Spark Letterpress, located in the heart of the arts district in Northeast Minneapolis, opened its new showroom and print shop this summer after about a ten year hiatus of leaving the Twin Cities. Growing from a business of two, husband and wife duo Jim Watne and Valerie Carlson, to more than ten full-time staff, Watne and Carlson knew they wanted to return to the Twin Cities to grow their business even further. We sat down with Valerie to get the inside scoop.
How did you and your husband become interested in design and how did that carry over into custom letterpress?
I always considered myself to be creative and worked as a designer in my 20s for some large accounting firms. As much as I enjoyed the challenges of those positions – to be creative within a confined set of design standards – I wanted to branch out on my own. I began doing freelance design work for other companies and somewhere along the line I met Jim. We fell in love and he ultimately joined me in doing freelance design work since he had also been working as a designer. We designed our own wedding invitations and found that stationery was a great outlet for creativity in comparison to our regular freelance work. We decided that if we wanted to be truly successful and profitable that we should invest in a printing press. We happened upon letterpress for it’s beautiful impression left in the paper as well as the simplicity of the press. I’d say the rest is history but that is certainly oversimplifying the past 10 years.
How long have you been doing letterpress and how you made the leap to starting a letterpress business?
We’ve been doing letterpress since 2004 and are so thankful to be pursuing that dream today. We knew that letterpress was a growing niche printing market and have worked really hard to become a print shop that people can trust to produce their ideas. Whether it is a gorgeous wedding stationery suite, your one-of-a-kind business card or just a simple note, we handle projects big and small.
How many employees do you currently have and what are their roles to make everything operate smoothly?
There are 10 of us at Spark. We have four people in client service and design, three in production, two in operations and myself overseeing everything from creative direction, production management and cleaning the kitchen! We have been fortunate to find the right staff person for each position. We like a balance of skill, personality and flexibility because being in a small business is no small feat. We all need to function independent of one another and come together as a team to keep Spark running smoothly.
Can you name a few of the publications your letterpress work has been featured in?
Spark’s custom invitations have been featured in national magazines such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides (national and regional), Print, Communication Arts, Inside Weddings, Real Simple Weddings, The Knot, New York Weddings, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Stationery Trends, InStyle Weddings, Minnesota Bride, Seattle Bride, World Bride, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style and more. Spark has also been featured on numerous online media including FPO, Oh So Beautiful Paper, Paper Crave, The Brides Guide, Style Me Pretty, Merci New York, Casa Sugar, The Knot, Brides.com, RealSimple.com, Always a Blogsmaid and Communication Arts web pick.
What would you say to the aspiring creative entrepreneur?
If it is your true passion or calling you will know because you won’t allow anything or anyone to get in the way of pursuing your dream. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have doubts or haven’t been through hard times with Spark. I have and I will continue to experience that. Success doesn’t just happen, it is the result of working harder than you ever imagined possible. When your friends are having fun on the weekends, you should be writing your business plan or developing your marketing materials. When you want to get that new car, you should be evaluating whether it is a necessity and consider instead saving for that next big unexpected expense for your own company. I make difficult decisions each and every day and owning a creative business is not for the faint of heart.
Content and photography by Sara Chars.