A Conversation with Mark Smith of @Envelopments

Monday, March 31, 2014

Today's guest expert is Mark Smith of Envelopments

Can you share a little bit about the Envelopments story -- how it began and how it's evolved over the years?
Envelopments evolved out Elements. Elements was a card and gift store founded by sisters, Holly and Deborah, back in 1985. They were way ahead of their time in bringing custom printing to stationery products they carried in their store. In 1991, I had just returned from living in Europe and was helping them to rethink their business as the economy was not doing well and retail was in stuck in a cul-de-sac. We leveraged the new desk top publishing technologies of that time to add the services of printing on the beautiful stationery papers they carried. That quickly led to creating custom invitations and announcements for their customers. Essentially we installed a design studio in a retail store…it was a designers playground with all the products on hand to create beautiful wedding invitations, corporate communications, birth announcements and so on. Deborah was not satisfied by the simple two dimensional aspects of what she was designing. As a three dimensional artist, jewelry designer, and lack of knowing any better, she pushed her creativity to new places to satisfy her growing clientele base. That led to the first Envelopments products quickly gathering demand by their customers. Fast forward…we developed a full product line, spun off a new company and eventually closed Elements on its 20 year anniversary to focus entirely on Envelopments.

That’s a big change in business, what did you learn along the way of that journey?
The first challenge was for Deborah and Holly to wrap their heads around the notion of creating a product line for Elements’ competition. When they first realized that creating limited quantities for their customers was not cost effective, Deborah suggested they offer the products to their competition to  increase the quantities manufactured and lower the costs to make it more accessible to consumers. Holly  thought about it further and did the numbers realizing that if they had just 10 accounts like Elements they would have a justifiable new business. The girls are masters of sharing and being very generous in their personal lives and applied that same sense of being to their business. One of the things they learned in retail was the challenging business model of buying product and sitting it on the shelf hoping someone would come in and buy that thing before you had to put it on sale. So, we took that frustration and applied it to a new business model for Envelopments customers by offering the opportunity to buy just what they needed to get the job done, a job that they already had a customer for and most likely a deposit from their customer to get started. We offered to be their production facility, warehouse and ship very fast so they did not have to hold inventory. This, excellent customer service and tips and tricks to be better in business is what has propelled Envelopments to success…oh, a great product line also helps.

You’ve grown into a respectable business, developing a new market segment and setting trends. What are the hurdles you have had to overcome to get where you are today?
First we had to come from out of nowhere to be recognized, respected and trusted that we could keep the promises we were making. Becoming recognized in our industry was initially done by getting recognition from leading publications and even on national television. This helped to get us in the face of consumers asking their local stationery stores for our brand and specifically for our products.

We garnered respect by being asked by others in our industry to actually do their own invites and announcements utilizing our products. In both of these instances we relied heavily on happy customers and word of mouth…this was long before social media. Trust that we could deliver is all about infrastructure. This has been my mantra. Making sure we didn’t grow too fast, that we had the tools in place, the staff to support our vision and the means to finance it all based on the measurable success at each milestone along the way. Oh yeah, and did I mention a great product line helps! Speaking of products, our development of a new market segment of products and services led to another big challenge which was to inform the marketplace about doing custom design and production which was not the norm at the time. Eventually we had imitators, many of them our own customers, also surfaced trying to do what we do…which of course they can’t. And then the economy went sideways which was completely out of our control. But we adjusted, kept on track with our plans and are very excited by what the future holds for Envelopments.

You're a family-owned company and have long-term employees who have become like family. What  are some of the lessons you've learned over the years in building a culture where people like coming to work?
As we say at Envelopments we don’t have an HR department, we have a department of genealogy. Some of our team members have been with us for over 16 years. Many have come from Elements. Others are friends or family members of other employees. Sometimes this can be a challenge as we end up trying to fit the job to the person vs finding an employee for the job. But we love the culture we have created and enjoy watching the friendships evolve, romances start, new babies growing into young adults, and being a part of everyone’s lives. One of the primary aspects of having happy, long term employees is them feeling like they are respected and well looked after, hence our benefits and insurance programs we offer.

Another aspect is having a great place to come to everyday. When we realized it was time to grow into a larger facility we took pride in turning our new building into a beautiful work environment for everyone even though we don’t have customers come to our facility. It was designed for them. Our employees have a beautiful lunchroom that opens to a patio surrounded by a bamboo garden. They have ergonomic desks that raise and lower to what suits the employee throughout the day. I also believe that since we designed it as an open environment everyone feels more connected and part of every aspect of  the business vs being alone behind a door or in a cubicle. And then there are our beautiful products which our team loves, they believe in what we offer is great and how they service our customers is stellar. We get feedback all the time thanking them and patting them on the back for what they do for our customers. This really makes for a proud, happy employee.

MARK SMITH is one of the original co-founders and President of Envelopments. Before starting Envelopments, Mark’s varied past has included being the lead designer for COMDEX, the computer tradeshow that launched the personal computer industry; film and television production for Germany; product design and marketing communication design for a variety of markets. Recently Mark spoke at SAP’s 2013 Sapphire Conference and was featured in a variety of videos which can be seen at envelopments.com/SAP.
Think Splendid will be offering insights and perspectives from Splendid Guests for the months of February and March while I am working in Africa

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