Are you a cat person or a dog person?
Answering this question marks a provocative way for people to define themselves. Artist Rebecca Stockert created a business for the world’s “cat people.” Visit her ecommerce site and the first words you’ll see: “Cat people, unite!” Her greeting card company Cat People Press combines art, wit, and the written word to celebrate our feline friends and all the people who love them.
Stockert put down her paint and picked up her pen to write The Startup Ladies about her experience as an artist entrepreneur and why a business built for “crazy cat people” isn’t crazy at all.
What is Cat People Press and why did you start the company?
Cat People Press is a greeting card company that celebrates the complicated relationships we have with cats. I sell greeting cards, prints and stickers. I began the company as a way to combine my loves of cats, correspondence and illustration.
As a professional artist, I started Cat People Press as a side hustle about two years ago, but now my intent is to grow the company into a full-time business.
How has your sales strategy of combining wholesale, retail, and online contributed to the success of Cat People Press?
My retail business strategy is less brick and mortar and more leveraging a pop-up presence. The retail portion of Cat People Press accentuates the online presence. All three – retail, wholesale, and online – work together and support one another. Marketing, branding, product development, and most other aspects of the business overlap for the three, which has been positive for Cat People Press. There are customers who routinely make purchases from all three channels depending on what is most convenient for them at the time.
I capture sales data across all three channels to decide which lines or designs to prune. Retail is effective for fostering face-to-face interactions with customers. Having real, in-person conversations with Cat People Press customers helps me gather comments and suggestions that ultimately drive new product development.
What is the biggest business challenge you’re working to overcome?
I am an artist, so the creativity (visual design and copywriting) comes easy for me. My biggest challenge is sales. It is probably easier for me than some other artists, but I definitely learned early on it is a hurdle for my business. I am perpetually overcoming this challenge by doing it. It is like most anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I also watch others who are good at selling, as well as those who aren’t, and take notes. Another resource I’ve found is webinars from SCORE and other organizations on selling.
How have you leveraged digital tools to grow your business?
I use Shopify for my website. It is a good ecommerce site for selling online and in person. It has a great card reader and mobile app I use to sell at art fairs. I use Mailchimp to send newsletters, which has been very good for business. It is great for small companies because it is free up to a point. Both Shopify and Mailchimp provide data on things like sales and open rates, which is invaluable information for growth.
How does your commitment to environmental sustainability differentiate your business and impact your business decisions?
Environmental sustainability is important for me on a personal and professional level. I make business decisions based on financial and ethical considerations. Every time I make a change or invest time and money in a new endeavor, I ask myself, “What is the impact on the planet? Can this be done in a more sustainable way that is also economical?”
Cat People Press cards are printed by a Forest Stewardship Council-certified (FSC) printer using environmentally friendly practices and soy inks. Cardstock is FSC-certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Sustainable Forest Initiative-certified, and with a minimum of 10% post-consumer recycled content. Envelopes are FSC-certified and Green Seal-certified with a minimum of 30% post-consumer fiber.
What’s next for you and Cat People Press?
ProbSummers mark the busy art fair season. I’ll be traveling across the Midwest throughout the summer months to sell and promote Cat People Press. My husband and I are rehabbing a house built in 1880, which will become my new art studio and an income rental property. I’m also conceptualizing new lines for the business. I’ve been thinking about a couple of different (not necessarily cats!) collections, so stay tuned for that. I’ve also been considering new products for the collections including stationery, t-shirts, and ceramics. ably the best advice I’ve been given over the years is to follow your passion and then look at the big picture and how you fit in it. Most recently the best advice came from Kristen Cooper, CEO & Founder of The Startup Ladies. She told me that many women take their ideas and talents to the non-profit arena because they want to do good. Women can make money and do good at the same time.
What’s been your biggest “aha moment” with Cat People Press so far?
I can’t say there has been one big aha moment, but rather a multitude of small ones. One very boring aha moment was during tax season. I file sales tax annually. I realized that I have been losing money on sales tax fees because they do not follow the same cycle as income tax. Annual sales taxes must be filed by January 30th or fees are added. I did not realize until this year that this money was wasted in the business. It shows that not every part of the business is exciting, but it was a learning moment.
Understanding the importance of the customer also has been a series of aha moments. The most memorable moment in dealing with customers was when I realized that Cat People Press has a life outside of myself. This realization was due to social media where I saw that people I did not know were tagging other people I did not know and were very excited about the products. There are customers from across the United States ordering online, most of them I have never met or had contact with. This might seem obvious to traditional business people, but for an artist, this is a different way of thinking about the way I create.
If you had it to do all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have been more focused on my products, but this is something that I could not have learned without doing it!
What advice do you have for other creatives hoping to launch a business?
My advice to other creatives: it isn’t always about you. Many artists focus on their own process, their creativity, and the art that is being created. These are all great things (and can make great marketing material), but this is just one little sliver of the pie. The customer is equally important to the business. It takes both to make a business successful. Both creativity and the customer need to be developed – maybe the customer more so because artists naturally tend to their creativity.
“My advice to other creatives: it isn’t always about you. The customer is equally important to the business.”
How has The Startup Ladies helped in your business journey?
The Startup Ladies has given me a group of women with whom to interact and from which to learn. I have benefited from having other women in business to give me feedback on my business practices and decisions. I learn new and better ways of doing business, from a woman’s point of view, which is invaluable information. There is a certain camaraderie and flow of expertise and information that has been of great benefit to me and Cat People Press.