STRAIGHT OUTTA’ ‘SHARK TANK’: Local entrepreneur writes uplifting success story
Rarely does the arrival of a Meijer semi-truck ignite a wave of feel-good emotions to the level one did earlier this month outside Plymouth’s former Burroughs Factory, parts of which have been converted into trendy studio office space.
Five years after Canton resident Lindsay Henry was running her cooler-than-cool stationery company out of her family’s home, one of the largest retailers in the country was picking up 15,000 Inkling Paperie journals to distribute in its nationwide stores.
Even the entrepreneurial experts on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank” would have given Henry a fist bump after seeing how she engineered an against-the-odds success story.
“I would say the most significant ‘pinch me’ moment was seeing the Meijer truck arriving and filling it front to back with our products,” said Henry, who moved her company from her home to a spacious Burroughs office space in 2018. “It still feels surreal that we were able to manufacture at that volume when just five years ago we were working out of our garage and basement.
“We couldn’t do it without our team. In all, 22 of us worked on this project from start to finish.”
Working day and night
Inklings’ success has been a journey fueled by hard work, long hours, patience and a purpose to help people connect. In the beginning, Henry was working a full-time gig as a brand consultant, helping companies and non-profits grow their brands.
When she arrived home — her husband left his corporate job to join the growing stationery business — her work day continued with the building of her own brand.
“There were many pros and cons to (running the business out the Henrys’ Canton home),” she said. “On one hand, it kept our operating costs low and our kids (two sons, now 9 and 14 years old) were young at the time, so it gave us the freedom and flexibility to work around their schedules.
“But as we grew and began storing more inventory, and as our packaging helpers were coming in and out of our house, we realized that it was becoming impossible to live and work in the same place. So we signed our first lease on a space in the old Burroughs Factory in Plymouth.”
Distinctive products tug at heart strings
What makes Inklings stand out from the stationery crowd — in addition to Meijer, Henry has also collaborated with Starbucks — is its distinctive, well-thought-out products, that range from scratch-off greeting cards, lunch-box notes and customer cards.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Inklings manufactured scratch-off cards for front-line heroes. One said in bold white letters on a green background: I SEE HOW MUCH YOU ARE GIVING AND SACRIFICING RIGHT NOW. Below the large message was a scratch-off feature that, once revealed, read: And I’ve never been more proud to know you.
Messages that tug at the heart strings.
“What we do is all about relationships,” Henry said. “It’s about connection. You send someone a card because that relationship means something to you. So it’s very important to me that the relationships both within our team and also with our customers are front of mind.
“Our products are all about delivering that moment of surprise and delight. Whether it’s a greeting card you can scratch off like a lottery ticket with a handwritten message underneath the surface, a pop-up card, or a paint-with-water card.”
A gift and card all in one
Speaking of the paint-with-water card, it happens to be Henry’s favorite at the moment (although her products are like children in that she loves them all).
“They feature all of our own illustrations and each one comes with a paintbrush,” she said. “Just dip the brush in water and run it over the card to bring the colors to life. They are so fun to paint, and they deliver both a gift and a card in one.”
As far as experiencing overnight success when launching a company, Henry had four words of advice: Don’t. Count. On. It.
“Inklings is here today because of slow, steady and sustainable growth,” she asserted. “It’s put us in a healthier position because we’ve consistently invested back in the business, we’ve operated on zero debt and we’ve taken measured risks (such as bringing on staff and expanding our warehouse) that have allowed us to continue that growth path.”
While there’s zero doubt Inklings has been built into a robust business, Henry admitted she’s not sure what the future holds — which is exciting, kind of like the receivers of her scratch-off cards feelings before they discover the hidden messages.
“As long as we continue to be impactful and stay true to the values that we hold, I’m OK with not fully knowing what the next five years hold for us,” she said. “We actually had the casting director for a well-known reality TV show reach out to us last year about pitching our business to investors on their platform, and we turned down the opportunity.
“Success looks different to everyone, and I feel like Inklings is at this sweet spot where we’re doing work that we love at a pace that feels right, and the business is growing and thriving in the midst of it. As a mom of two kids, I’m well aware of how fleeting these years are with them, so I want to soak it all in and make sure that I leave time for the good stuff.”
Exquisitely stated — but what else would you expect from someone who writes uplifting greeting-card prose for a living?
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