Stationery mavens Frannie and Nichole treat bad ideas like bad boyfriends
Frannie Wilson and Nichole Schoener say they’re impulsive, but it’s hard to believe looking around their immaculate store, Paperie + Pen, at The Village in Meridian.
Like Frannie and Nichole themselves, the space is classy but quirky, upscale but unpretentious. It all feels so intentional; not impulsive at all.
But the partners insist their shared impulsiveness is the very thing that got them to where they are now: this expansive, light-filled showroom that offers hipsters and soccer moms alike stylish cards, wrapping paper and custom invitations for all occasions.
“We don’t like to wait around, we don’t like to waste time,” explains 29-year-old Nichole. “We’re really quick to realize when something’s not working and ditch it and get on to a new idea.”
Whether you call it impulsivity or a remarkable strength of purpose, it’s true that things have moved quickly for the Boise State graduates over the last six years.
In 2009, both women were working toward degrees in graphic design and — like many a beleaguered art student before them — photographing weddings on the side. Believing firmly that two heads would be better than one, the classmates formed a partnership that quickly blossomed from freelance wedding photography to a fully formed business plan.
Their dream was a corporate design and branding firm with a broad range of in-house photography services. At their senior portfolio show — where other students displayed their work in the hopes of attracting the eye of local agencies — Frannie and Nichole showcased a fully operational, six-month old business: Ampersand Studios.
Early in the partnership, the ambitious pair hit a minor snag when they realized that corporate branding was … boring. After a corporate client approves the initial design, the branding firm just provides maintenance services every so often, like a new business card or letterhead.
“We did a couple branding projects and realized how much of commitment it was,” says 29-year-old Frannie. “We like weddings because they’re little mini branding projects. You get to brand a wedding and give it a certain feel … and vibe. And then they go away and we get a new one.”
Their business — then just a 500-square-foot studio between “the Pleasure Boutique and Joe’s Crab Shack” — soon revolved entirely around weddings: custom invitation design in the fall, wedding shows in the spring, photography in the summer.
To call their next business decision an “impulse buy” would be a disservice to these entrepreneurs, but that may be the best phrase to describe the purchase. In 2013, Frannie and Nichole sent their intern down to their supplier, Paper Express, to use the industrial paper cutter, but were told the store was draped in “Going Out of Business” banners.
“’Okay, well, how much do they want for the paper cutter?’” Nichole recalls asking the intern. “And then we realized there was no way we could move that paper cutter, so we might as well just buy the whole store.”
The girls purchased the storefront on Fairview Avenue in Boise — inventory and all — and dubbed it Paperie + Pen. “Paperie” is a faux French word in the style of “patisserie” or “boulangerie.” They decided to continue using Ampersand Studios for photography, because they didn’t want their customers to feel like the design and photo services were an all-or-nothing business.
Life in the retail world came with its pros and cons. On the one hand, the Fairview store gave the partners a new method of introducing brides to their custom invitations. And it worked. Their invitation business quadrupled after Paperie + Pen opened to the public.
On the other hand, they were stuck selling bulk office and scrapbooking paper to the store’s existing clientele. Their attempts to put their own stylish touch on the space and its inventory were met with animosity, sending them scrambling to prove themselves and earn the trust of long-time customers.
Frustrated but hopeful, Frannie and Nichole poured their energy into building the reputation of Paperie + Pen, absolutely convinced it would lead to greater things. And greater things arrived in 2014, when a heavily pregnant Frannie drove past the newly built Village complex in Meridian.
“Frannie was driving by on Fairview and she called me and she’s like, ‘I was just thinking, how much could it possibly be to be in the Village?” Nichole remembers.
Frannie called the agent listed on a Village billboard and left a voicemail expressing their interest. In fall 2014, the second Paperie + Pen location opened to the public.
It’s not as simple as all that, of course. There were meetings with agents and investors. Representatives from developer CenterCal visited the Fairview store to get a feel for the business and its financial viability. A financial agreement had to be reached, including a lease Frannie and Nichole could realistically afford.
But it’s still a good example of the way these young business owners make decisions. When they want something, they don’t second guess themselves. When something doesn’t feel right, they don’t waste time ushering it out of their lives.
That first Paperie + Pen location in Boise? It shut its doors for good on March 13.
“It’s almost like when you decide you’re going to break up with somebody … and now that you know you’re going to you can’t pretend anymore,” Frannie explains. “The Fairview store was not what we love … and it didn’t make enough money to justify not doing what you love. It would have to make a lot of money for justify that for us.”
With the Fairview store shuttered, the duo is free to focus on their wedding photography business, their custom event invitations, their new retail store and the next project on their horizon: selling their cards and stationery wholesale to other stores.
“Our business has grown in so many different directions than we ever imagined,” says Nichole.
And, although the girls say they don’t exactly believe in fate, they credit their uncanny knack for pulling the trigger at the right moments for getting them this far.
“You know when it’s right,” Frannie says. “You know when it’s meant to be.”
Note: Stop by Paperie + Pen at The Village in Meridian or online at paperieandpen.com.
Photos courtesy of Ampersand Studios.