What is your full name, title, and business name?
Margaret Lydy-Meeker | Owner | On Paper
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
On paper is a specialty stationery shop with a custom design and print studio. We sell fine European stationery, we stock all different kinds of cut paper, greeting cards, journals, fountain pens, everyday pens, really anything that supports our mission, which is to honor the act of handwriting. We also do invitations, primarily for weddings, but any celebrations as well as business cards and other marketing collateral.
How did the idea for your business come about?
It was launched in 1997, by Joan Schnee. She ran the business until the end of 2019 and she was really passionate about making paper. When she launched the business, it was more crafty. I took over in 2020, because I was passionate about the mission, and helping people put pen to paper. Also, it had been established for 20 plus years and had good steady sales, and it felt like a very low risk investment.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
I think the fact that this stationery shop can survive and thrive in the Short North, which has been there for 20 plus years, even though the neighborhood has changed and evolved so much. For people to continue to support and for us to evolve a little bit if needed. But really, we’ve had the same product selection for all these years and we still have people who love it and are passionate about it. So it’s gonna be here for the long haul.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
It means everything. It’s a dream that I’ve had for my whole life. I just love the ability to make decisions. I do make decisions with my team but ultimately, I take the risk and I make the calls. I love being able to adapt to meet the needs of our customers and it’s just incredibly rewarding.
Did you have to adapt a lot since the pandemic started?
We haven’t had to. We of course closed when the state mandated us to and we put in additional cleaning and sanitizing precautions. We’ve also really built up our website. We had one before the pandemic but it was maybe 50% of our product offering but now, we have almost everything up online. We did a lot of curbside delivery too. So adapted in the way that other businesses did to just make our environment as safe for shoppers as possible.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
I think what really excites me is the growth that we’re seeing, especially Downtown. The number of apartments and condos that are being built, the diversity and the energy of the city. The Short North is so vibrant and so fun, such a fun place to do business. It just gives me confidence that we’ll continue having the support that we need as people realize what a great town we live in.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
I’m originally from Toledo. My husband and I went to Ohio State and have been here since.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Just do it. Honestly, just do it. You can think about it for years and never pull the trigger because you’re afraid that it’s not easy and you’re afraid of failure. But, you have to just do it. It’s so worth it.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
I wish I knew how lonely it was. I didn’t venture into this with a partner and it’s not really a big enough business to make sense for a partnership, but I feel sometimes lonely. I just wish I had a person who was in it with me as much as I am to really bounce ideas off of and just to share the joys and the sorrows.
What’s the most challenging part of your business?
The most challenging part is making sure that I’m delivering on customer service. We’ve always really prided ourselves on the service that we give to our clients and our customers. I want that to continue and even to get better over time. So, I worry about forgetting anything. Is there something I can be doing better? Just wondering.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
Two things. I hate asking for help and I hate networking. I know how important both things are but I just really struggle with it and there are so many opportunities and so many people who genuinely want to help! It makes no sense. I bet there are some good podcasts about this.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
It’s just so hard. I don’t even know business outside of the pandemic, because I took ownership in January of 2020. It’s been probably as hard as any business ownership experience could be, but quitting was never an option. So you just have to dig deep and keep going.
What tool has helped you the most for your business?
We turned on a project management tool recently for dealing with our custom clients, which helps us schedule meetings, appointments, and keeps all of the proofs and emails all together in one system. That’s been really great.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
I’d say our project management tool was our game changer. Being able to streamline and automate our custom business so that we can do more with less time, and then putting our products on a website and making sure that we have a really good presence, decent navigation, easy shopping, all of that so that people can shop from all over the country.
So did you see your sales expense increase because of your online presence?
Yes, definitely. It’s like 3x what it was last year.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Payroll, for sure. The majority of my expenses is payroll, but my people are wonderful and I couldn’t do what I do without them. So we make it happen, every pay period.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Right now. We’re going beyond wedding invitations and doing more with business cards, business stationery, menus for bars and restaurants, and even signage. Anything that can help other small business owners market themselves.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Social seems like a no brainer, but the algorithms are very difficult to understand. There’s no way we get the exposure Facebook promises us. So, we have a great email list and we have good campaigns going out through email (not enough), people are really responsive. And I do believe that’s the best way for us to be in front of our customers.
Who is your best Columbus resource? Please provide name and business name so we can give them credit!
Probably my banker, Michelle Haslinger at Heartland Bank. Even though I have great credit, I was convinced I’d never get funding (part of that “never believing business ownership is possible” thing). She made the entire process so easy and then when PPP funding became a thing, she was by my side the whole time. I am so lucky to have found her. If you’re reading this because you want to start a business, call her right now!
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
My team, my team, my small but mighty team and my husband.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I’d love to expand and have three or four locations spread out around Columbus, and maybe outside of Columbus, but within five years, I think we should have a similar shopping experience in three or four urban neighborhoods around Columbus.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
Step away, get outside, breathe fresh air, read a book.
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
I always thought entrepreneurship must be so glamorous. You come and go when you please, you delegate all the “dirty work.” You pay yourself whatever you want. Bah! I work more than I’ve ever worked in my life. I took a HUGE pay cut and I cleaned puke off my store front the other day. It’s not as glamorous as it seems but I still wouldn’t trade it.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
That’s a good question. My grandparents were florists in Toledo and none of their kids wanted to take over the business. My dad was a partner in a law firm and I had no desire to go to law school and take that over so I guess I don’t expect my kids to want to take over my business either. I think there will always be a market for what we sell so selling the business down the line is probably the most likely scenario.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
My good friend Casey Goldstein and I were laid off our corporate jobs around the same time and were on a parallel path to starting a business. She opened All Paws Retreat about a year before I acquired On Paper; her business is booming! She bought the building and expanded the business and it’s been incredibly inspiring to watch.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
I would bring them to the Short North.