by Marlene Miller
At Wishful Thinking, we understand that crafters are crossing the blurred lines between rubber stamping, scrapbooking, altered art and other Paper Crafting... and we love it!
Hi! I'm Marlene Miller, owner of Wishful Thinking, which is located in Nashville, Indiana, about an hour south of Indianapolis. When I compiled my first scrapbook in 1978 after a trip to the British Isles, I knew I had found a hobby that I absolutely adored: travel somewhere exciting and make a "memory book" about my adventures to show everyone! From then on, I loved recording all my travels, each book becoming more elaborate.
Discovering a Career
In 1998, I moved to Columbus, Indiana, because my new husband, Erich, had been transferred from the East Coast. I arranged a transfer with my corporate job as well. We didn't know anyone in Indiana, but soon I became acquainted with other relocated wives. One evening I was invited to a stamping party. What's that? I said I'd come over to "watch." Needless to say, I was hooked! When I visited the nearest Hobby Lobby, I was floored to see all the scrapbooking and stamping stuff—where had I been all these years?! I soon discovered an independent stamping store and spent my lunch hours browsing the shelves.
After becoming a victim of corporate layoffs, I searched for a new career path. The opportunity came to purchase Wishful Thinking, a one-year-old store selling both stamps and gift items. I jumped at the chance because, well, I thought knew a lot about stamping and scrapbooking. I also had eight years of part-time retail experience and a long career in secretarial and administrative jobs. Best of all, I come from a family of business owners, including my sister, Susan Walla, who owns a second-generation tax and financial-planning business. In February 2002, with the support of family and friends, the doors were reopened and... well, it's definitely been both fun and challenging ever since! We soon discontinued the gift items (although we still sell chocolate candy!).
A Shop with Style
Wishful Thinking is located in scenic Brown County, one of Indiana's best-known and best-loved tourist destinations. The charming town of Nashville, known as the Art Colony of the Midwest, has attracted generations of artists for the past century. Currently there are over 300 unique shops, galleries, studios, restaurants and hotels. Autumn is the busiest season, when the town explodes with people coming to enjoy the fall colors in nearby Brown County State Park. Although the winter is quieter, many scrappers come to town for weekend getaways.
Our store is small, about 1,000 square feet, but customers are thrilled with our selection of merchandise. We love to include unique and unusual products never seen by our customers before—and our friends are delighted to tell us about products that we've never seen before, so we can include them in the mix. We seek out obscure and eccentric vendors and blend their wares with our favorite, well-known products; the results are always fun and amazing!
We take pride in the theme-based design of our displays, which include stamps, stickers, some papers, some embellishments, maybe a couple of ink pads, glitters or ribbons/fibers that work well together, plus several completed samples. As I noted above, we've discovered a blurring of the lines between stampers, scrapbookers, altered artists and paper crafters. In the design of our store, we encourage our customers to tap their imaginations and create the extraordinary.
We receive a lot of positive feedback on the multitude of sample cards, scrapbook pages and altered art posted on the walls, peeking out behind rubber stamps and enlivening any flat surface. We use every available moment to create cards and scrapbook pages, assisted by our expert designers who create fabulous samples anyone can make. Our customers may photograph any sample we have, or we can scan it for a minimal fee. Once a sample card is no longer useable (for example, the stamp was retired), we put it in the $1 sale bin.
Catering to Customers
Like many independent stores, we pride ourselves on customer service. We greet everyone who walks in the door, and many of our customers have become friends. We know we're doing well when a new customer tells us, "My friend said I just had to stop into the store!"
My two wonderful part-time associates, Tammera Lane and Brenda Smith, were customers before employees. They have brought so much enthusiasm and knowledge into the store; they are indeed a blessing! Their excitement about new products and techniques is contagious. We love poring over catalogs, collecting ideas from manufacturers' representatives and visiting trade shows for the most up-to-date trends. Our customers also inspire our enthusiasm and interest—we like to say we don't have any secrets and willingly share our tips!
We offer mostly stamping classes, with the occasional scrapbooking class for variety. Our classes range from beginner to advanced, and are taught by local and nationally known artists, our customers, my associates or me. Each class participant receives a special discount on her purchases that night. Classes are usually held in the store, but if we expect a large turnout, we arrange to use a larger space nearby. As the host store for Nashville's annual autumn scrapbook retreat, we offer classes and demos at the participants' hotel.
We keep in touch with our customers through a quarterly newsletter, each containing five or six stamped images that can be purchased at a discount for that quarter only. A printed version is mailed by request or available at the check-out counter. Those who prefer using e-mail receive not only the quarterly newsletter, but also monthly updates about events and classes, new merchandise, etc. We also include special e-mail coupons.
My other sister, Karen Walla, designed our website, http://www.wishfulthinking-in.com/, for which we're always receiving compliments! We keep it updated with our class schedule, along with many class samples. The website contains our quarterly newsletter as well as our monthly highlights. Click on our website and you'll also find a Samples Gallery, a Photo Gallery, a Questionnaire and Newsletter Sign-Up, among other features. We're not set up to sell online, but we have recently started a Monthly Internet Sale, accessed from our Home Page.
We spread the word about Wishful Thinking by advertising in local publications of the Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce. Many new customers also discover us from brochures we leave in local hotels and B&Bs. We also advertise in several national publications, such as Somerset Studio.
To keep our customers engaged, we host different events throughout the year. One is a monthly ATC swap based on themes announced in advance. Everyone loves to browse through our binder of recent ATCs, and we post each month's ATCs on our website.
Another popular event is our annual Used Stamp and Craft Sale. This is a great service for customers who are finished with stamps that others might want. Customers drop off their "stuff" and, a week or 10 days later, collect any unsold items and receive a store credit for a percentage of everything we sold for them.
About twice a quarter, we host a party and playtime called Inky Fingers. It's open to everyone, it's free, and it's always fun! We explore new products, make cards for charity, or create some make-it and take-its. Snacks and beverages are always provided, and special sales are the norm. As each participant departs, she receives a goodie bag in appreciation of her business and support.
As I enter my sixth year in business, I know that we will continue to grow and embrace whatever new comes over the horizon. To see how far I've traveled, all I have to do is pull out that simple little scrapbook I made almost 30 years ago and relive the two weeks I spent in England and Ireland with my sister. Isn't this what scrapbooking is all about?
[article featured in the July 2007 edition of Rubber Stampin' Retailer Online]