She shares her work process, her awesome balance of being a shop owner and a fully present mother (totally impressive, seriously!), as well as some important messages about supporting moms who own businesses and taking mental health concerns seriously. This is truly a must read, and a shop and mother to support this holiday season with your gift giving ideas.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us, Whitney! I am confident your work is going to be around for many years to come, a staple in Portsmouth and in fellow moms' lives.
Moms, she's offering a GREAT discount, scroll to the bottom for that, and like all of her pages! SHARE with your friends :)
Images shared from Whitney Swaffield Walker
1. How did you start your business? Why did you want your own business? When did you start your business?
I met my business partner in 2007 when we were both working at an advertising agency in Portsmouth. I was newly engaged and she was helping me plan the wedding. We realized there was no place in Portsmouth to get really beautiful and unique wedding invitations. That search combined with a realization that my dad owned some antique letterpresses that were covered in dust, spawned an idea that we could start a business designing and letterpress printing custom wedding invitations. We began doing that for close friends and family and eventually decided having a retail storefront would attract more customers. We opened the doors to our Gus & Ruby brick + mortar shop in August of 2009.
2. Why was owning a business a perfect situation for you and your family?
Actually, in 2009, it was far from a perfect situation. Our country was in a deep recession and we decided to leave our very safe jobs with health insurance (!) to open a risky storefront. Honestly, looking back, I can't believe we did it. We had incredible support from our families who reminded us that the time to take risks is when you are young without children and without a lot of debt.
3. What does your business specialize in?
Our business is sort of split down the middle: 50% is brick + mortar retail sales. Our shop features beautiful stationery and greeting cards, fun bags and pouches, bright water bottles and art prints and lots of gifts for the home. The other 50% of our business is custom wedding invitations. We meet with our brides and grooms in a private room within our retail store. It is by appointment only so that our clients can have 1 on 1 attention from one of our invitation specialists. Appointments last about 1.5 hours and we walk our couples through the entire process, from different printing methods to budgets to etiquette when addressing envelopes.
4. What's your favorite product?
My store is literally my dream store. I've been making handmade cards and have been obsessed with paper and all things pretty since I was a toddler.
I always love our awesome selection of greeting cards, but right now the product I am lusting after most is a reimagined edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland featuring over 70 original paintings from famed stationer + illustrator, Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Company. The book is so beautiful and even though my daughter is only 19 months old, I am putting it under the tree for her this year and can't wait to curl up on the couch and flip through it together.
5. How'd you come up with the name?
We named our business after our dogs: Samantha's little dog is Gus and my lab/hound rescue is Ruby. We used to take them for long walks in the woods and daydream about opening our business so when we finally opened our doors, we thought it was perfectly fitting.
6. What do you love best about working for yourself?
I love the flexibility of working for myself. The first 3 years were the opposite of flexible because we worked 6 days a week and we were absolutely exhausted. About 2 years ago (right around the time I was 5 months pregnant) we finally got to a point that we had enough employees to cover the hours at the store so that neither of us ever have to be the ones who physically open or close the shop. Now we are able to basically make our own work schedule. A normal day for me is starting work around and getting home by 4. After my daughter goes to bed I usually work another 1-2 hours depending on how long my to-do list is. On weekends I am always on social media updating our FB and Instagram accounts and checking in with the girls at the shop. In a lot of ways it's like you never stop working, but I love what I do SO much that it honestly never feels like work.
7. When working, when do you work in the day/evening? What's your process for working? Things you do daily, a routine?
As I mentioned above, I do work a fairly normal schedule but I'm able to get home early and work in the evenings. Because my business is retail and we are open 7 days a week, it is rare that a day goes by that I don't do something work-related. But I usually take the weekends to be 100% present with my family and if I do have to work I do it while my daughter naps or in the evening after she's gone to bed. I don't have any great routines, unfortunately! I am actually a disorganized person so routines are not my thing!
8. Take me step by step through working with customers. Do you do anything special or unique, wrapping, specials, etc.?
I'll focus strictly on the retail portion of the business here because the invitation side is a very long, detailed process. We happily greet all of our customers when they walk in the shop and make it clear we are available to answer any questions and help them shop for specific people. We pride ourselves on the goods we carry so a lot of the time we are educating our customers on where products come from, how they are made and why they are so special! We gift wrap any purchases for free with our signature wrap which features kraft paper with red and white baker's twine. If a customer wants to buy a sheet of one of our beautiful papers, we are always happy to use that to wrap a gift (even if the gift is bought elsewhere).
