I’m part of a creative small biz discussion group that was recently talking about freebies and packaging. It was so interesting to see what different makers send along with their orders, and the way that they package their goods. I know as a buyer, getting a package that’s put together in an interesting way is always so endearing. When you run a business online, clearly you don’t get the same opportunity to charm somebody as a brick and mortar storeowner can with a cute storefront or a friendly clerk behind the counter. But there is a different intimacy that can be created with an online order. Especially when ordering from a creative small business, you know that somebody put care into the item you purchased, and it’s likely that those same hands (or just a few others) packed your order up to ship, too. Opening up a great online order can, at best, be not all that different from opening up a birthday present.When I started out, I was dirt poor, and, since my studio was also my bedroom, space was at a premium. I didn’t have the option to order a bunch of different size Uline boxes, stock lots of fancy wrapping or invest in printed boxes. Even so, I knew that as important as it was to make great puppets, the presentation of the order was important, too.
For a long time I wrapped packaged in pieces of old dress pattern paper. It has the same qualities as tissue paper, but is an unexpected touch. Not to mention the stuff is cheap and plentiful at the thrift store, often totally unopened. And because my puppets can ship flat, I figured out early one that half-size manila envelopes were the perfect option for cheap and easy shipping. I can fit up to a few puppets in one envelope, and they’re small enough to still ship first class letter rate.
I’ll admit that manila envelopes aren’t the most interesting thing to look at, so over the year’s I’ve experimented with things to do to brighten them up. One of my favorites has been bright packing tape (I love the patterns that TapeSwell offers), as well as addresses written in bright colors, and my weakness– cute stamps!I always knew that there were great stamps out there in the world, but all my local postal branches seemed to carry were the most boring, ugly designs. (“Really, flags and Liberty Bells are still all you’ve got?”). I finally realized that though the branches don’t necessarily keep a great stock of stamps in-house, there is a nearly endless supply of interesting stamps designs to choose from through USPS online. These days I’ve been using a lot of Johnny Cash and the Miles Davis/Edith Piaf set, though the Modern Art in America set from a few years back is still one of my all-time favorites. They were huge and took up half the envelope, but what kind of a monster complains about a giant Georgia O’Keefe on their envelope?I have hand-written the address onto the front of nearly every order that I’ve shipped over the last 9 and a half years– close to 1700 addresses! We’re all sending and receiving less mail, and even less hand-written mail, so I giving my customer’s a chance to receive something in their mailbox that has a human touch. It’s fascinating to get up close and personal with exactly where the order will be going– another neighborhood here in Chicago, a far off country, strange street names, towns I’ve never heard of. One of my favorites is getting to send a puppet someplace that they “belong”– an Omar Little to Baltimore, a Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Washington, DC. I like to imagine that the item is going home : )
Though I do still hand-write each address, I did invest in a return address stamp a couple years back. Not because I minded writing that, too, but because it was something of a symbol for me. When we bought our house back in 2011, one of the things I most looked forward to was feeling settled enough to get something printed with my address. Through my twenties, I never lived in the same place for more than two years, so it felt momentous to put down roots. The return address stamp felt almost as official as the house-buying paperwork did. And, in addition to orders, it comes in pretty handy for things like thank you notes and holiday cards, too!