Reflections on Another Year as a Pen Clerk - 2016
I remember in our first year of business I was interviewed by CTV about fountain pens and writing and the state of handwriting, and I was asked by the interviewer about whether or not I was worried for the future of Wonder Pens, given that technology is becoming more and more pervasive (and this was now three years ago). I said something about how every business owner is worried about their business, but we're pretty happy with how things have started off (oh, the joys of knowing nothing about business!), and it was rephrased by the interviewer in a some throaty voice-over into "Liz Chan says she's worried about the future of her business." I remember being vaguely shocked and indignant at this attempt at sensationalizing what I suppose was an otherwise unsensational piece of news. But I guess that is true, that I, Liz Chan, am indeed worried about the future of our business (and you should see how worried Jon Chan is). We've been beyond fortunate to have come to where we are with our shop, to have been blessed with growth and encouragement and the right timing on a lot of fronts, but nothing's a given with a small business. And, especially in our anachronistic market, where we've seen well-established brick & mortar pen shops go under, and in our own neighbourhoods, seen independent businesses closing up shop, there's always concern for the future. But here we are, three years later, another year under our belts.
Against all odds - for independent shops, for analogue tools, for paper and pen - this has been a crazy year for us. Not necessarily in terms of growth (although there's that), but certainly in adventure. Every once in a while someone will make an offhand comment along the lines of it's been so great to follow along with your journey, and I love it because it's a moment for me to stop and ponder all the craziness that has taken over my life and what this journey has been. I wrote a blog post yesterday on some of my favourite things that came into the shop this past year, but really, when it comes down to it, those are just things. This year has been so much more than that for us and our shop: we've grown and stretched in ways I never could've imagined when we first started out. Christmas, with its nostalgia and celebration and joy, is a wonderful and busy time of year for us in retail, but it's also one of a lot of preparation and worry as we try to make sure we have enough inventory (and the right inventory) and enough hands to get everything out the door. Our first year the shop was open, it was just me in the shop; the second year, Jon and Caleb were here; the third we hired our first employee. This past Christmas was our fourth in business, and we now have five wonderful, cheesy, thoughtful, funny, enthusiastic souls who come in through our back doors and put up with Super stealing their food and keep the place running. And now that we've survived the mayhem, and in this quiet time of reflection as we slowly move forward to the new year, it's time to take a look back. This year we got our Wonder Pens Chicken. He has turned out to be unruly and rambunctious and a complete sweetheart. His sometimes "too playful" attitude has involved occasionally startling customers with his leaping and bounding and attempting to treat their shoelaces or fingers like prey, but we're working on that. Our current strategy is casually unhooking his claws from customer's knit sweaters and then shuffling him to the back.
I'm told that I'm a bit biased towards his admittedly sometimes catty behaviour as I am "his person" and cats sometimes only have one person. I googled it and found an article that says cats bond with your psychic aura, and we all know everything we read on the internet is true. Especially things that tell you your psychic aura is good. Chicken hasn't caught any mice yet (his original purpose), but he purrs in your arms while you stroke his head, so I guess that's all a cat needs to do. At the very least, he has Jon admitting that Super is "not bad" by comparison. It's been a year of writing stories on the blog and taking pictures and trying to share with you all what's going on here. We've had a year's worth of Letter Writing Clubs, crazy events like our Warehouse Sale and we even made it to Scriptus as exhibitors. We got Wonder Pens t-shirts and buttons, and a sign on the side of the building to help people find us. We've added new pieces of furniture to the shop, moved it around more times than I can count (although I guess Jon could, since he's doing most of the moving), and spent a few hairy nights assembling shelving for the warehouse. Chalkboard walls and calligraphy classes, Caleb and Chicken and Super running around like savages after the shop is closed for the evening. It's been a year.
I was writing in a letter the other day about how when we first opened the shop, I would have these rainy afternoons sitting behind the counter, just watching the rain come down, alone in an empty shop. It was delightful, in a fatalistic sort of way. Music would be playing, and I would be enjoying my cup of coffee, wondering if anyone would come in for the rest of the day and thinking how nice it was that the school board was still holding my job for me in case this thing didn't pan out. And now here we are, three years later. We're truly beyond grateful for every new customer, and every new line we can bring into the shop. It's been a dream to have as my employment rifle through Japanese stationery catalogues and open up boxes fresh from countries around the world and to write about my favourite pens and ink for a living. To have our days with Caleb and to have incredible people on our team. And to have funny and interesting and wise and silly people coming through our doors, telling us stories that make us laugh out loud. Looking ahead, I'm not too sure what 2017 has in store for us. As always, we have our eye out for new brands and new lines and new products from lines we already carry. There are sure to be some great new inks and special edition pens coming out, and I can't wait to see them. But over the last few months we've also sort of found a sort of balance. With all of the growth and stress and excitement of our business over its treacherous infant years, we're finally settling into a place where, alongside worries over taxes and construction in our building and ink freezing in transit, we can enjoy all of the beautiful things that come through our door and, especially, all of the wonderful people we've been able to meet - customers, vendors, manufacturers, people all over the world who love pens and stationery as much as we do. Starting a small business is one of those things where I jumped in with both feet, not knowing what it would take. Had I known, I'm not sure I would've taken that leap. It's been a lot of highs and a lot of lows, too many long nights in a row to count, juggling numbers and boxes and not being sure if things are going to work out. Maybe not even really being sure what "working out" means. But it's also been such a gratifying and deeply fulfilling experience, to come out now and reach a stage where we recognize the names in our order queue and the faces popping up at our door. The stage where we can take the weekend off, take time to write in my journal or to take the dog and Caleb out for a walk, or to gaze out across a lake. We're not slowing down so much as we are savouring everything the shop and this life has brought for us. So in 2017, there's a lot to come - but what we're looking forward most of all is seeing familiar faces and new ones come through our doors, connecting with people online and off, and continuing to dwell in our communities as fully and as well as we can.