Leslie Lee was travelling in the Western U.S. in 1996 when she noticed the popularity of scrapbooking. The owner of a gourmet foods business, Lee was intrigued enough to do additional research into the hobby that allowed consumers to creatively preserve their photos and other memorabilia in scrapbook albums. When she discovered that scrapbooking was the fastest growing hobby in the U.S., she decided it would work in Canada, too. A year after launching Scrapbooker’s Paradise, sales reached $1.2 million. Eight years later, Lee operates four Alberta-based retail stores devoted to scrapbooking enthusiasts and distributes acid-free paper, albums, stickers and stamps to the U.S., U.K. and Australia. In five years annual sales have grown 244% to $4.2 million, earning Scrapbooker’s Paradise 181st spot on the 2005 PROFIT 100.
We asked Lee to share her secrets of success:
PROFIT: What’s the simple explanation for your company’s fast growth?
LEE: “We’re on the leading edge of the hottest hobby to hit the market in the past decade, and we’re the founder and leader in Canada. Scrapbooking has taken off because it fills a need. Every household takes pictures and this is a very creative and very social hobby that people enjoy. To capitalize on the trend, we keep a selection of the latest and greatest products available, from stamps to paper to pens.”
PROFIT: Who are your main competitors, and what differentiates you from them?
LEE: “In retail there are several small retail chains. We have a greater selection, we offer classes, we have a membership program, and we have a specialty discount program. In terms of wholesaling, we have really good buying agreements with the major distributors in the scrapbooking industry in the U.S.”
“We’ve had 100% growth in our wholesale division. We’ve really focused on talking to Canadian companies about the benefits of dealing with a Canadian distributor, rather than direct with an American manufacturer. For instance, we represent a number of companies, so instead of dealing with multiple manufacturers, they can deal with us. We have smaller minimum orders, they can order more frequently and they don’t have to pay brokerage, duty and out-of- country shipping charges, we handle all of that for them.”
PROFIT: What was or has been your biggest challenge to growing your business, and how have you addressed it?
LEE: “Finding the right people. We are constantly searching for the right people from retail associates all the way up to upper management. Once we find the right fit, to keep them we provide extensive training. We have corporate boot camps that we conduct quarterly, in which all of the management team from all the retail stores gather and share ideas and set goals. For our new staff, we have in-depth in-store training programs. We have product and technique nights for staff, plus we send out regular updates on new products. We also have incentives such as profit sharing.”
PROFIT: What have been your best sales and marketing tactics?
LEE: “Direct mail and newsflashes via the Internet and e-mail. We have a weekly newsflash that goes out to customers and potential customers, talking about new products, scrapbooking techniques and ideas. I’d say 30% to 40% of new customers come to us through direct mail and newsflashes. The key is knowing your audience and targeting them.”