Features Industry Profiles

October 2, 2013 •
Showtime at Broadway Paper

When people used to ask Kate Strzok what she wanted to be when she grew up, the paper enthusiast would reply, “When I’m 50, I want to own my own stationery store.”

That dream no doubt germinated during visits to a store she absolutely adored, Broadway Paper. Located in the Historic Third Ward — Milwaukee’s trendy arts and fashion district — the charming area hosts a dynamic array of hip restaurants, soothing spas, theaters, chic galleries and stylish boutiques.

“I always loved Broadway Paper,” Strzok said. “I was obsessed. I loved the store, the location and the shopping bags — even the bathrooms. Even before having my driver’s license, I would make my mom drive me all the way downtown to shop at Broadway Paper — even if it was just for a birthday card.”

So when an opportunity presented itself decades ahead of schedule, Strzok seized the moment. After attending a year of college at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the Wisconsin native journeyed to California for San Francisco State University. Then she then jetted to Memphis for graduate school. With her sights set on the global arena, she traveled throughout Central America as she learned Spanish and volunteered.

Strzok never imagined that she would even wind up back in her tight-knit hometown of Milwaukee, but an unexpected turn of events found her job-hunting there. She was thrilled to find a job in shipping and receiving at Broadway Paper, but after lots of heavy lifting and opening countless boxes, Strzok realized she was not invested in the role. However, since she was now privy to the inner workings of the store, she learned that the previous owner was in search of a new owner.

Dream Job

So in May 2009, Strzok took the helm of the vibrant paper and gift shop. The 3,200 square feet of selling space boasts a fine collection of paper and treasures. An additional 2,000 square feet houses offices and storage space.

The now-president and owner has certainly managed to live out her dream. How does Strzok’s shop differ from the previous owner’s vision? Today’s Broadway is more on-trend and offers a wider product assortment. It also boasts a contemporary environment and an easier shopping experience. Strzok also ushered in a larger variety of custom bridal options and streamlined the consultation process.

The boutique’s retail prices range from 25 cents for colorful paper or decorative ribbons to $190 for a personal letterpress combo kit. The collection includes an assortment of truly special sentiments, from counter cards to books, decorative wrapping and scented candles to stylish gift bags and beyond. High-end stationery also constitutes the mix — from flat-printed counter cards to triple-engraved boxed stationery.

Top-selling brands include Crane & Co., Snow & Graham, Rifle Paper Co., Compendium and Cavallini & Co. Top categories include counter cards, gifts and wrapping paper.

Business Booms

Since buying the business, it has grown expediently every year. “2009 was a very tumultuous year to purchase a small business since the economy was experiencing a recession, but it turns out, we had no place to go but up. In fact, Broadway Paper is up 20 percent from 2012,” Strzok said.

The entrepreneur is grateful for the growth spurt, but she certainly played a role in shaping its success strategy. Strzok’s staff always strives to provide a personalized experience, and to compete with the online market, Broadway Paper differentiates by offering highly personalized, tailored customer service.

“We definitely know our stuff — our newest employee has worked here for more than two years,” Strzok enthused. “We aim to provide a unique product assortment that can’t be found anywhere else and we provide a lot of Milwaukee- and Wisconsin-themed products for tourists — or locals to send to loved ones who moved away. We often hear tourists say, ‘I wish there was a Broadway Paper in our city.’ It’s wonderful to hear.”

How else does Strzok manage to keep the traffic flowing? Special events such as workshops and bridal seminars certainly generate buzz. Several times per year the shop exhibits in local bridal shows, but its main promotion is its punch cards — once a customer purchases 12 greeting cards, they’re rewarded with a stationer’s dozen.

Since sentiments are at the heart of the business, receiving rewarding customer feedback ensures that Strzok and her staff are doing their jobs well. They truly enjoy receiving handwritten thank you notes and once even received a mug from Tiffany & Co. from a beaming bride.

Since it’s the final touches that truly resonate, Broadway Paper adds a personal touch to gifts via its unique wrapping service. It’s become quite a signature statement. Customers can bring in their own gifts and have the staff wrap them with a bit of fashion flair. With guidance, the customer then selects the packaging, wrappings and ribbon, but the final task is completed by the experts. Beyond the price of the wrappings, the service costs $8 per package; for same-day service, there’s a $5 rush fee.

Of course, Strzok would love to launch another Broadway Paper location and with her super successful track record, it may be sooner than she even imagines.

Quick Q&A: Kate Strzok

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 Crane & Co. 100 percent cotton pearl-white correspondence card with a monogram engraved and centered at the top, along with a patterned envelope liner.

Q. With new stationery designers cropping up daily, how do you recognize the talented entrepreneurs among the hobbyists?

A. By considering a wide variety of their business techniques. Great entrepreneurs are able to produce quality designs while focusing on professionalism and efficiency.

Q. What are your three top-selling vendors?

A. Crane & Co., Rifle Paper Co. and Snow & Graham

Q. What have you learned about running a stationery business in the last year that’s surprised you?

A. How often I see people appreciating the beauty in stationery. In this day and age, immediacy and technology has become our entire world, yet when customers enter our store they seem to lose track of time as they look at our products. Most leave with at least a few new counter cards to add to their collection. A well-designed and thought-out counter card has truly become a gift in itself.

Q. If you were a stationery product, what would you be?

A. A letterpressed “love” greeting card with an envelope liner. My birthday is on Valentine’s Day, so I’m a huge sucker for love greeting cards.

Q. What is the best buy under $50?

A. A Wisconsin Letterpress Print Paper by Parasol Press, $28.

Q. What is the best splurge item?

A. OneCanoeTwo’s 2014 Oversize Wall Calander, $69.




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