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Paperlust: How a successful events business is surviving COVID-19

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Like many people that become betrothed, brothers James and Alex Boston discovered that wedding planning is not all about celebrating your love and commitment with your partner. In fact, the process of managing vendors, working with designers and sourcing supplies for every part of your special day can just be downright stressful.

Both brothers went through the wedding planning process with their respective wife-to-be many years apart and, much to their dismay, found that nothing much had changed to fill the gap in the high demand events market. There was no one-stop-shop marketplace for the first port of call for any wedding journey — quality personalised invitations.

Harnessing their knowledge of technology and love of design, the Melbourne-born duo managed to build a thriving online marketplace, open a shop front and add a manufacturing arm. But after almost five years of uninterrupted growth for the budding business they were thrown a curveball, a global crisis that not only impacted the broader economy but effectively shut down their entire industry. We caught up with James to find out more about his startup success story and how his events business is adapting to this challenging time.

Paperlust

Tell us a bit about Paperlust and how you got started.

The idea for Paperlust started a while ago, in fact it stretches back to my own wedding 11 years ago when we were trying to source wedding invitations. I have a background in publishing and design but found the process of working on custom wedding invitations with an independent designer, who was also juggling many clients, became really time consuming and slow. And while we were happy with the end product, I knew the workflow could be much more efficient.

At the time, there were some companies offering cheap wedding invitations online, but the design quality was poor. People wanted something more special for their special occasions, not just weddings but also birthdays and milestones, yet they didn’t know where to find the designers. At the same time, independent designers were struggling to promote their work through individual websites to a mass audience. My brother Alex and I decided to join forces to find a solution. We wanted to create a community where design lovers could find the perfect designers who could help curate what they wanted for their special occasions, so we launched Paperlust in 2014.

How has the current COVID-19 crisis impacted your business?

Being in the events business, we have been really affected by COVID-19. All around the world gatherings of people have been restricted or banned, which has led to the cancellation and postponement of weddings, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies and more. We have seen a huge drop in sales as a result, but for the most part, people are just postponing their events so we still have a large amount of future work piling up.

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What are some of the operational things you’ve had to change because of COVID-19?

Almost all of our staff are remote-working except for our production team, who are staggering their shifts onsite to reduce contact, and implementing cleaning and social distancing measures. Our face-to-face consultations have been replaced by live chat and email. Production has been able to continue but we have had issues with export orders due to the dramatic reduction in commercial flights. Orders that used to take two days to ship can take up to two weeks because of re-routing, however, our customers have all been very understanding.

What tools have you used to help your business continue to trade during this time?

Our workflow has been online since day one, so in terms of tools that have helped us it’s been our project management software Trello, our chat platforms Skype and Slack, and of course our Online Store which we have continued developing during the shutdown.

Tell us a bit about how you use Square’s commerce tools?

When we started down the path of eCommerce, we never thought about a physical retail presence. That all changed one day when customers started literally walking into our studio. Our initial site was not suited to receiving clients — like all good start-ups we worked out of a garage — so we soon moved to a purpose designed retail and manufacturing set-up. Customers not only wanted to see us and what they were buying in person, but they also wanted to pay on the spot. We researched all of the merchant offerings and found Square was our best option.

We operate a distributed team, with more than 40 staff in Indonesia, and we like how they can login to our Square Dashboard and access the analytics that they need at any given time, from wherever they are. For example, our data analytics specialist can login from our Jakarta office to help monitor our omnichannel tests on what products are selling well offline vs online. Square also integrates with our accounting platform Xero, which is handy for our bookkeeper who can pull transaction reports and reconcile sales easily come tax time.

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What’s your plan over the short-term as more restrictions are lifted and things start to go back to ‘business as usual’?

We are starting to plan for face-to-face, one-on-one consultations again when the next series of restrictions are lifted. Our first task is to compile checklists, cleaning practices and planning out social distancing measures to make sure everyone stays safe once we reopen our studio doors. We are also contacting all our impacted customers to organise heavily discounted reprints or provide electronic ‘change the date’ cards. We have built our own quote tracking software for this which is integrated into our customer management and accounting software platform.