Now with the addition of our online store we ship all orders over $50 for free and are happy to gift wrap those as well if customers leave a comment when checking out.
9. What is your success rate? What do you think customers would say about your work, shop?
We have had continuous growth over the last 6 years and 2015 has been our biggest growth year since we opened our doors so I'd say our success rate is pretty great!
I think our customers would say we are very thoughtful about the products we carry. That the goods they find here are things they wouldn't find anywhere else in Portsmouth. I think they would say we always have such interesting products that seem to be right on-trend but somehow aren't trendy!
10. Why do you think people should shop in your store, and why should they support moms who work for themselves?
I think people should shop in my store because everything we carry will bring a smile to their face.
While we do have a handful of lines that are what we refer to as "big box companies", the majority of our products are made from small, artisan companies. Most of the time they are women-owned or a husband and wife team. We literally know all of their names, where they live, how old their children are. They are working 24/7 for themselves and making really amazing products right here in the U.S. The money we all earn goes right back into our communities.
I think people should support moms who work for themselves because these days it is SO hard to work a regular corporate job and make time for your family.
Working moms work harder than anyone else (as far as I'm concerned) and make so many sacrifices they shouldn't have to make. If you support a mom who works for herself you are helping her spend more time with her children, you are most likely supporting your local community (and definitely the U.S. economy).
11. What are your items you sell?
We started out as a stationery store which meant our focus was on greeting cards, stationery, note sets, note books, gift wrap, etc... but in the last 2-3 years we have become much more of a gift shop with a focus on lifestyle brands. Our biggest selling items are Bkr water bottles (eco-friendly, beautiful glass water bottles), candles, art prints, greeting cards, and calendars. We also have really fun accessories like weekender bags, wristlets, jewelry holders and phone cases.
12. How does your business allow you to be a great mother?
It allows me time with my daughter. During the work week I get 3 hours with her before I head to work and then I get another 3 hours with her in the evening before bed. I am always home in time to cook her dinner and give her a bath. If I worked in a corporate setting I would have half that amount of time with her.
And perhaps the most important way it allows me to be a good mom (not sure I'm great yet!) is I get to set a positive example for her. I am truly doing my dream job and I work so hard every day. I want her to know she can do anything she wants and there is no reason she can't turn her passions into a career.
13. What do you think would surprise readers to know about you?
My younger sister (by 2 years) committed suicide when she was 23. I know that's a very heavy thing to share, but it has shaped who I am in my adult life and weighs heavily on me as I parent my baby girl. She dealt with an eating disorder from the age of 14 and was diagnosed with depression at 16. Mental illness is such a taboo topic and I hope by sharing this part of my life it will encourage others to speak up as well.
14. What is the coolest thing you've ever experienced as part of working with this business?
I have been SO honored to have a custom wedding invitation that I designed and printed by hand on my grandfather's press, featured in Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine. Actually, we've now been featured 4 times. I can't imagine a bigger honor and while people often glaze over when I try to explain to them what I do, they always perk up at the motion of Martha Stewart Weddings!
15. What is one of your favorite gifts to give someone for the holidays?
I don't think I can say I have one specific item I like to give for the holidays, but what I always consistently do, is spend a ton of time beautifully wrapping their gifts. Obviously I use the gorgeous paper and ribbons we have at our shop, but I always like to add something extra like bells or a sprig of holly or even a black and white photo.
16. How many kids do you have?
I have a daughter, Hazel, who is 19 months old. One word to describe her is SILLY. She has more personality in her tiny, 20 lb body than just about anyone else I know!
Whitney is offering 15% off all online purchases through Christmas with the code: MOMMYSTORIES.
And all orders over $50 ship for free, everyday,
no code required.
Note from Whitney: "If the ladies want to sign up to receive our emails (we don't send a lot!), we will be sharing our Black Friday, Small Business and Cyber deals very soon! They can sign up on this page.
And it's probably good to note we are located at 29 Congress Street in Portsmouth, which is 2 doors down from where the Gap used to be or about 1 block away from the North Church. We are open Mon - Sat. and until on Sundays, but we will have extended hours for the holidays."