This design-and-print shop in Stockton, Ill., has always let customers’ needs guide its offerings. Hear from the multitalented owner about the store’s 11-year growth.
Amy Laskye had moved 16 times before settling in Stockton, Ill. After years of working as a microbiologist and then as a stay-at-home mom, she wanted to give back to the community she finally called home.
“This was a landing spot in my life,” Laskye says. “I got a chance to meet a lot of the business owners here in the community, and I thought, ‘Now’s my chance. If I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it.’”
Laskye remembered her childhood love for her grandmother’s dress shop in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., and wanted to open a store of her own. In January 2005, she took the leap and opened Ink & Paper, 113 S. Main St. Today, the shop is thriving in the community of 1,900, but its current form only slightly resembles how it began.
“I opened with just office supplies and used books, so that’s why I named it Ink & Paper,” says Laskye. “Through the past 11 years, there’s been a lot of transition in my business, because some things work and some things don’t. I’ve brought in scrapbooking and crafts supplies, and now they’re gone. I brought gifts in, and now they’re on their way out. I’ve learned that when something doesn’t work, you have to stop doing it and try something else you think will work.”
Today, the shop’s name still holds true to its services and products, but in new ways. Laskye specializes in unique, custom-designed invitations and print material for weddings, other events and business products. Drawing upon her design expertise, area connections and high-quality printing services, she works one-on-one with customers to create distinct print materials that truly reflect the upcoming special occasion. Every piece is tailored for an individualized tone, says Laskye.
“With me, you get unlimited design choices, because everything is custom made,” she says. “You have the ability to see your product before we print it, either in-person or by mail, so you can feel the paper, see the colors and make sure it’s what you want. We keep designing until we come up with something that the customer would design themselves.”
Ink & Paper works primarily on invitations, but can accommodate nearly any printing need, including programs, newsletters, stationery, business cards, seating charts, place cards, printed cups and napkins, thank you notes and more. Laskye believes in the importance of her shop’s flexibility. No job is too small or too unusual.
“I do a lot of different things that some print shops wouldn’t do because the project is too small, but the foundation of my business is doing things that other people wouldn’t do,” says Laskye. “I want people to be able to come in and ask questions. If it’s something that I don’t know how to do, I’m honest and say I either need a little time to research how to get it done or I’ll recommend them to someone I know who can do it. I wanted to provide a service in my community that wasn’t here.”
Her largest competitors are often big-box printing stores, but Ink & Paper has notable advantages. Laskye’s personalized customer service helps to ensure that customers will get exactly what they want, from the fonts and paper types, to the price they expect, without sacrificing quality. The shop can also do smaller print quantities at a fair price, instead of holding quantity minimums like many online stores.
“Most importantly, I want you to be able to match colors with your swatch book, which you cannot do online,” Laskye says.
This dominant aspect of the business originally started at a customer’s request. In Ink & Paper’s second year, Laskye created the shop’s first wedding invitations when someone simply asked if she could. It was a perfect opportunity for Laskye to combine her design and creative skills with her desire to help the community.
“My sister-in-law was actually the one to say I should focus a good part of my business on the design-and-print service because there’s a good market out here with the tourism coming through our county,” Laskye says. “There wasn’t and isn’t anyone else doing what I’m doing, in the area. It has created a market on its own.”
Laskye has become a key player in this niche industry. Now in its sixth year, the Galena Bridal Fair brings together the area’s top wedding vendors to network and meet planners face-to-face every February. Laskye has been an organizer from the beginning, when it first started in Stockton.
“If you’re doing a destination wedding and you’re coming out to the Galena area, I certainly know most of the vendors in the area,” she says.
Laskye also recently joined the All River Road Talent, an eclectic artist group that markets open galleries for its Monthly Art Drive on the first weekend of every month. She now showcases local artists’ work in her store space, participates in the art drives and helps organize the annual NW IL Art Festival. After a successful start in 2015, the two-day event will return July 16-17 to showcase local fine art, craft breweries, wineries, jazz music and more. Laskye hopes to run a booth in this year’s festival to display her growing professional photography work, which can be found online at amymay.photography.
“It has opened up my world to know there’s just so much more creativity out there than just graphic design,” Laskye says. “After I decided to phase out my gift products, I thought to help share the love of art in my store. So now I’m splitting the space between the gallery and the Ink & Paper design.”
Day-to-day, Laskye wears many hats to progress her projects and run Ink & Paper. One part-time employee helps with the store, but Laskye otherwise oversees every aspect of the business.
“The hardest part is trying to make it all work. Finding time to get my design and photography done is often challenging, so that’s why I close the store now on Wednesdays except for appointments,” she says. “I’m extremely social – I love to be around people, I love to talk, I love to help – so I need to schedule the time to focus on the creative work.”
But it’s Laskye’s affinity for helping and connecting with people that fuels her business growth. Ink & Paper’s services today were shaped by Laskye’s skillset meeting customers’ needs. Along with doing design work, she still sells basic office supplies and offers copy services.
“For office supplies, I’m really just a convenience store for the community now, so you don’t have to drive to Galena or Freeport to get an ink cartridge,” she says. “I think that when you get to know your customers enough to understand what they’re looking for, it’s easier to give them what they want.”
Much of the shop’s business comes from referrals and word-of-mouth, although Laskye still markets herself through bridal fairs and social media. A high-quality product and an honest and friendly process keeps her customers returning as they encounter business needs, family weddings, children’s birthdays and other events for which her products and services are needed.
“I don’t know how to define success for me and my business, but as long as I’m happy, I’m successful,” she says.