Your Invitations Questions Answered

webinar63The creation of knock-your-socks-off invitations was the subject of PaperSpecs’ free webinar Sept. 24th. During “High End Invitations,”  guest speakers Karen Mar –creative manager at MGM Resorts International – and Suzie McKig – co-owner and designer at Twig & Fig – shared their experiences, and some pretty eye-catching invitations. Below, McKig answers some of the questions attendees had following the event. (To catch an instant replay of that webinar, click here.)

How do you overcome designer’s block?
My two most successful ways are (in this order):

  1. Bouncing ideas around with a fellow designer or someone whose aesthetics I respect
  2. Taking a break from the workspace, going for a hike or urban stroll, and returning to the computer with a fresh brain.

How did you start out getting this type of client that appreciates quality, artistic work and can afford it?
It happened slowly, over time. We started with more modest and simple paper-based pieces, but always incorporating fresh ideas and handmade elements. Over the years, as we became more intimate with understanding the higher-end market’s needs and tastes, we fused our own passion for exotic materials and began introducing edgier and more unique elements. Truly, it was less planned and more of an organic process, as 9 years ago these sorts of invites really were beyond the scope of what clients were looking for.

Do you do any marketing, or are all your clients from word-of mouth?
We have a great range of retailers that represent our line around the U.S., most of whom find us at the National Stationery Show every year. This, and word-of-mouth, are our best allies, as our more 3-dimensional pieces really shine most when the client can feel/experience them in person.

You have a lot of different types of materials. How do you source everything?
This has happened over a long period of time. We do extensive Web searches, contact distributors, attend trade shows, you name it! Even when out shopping or exploring new cities, our eyes are constantly open for new things!

How do you go about finding vendors to work with for the specialty hand work – stitching on leather, cutting metal, etc. Or do you do this yourself?
Our best resources have come by personal reference. So, for example, we buy leather locally, and we ask our leather supplier if they have a list of companies/individuals they recommend for various leather-related services (stitching, finishing, embossing, etc). Intra-industry referrals are the best as people tend to recommend those that will make them proud, or those with whom they’ve had good experiences.

Any advice for first-timers finding printers that they can partner with? I don’t even know how I’d go about giving project estimates to my client / boss …
I’d just jump into an online search by typing your city name + the type of printing you’re looking for (digital printing, screen printing, etc). Check out a few of the websites from the search results and see which one resonates with you. Drop them a line, ask for someone to answer a few questions (do you do small runs, what types of presses do you have, etc.), and see if you’re a good fit for one another. If not, ask if they have someone who might specialize in the area you’re seeking. And so the chain of good referrals begins!

After moving to a new city or just starting out, what’s the best way to find a good local vendor that will be able to work with a designer who is trying to create specialty pieces?
Same as above. It’s an easy path with quick success. Tell them you’re new to this and you’d love to ask them questions before getting a quote to assure your files and direction will work in theory as well as reality.

What is the production cost for one of these high-end invitations?
There are soooooo many factors that there isn’t really a general cost to anything we do. Each are quoted based on quantity, setup fees, materials, assembly/labor involved, etc. A wide range would be from $20/set to $500/set.

I also wonder how you price your pieces. Printing separate from design? By the hour? Handwork separate?
There can be many approaches depending on the method of printing. But for the really hand-wrought items, it’s design as one block, then materials, labor and services plus relative markup.

I’m glad you mention budgets – the invites shown are clearly high end. Can you give us an idea of what types of budgets invitations like these would need?  
Many of our clients are most comfortable to spend (in retail terms) $35 to $70 each invite. Mind you, they go over that as well.

How do you help a client determine a budget?
That would be up to their balance sheet 😉  It really depends on so many things. It’s how precious the invitation process is to the host/hostess. The stronger their desire for the piece(s) to make a marked impact on the guests, the higher the budget can climb. I’d ask them what their goals are and see where budget falls. If it’s first, then you know to rein in the exoticness of your choices. If it’s several bullet points down the line then put your best design foot forward and show them your biggest ideas. You can always scale back if the pricing gets above their comfort level, but they will have more faith in you if you always do your most-creative best!

Can you talk a bit about your estimating/quoting process? How do you know what to price out before you really get started making mood boards and designing?
It’s fairly similar to my answer above. I try to see what the priorities of the client are and design accordingly. If your moodboards are for establishing mood, then you can take them as far as you wish. Then, once the design process starts, give yourself the challenge of presenting a few variations including a high-, mid- and lower-budget offering. Then there will always be something to satisfy.

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