April 23, 2014 • Regina Molaro
Treasures from the Sea
Strolling along the seashore always promises the discovery of special treasures. Whether it’s shiny seashells or colorful weathered glass, part of the fun of a leisurely day spent by the sea is uncovering those beautiful objects.
Seaside Papery, a fine paper and gift shop in scenic Coronado Island, Calif., also allows shoppers to discover special treasures. Its owner, Jori Fentiman, certainly has an eye for design and some prior experience running a business. Before the debut of Seaside Papery, Fentiman was at the helm of The Jackman Group, an interior design and construction firm owned by her parents.
Responsible for the business side of operations, her role there demanded creativity. Fentiman would often take buying trips with her mother and sister. Together they would scout out interesting antiques and home furnishings.
Tapping into that creativity just wasn’t enough to satisfy this entrepreneur, so she forged on to seek a career. This move would enable her to utilize her talent and graphics expertise.
Why paper? “I knew many people in my community who would drive 30 minutes away just to get personalized stationery. This service was lacking in (my) area,” Fentiman recalled.
Riding on Instinct
That hunch was right. Today, 10 years later, the colorful boutique attracts a mix of locals and tourists. In close proximity to the seashore for which it was named, Seaside Papery sits in an idyllic spot where the Pacific Ocean meets the San Diego Bay.
As one would expect, Seaside Papery, which encompasses 1,000 square feet of space, is bright and airy. Its décor is reminiscent of a West Coast cottage. A space in the back of the shop offers a cozy area for holding meetings, and a faux fireplace and mantle ushers a warm vibe into the space. An enclosed loft upstairs houses Seaside Papery’s stock.
“The retail space offers much more than a place to purchase products” Fentiman observed. “We aim to create a sensation that truly entices and intrigues our customers,”
The shop’s staff gets inventive with vibrant, patterned displays, and the store layout encourages shoppers to take their time exploring the shop, discovering unusual items along the way.
When it comes to curating the chic product mix, Fentiman seeks true treasures simply not found at other shops. She is quite strategic in selecting artistic items that don’t offer a mass-produced or corporate feel. Specialty items offer a point of differentiation and exclusivity. For instance, Ghost Academy created several wooden pins specifically for Seaside Papery. One boasts an image of Hotel Del Coronado, the historic beachfront hotel. Another bears an anchor design with the word “Coronado” emblazoned on it.
Whether it’s elegant stationery or a posh gift item, there’s an emphasis on impeccable design and superior materials. Gift-giving folk and paper lovers certainly enjoy Seaside Papery’s colorful greeting cards, luxury candles, decorative gift wraps and ribbons, as well as gift, etiquette and wedding books. There’s also chic desk accessories, as well as supplies for entertaining and hosting guests.
Prices range from $5 to $9 for greeting cards; $12 to $33 for boxed stationery; $21 to $50 for candles; and $1,000 to $2,000 per average order of letterpress wedding invitations suites.
As for the style, Seaside Papery’s collection spans from traditional greeting cards and boxed sets from Crane & Co. to ultra-modern letterpressed sets by Sugar Paper. High-performing brands include Sugar Paper (cards, boxed stationery, gift wrap and journals); Rifle Paper Co. (multiple categories); and Elum and Curly Girl Design for greeting cards.
For wedding invitations, brides swoon for Smock, Bella Figura, Elum and Designers’ Fine Press. For other invitations, it’s Tag & Company and Kramer Drive. “We’ve also done really well with Kaweco classic fountain pens. With the resurgence of hand-lettering and calligraphy, people want to try it,” Fentiman noted.
After riding a wave of success at the Coronado shop, Fentiman unveiled another location in November 2013. Called Seaside Paper | Home, the store is located in San Diego’s historic waterfront area.
Although paper and gifts are found in both shops, there are definite differences among the locations. Boasting a much more open space, the San Diego locale has an eclectic feel. Its’ warm and inviting décor features vintage touches such as reclaimed barn-wood floors, and stunning chandeliers made of seashells loom above.
The San Diego location also boasts Seaside Papery’s signature wall display, which presents a kaleidoscope of vibrant wrapping papers. All of the services offered at the Coronado location are available in San Diego as well.
With abundant gift shops in the Coronado and San Diego areas, retailers must be strategic about retaining customers and creating memorable experiences. It’s Seaside Papery and Seaside Paper | Home’s interesting array of items, color drenched displays and cross merchandising efforts that initially lure shoppers to visit — and have them returning again, Fentiman noted. “Customers keep returning because they know they’ll find products that they don’t see everywhere.”
Lured by the energetic vibe of the shops, customers often comment on the spectacular window displays. People have even suggested that Fentiman create a stylish coffee table-style book highlighting the window designs.
Creating the displays is a favorite task for Fentiman. To keep it interesting, she often incorporates found objects or vintage items such as a butcher-style paper cutter or poodle letter holder.
“I won’t simply stack the boxes of cards on a table,” Fentiman said. “I enjoy creating many dimensions and varied levels. We have vintage folding chairs from France, which are great for placing on tables to create height. We also create themes for different sections of the store, whether it’s Paris or Baja.”
Beyond the product assortment, personalized service and other amenities leave a great impression. Custom invitations, announcements and stationery are offered through top designers, as well as an in-house design team. The staff rarely orders designs “straight from the book.” With style topping her wish list, Fentiman’s customer dreams of presenting unique invitations to family, friends and associates.
Consultation services range from scouting out the perfect gift to assisting clients with navigating a wide selection of custom stationery books. “We know what questions to ask clients to guide them to the perfect thing,” Fentiman said.
To generate traffic, this community-oriented storeowner participates in local charity events. Classes and events keep customers engaged. In December 2013, Fentiman offered calligraphy classes (at a private home) through a local calligrapher, and a book binding class is in the works for the San Diego venue. Book signings with local authors are part of future plans.
Social media certainly proves to be an easy, effective way to stay connected to customers. Seaside is most active on Instagram, since it offers a simple outlet for posting snapshots of new products, window displays or special promotion items. The posts often attract more customers — as well as responses from loyal customers — plus new artists wanting to share their work.
Creating a fun place to shop and being in a bustling shopping district certainly keeps customers loyal. Some customers travel from nearby and others hail from faraway destinations, but they all share an appreciation for Seaside Papery and its sister shop.
“People who don’t live here always make a point to come back when they return. We were surprised to find how many orders we got from people visiting. They actually have the time to sit down and enjoy the experience when they’re on vacation,” Fentiman finished.
Quick Q&A: Jori Fentiman
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 functional yet well designed letter opener.
Q. With new stationery designers cropping up daily, how do you recognize the talented entrepreneurs among the hobbyists?
A. We look for good design and quality and companies that evolve with the trends. After being in the industry for so long, I’m able to recognize what will sell for us and what doesn’t work. New designers don’t have to have a sophisticated website or glossy catalog — their product speaks for itself.
Q. What are your three top-selling vendors?
A. Sugar Paper, Rifle Paper Co. and Smock.
Q. What have you learned about running a stationery business that’s surprised you?
A. There are still people out there who recognize the value of sending a handwritten note. Even though the number of brick-and-mortar stationery stores is decreasing, people still go out of their way to seek us out.
Q. If you were a stationery product, what would you be?
A. A Sharpie marker.
Q. What is the best buy under $50?
A. Haute Papier’s lucite tape dispenser with Washi tape; $19
Q. What is the best splurge item?
A. Anything embroidered by Coral & Tusk.