July 3, 2013 • Regina Molaro
For Love of Paper
Not only did the art of correspondence play a key role in the long-distance courtship of Audrey and Joshua Woollen, they were the spark behind the creation of the Venice, Calif., Urbanic Paper Boutique. Prior to becoming the venue’s owner and creative director, Audrey worked in New York’s ultra-glam fashion industry. “Much like paper, I loved the evolution of style and the ever-changing aesthetics of it all,” she recalled.
Yet, for as long as she can remember, the shop owner has had a passion for paper. While still working in fashion, she began designing greeting cards, which were sold through local shops. Soon after, Woollen began creating custom wedding invitations.
One day while taking a stroll with Joshua — now her husband and business partner — Audrey was inspired to launch a paper boutique. The duo soon found an ideal location in the trendy Venice area, and in 2006 Urbanic Paper Boutique came to life. The shop’s name draws inspiration from city dwelling as it celebrates the organic beauty of nature.
From chic notecards to stylish gifts, Woollen’s distinctive perspective can be felt throughout the colorful shop. Online, the shop’s blog, Parcel Post, features posts detailing everything from paper picks to slices of her personal life. After all, isn’t sharing what this industry is all about?
The vibrant 1,200-square-foot shop, attracts paper, stationery and design enthusiasts, style-savvy brides, event planners and other creative types. Flea market furniture has been refashioned into displays, creating a modern vintage vibe. Card walls are flanked in wainscoting, while a former ice cream parlor counter has become the cash wrap. Two stools welcome visitors to unwind while writing out cards.
Urbanic Paper Boutique’s palette of eye-popping colors is always cheerful and frequently tweaked. “We create features based on what we’re feeling at the time,” observed Woollen. “Whether we’re featuring a new product or presenting a theme such as ‘hello sunshine,’ this changing environment creates interest and makes it a fun place.”
Discovering something new, whether it’s a product, stationery designer or musician, is always paramount. When curating the assortment, items that are mass produced, corporate or stuffy don’t make the cut. “We’re a style-driven boutique and we specialize in new design, so we look for things that are unique, current and beautifully made,” Woollen noted.
Urbanic’s retail mix includes letterpressed and standout greeting cards, as well as gift items that are packaged to perfection. These include small batch luxury candles and boutique chocolates. Functional yet decorative desk accessories include fabric covered notebooks and color-blocked sticky notes. A diverse range of decorative giftwraps are hand-screened, dip-dyed, foil stamped and vintage inspired. Urbanic also offers a curated collection of lifestyle magazines, as well as gift books.
Cards range from $5 to $8, scented candles retail from $28 to $52 and wedding invitation sets fetch approximately $1,300 per 100. Top-selling greeting card brands include Rifle Paper Co. and The Social Type. As for journals and desk accessories, it’s Le Pen and O-Check. Top names in wedding invitations include Alice-Louise Press, Wiley Valentine and Elum.
Since there’s an emphasis on design and stellar presentation, every selection highlights top-notch aesthetics. Customers can select the perfect wrapping paper from the rows of colorful patterned paper lining the shop’s back wall. Colorful ribbons are frequently switched out. Summer ribbons include pastel ombrés, loose-weave Italian cottons and designs bearing preppy cabana stripes and candy-colored herringbones.
Audrey and Joshua credit Parcel Post and other social media efforts with much of the shop’s success, attracting paper and gift enthusiasts from around the globe. “It’s definitely not easy to keep up with, but in this day and age, social media is one of the smartest avenues of business promotion,” Woollen explained.
Highly active on Instagram, Woollen also curates a variety of Pinterest boards. A YouTube page hosts videos of events, and Twitter and Facebook initiatives generate interest. Recently an online pop-up shop was debuted and met with much success. More traditionally, Urbanic distributes a monthly newsletter and hosts a fun quarterly giveaway.
Every year the Woollens send out a New Year’s card for industry insiders. This year, they printed some extras for customers and other Urbanic fans. After sharing an image of the card on the blog and on various social media outlets, the shop received an overwhelming response. “It became a novelty to receive one. Many of the recipients took pictures of the print and posted it on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, which drove business our way. A few people even blogged about it,” recalled Woollen.
Engaging events and workshops certainly unite like-minded folks. “We’re surrounded by so many creative people in Los Angeles, so we’ve made it our personal project to bring these folks together to meet, mingle and hang out. It’s so awesome to see connections being made,” Woollen enthused.
Each event is produced with a team of outside talents, creating an opportunity to spotlight the work of paper designers, planners, stylists, florists, foodies, photographers and bloggers. The shop also incorporates DIY gatherings known as Project Socials. These allow clients to get acquainted while being creative with paper.
Special happenings include summer and winter Project Socials, book signings and workshops on everything from gift-wrapping to calligraphy. Each year, a silhouette artist visits.
Other amenities include a bridal lounge, enabling brides and grooms to get inspired while selecting their invitations with the assistance of an in-house design coordinator. Celebratory drinks and treats enhance the experience. In addition to a vast but carefully curated selection from invitation designers, Urbanic also offers an in-house collection, “U+U.” Gift-wrapping and calligraphy services are also offered, as well as custom birth announcements and personal and social stationery.
It’s not too big of a shock that Urbanic has no immediate plans for opening another brick-and-mortar shop — this venue is definitely one of a kind!
Quick Q&A: Audrey Woollen
Q. There are some things that are timeless — a little black dress or the perfect martini come to mind. What epitomizes “timeless” for you when it comes to stationery?
A. A hand-addressed envelope sent through the mail. It has and always will feel special.
Q. With new stationery designers cropping up daily, how do you recognize the talented entrepreneurs among the hobbyists?
A. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are — we’re always looking for good design first. We do the majority of business with lines that continually bring new concepts, directions and interest to their collection and have a grasp on keeping the business side of wholesaling in order.
Q. What are your top-selling vendors?
A: Bella Figura, Rifle Paper Co., Snow & Graham, Sugar Paper and Paper + Cup
Q. What have you learned about running a stationery business that’s surprised you?
A. I’m continually surprised at how many other people are as passionate about paper as I am!
Q. If you were a stationery product, what would you be?
A. A to-do list
Q. What is the best buy under $50?
A. Patterned pens from Poketo: $5.50 each.
Q. What is the best splurge item?
A. Russell + Hazel gold leather tablet folio: $145.
— By Regina Molaro, special to Stationery Trends