper products continued to change slightly year after year and our wholesale trade show booths reflected that as well.
Steve and I have been so blessed throughout this amazing journey. I couldn't have imagined a better way to live my life. I love what I do. I am passionate about my job. I enjoy working, laughing and even arguing with my husband. I am inspired by everyday simple pleasures. I believe that great faith in God can and will lead you to wonderful things. I am grateful for all the incredible experiences I have been a part of and continue to encounter.
We recently celebrated our 'official' 10 years in business and in hopes to inspire other creative souls who want to follow their dreams, we opened a new concept store, Yellow Door Art Market. This 3,600 sq foot spaces allows local artists to set up their own permanent mini-gallery & we'll take care of the logistics of customer service & marketing the artists.
We hope this new endeavor is the beginning of stories similar to ours & we can't wait to see what the next 10 years will bring.