How Paper & Pear got started

Introduce your Etsy shop and tell us your story. How did you begin and decide on what to sell on Etsy, and how do you create your products?

I’m Kim Negaard, owner and founder of Paper & Pear on Etsy. We design and sell pre-made and customized spice, pantry, and home organization labels, as well as custom labels for packaging food, candles, and beauty products. I started Paper & Pear in 2017 as a blog and Etsy shop with the intent to create a business fueled by my love of design and of making things by hand. 

The inspiration for creating our most popular products, a clean, simple line of spice and pantry labels really came out of my own need to better organize my kitchen and it started back in 2016 with spice labels. My husband and I both love to cook and we started buying our spices in bulk at the local food co-op. I searched Pinterest, Etsy, and anywhere else on the internet for labels to organize our refillable spice jars, and at the time, I couldn't find anything that combined both the function and clean aesthetic I was looking for. As a designer myself, I decided to make my own.

Trying to reduce packaging waste and the environmental impact of what I eat was an important driver for me to personally use refillable containers for spices and most of my dry pantry staples. It's something I haven't had an outlet to talk a lot about publicly, but it's definitely a motivator and inspiration for the work I do and something I hope to share more about with my customers and audience.

After a lot of positive feedback on the spice labels I had shown in my recipe blog posts, as well as the labels on my handmade lip balms and other personal care products that I was selling on Etsy at the time, I transitioned from making labels for my products, to making as my products. I started selling spice labels in January 2018 and within a few months, they were the top-selling spice labels on Etsy. 

I design all the labels myself and my team and I print everything from our home workshop. We use two adjacent bedrooms in our home as our workshop where we store all of our inventory and shipping materials and we each have a desk, laptop, and printer workspace for preparing and printing orders. The ideas for our products initially came largely from my own needs and subsequently product ideas have been inspired by popular requests from our customers.

I worked in the software industry for almost a decade doing various types of marketing and UI/UX design, and product management before I started selling labels. That's had a tremendous impact on the way I think about products and the idea of separating content from presentation to create reusable and flexible templates that can be tailored to customers' unique needs.

This allows Paper & Pear to offer very personalized labels in any language with a consistent look and feel. It also allows me to train my team to create custom labels without needing a design background which has allowed us to scale as demand grows. At this point I still review every customer’s order before it’s printed, and we all work together to prepare and print the orders. 

Favorite items

What are your favorite items? What makes these so special? Why do you think these items might be selling well?

My favorite products are our Modern Spice Labels, our Minimalist Pantry labels, and our Clean-Modern Soap Labels. These products are also some of our top sellers and I use them all in my own home every day. I think the clean aesthetic is something that can easily create a visually satisfying before-and-after effect.

Repetition allows the eye to rest and helps create visual harmony; I think that's why going from a mismatched spice cabinet or pantry to one that is coordinated, can be so appealing and even soothing to look at.

I have had a lot of customers tell me that amid the chaos of living in a pandemic with kids stuck at home, endless Zoom meetings, and so many routines being uprooted, that small victories like a beautiful spice cabinet or pretty soap bottles can really brighten their day. It's something you can control when a lot of other things feel out of your control. 

Getting sales on Etsy

How long did it take for you to earn your first sale and how do you currently attract customers to your Etsy shop?  

I think I had my first few sales within a day or two of opening my shop from family and friends who saw my announcement on Facebook, but that’s obviously not a long-term strategy.

These days, we attract most of our customers through a combination of social media (mainly Instagram and TikTok) as well as SEO (including Pinterest and Etsy Search). We have gotten a lot of social media and web exposure from bloggers and influencers sharing our products in their posts which has been a major driver for growth. 

Managing Paper & Pear

How do you manage your shop? Are you running solo or do you have any team members? What tools or services do you use to run your shop and how do you handle fulfillment?

I ran Paper & Pear for about two years as a solopreneur—first as a side hustle and then full-time. In 2020 we grew to the point that I could no longer operate on my own and over the course of last year, the business expanded to include my husband, sister, and two brothers-in-law.

With the exception of my sister, who does remote customer service and order intake, we all work together out of our home in Minnesota. We also have four furry office mates to keep things interesting—our labradors Jack and Luna, and our cats Chester and Bean. They can be found hanging out under our desks as foot warmers and tripping hazards.

Perhaps unsurprisingly as a company in the labelling business, we use a lot of labels and try to keep our operation well organized. We have multiple large wall units with labelled slots containing the various sizes and colors of blank label stock we print on as well as stocking copies of our printed labels ready to be shipped. We use a whiteboard to tally approximate back stock levels and manage our inventory.

Since we only have so much space available in our home workshop, we order inventory about once a week. The first time we had a semi show up at the end of our driveway with a pallet load of shipping mailers was a slightly comical growth milestone.

I have a technology background and am a big believer in using technology to streamline a small business and allow us to operate at a scale that would not be possible without the efficiencies created by apps and automation. Some of my favorite tools and apps include:

Text Expander: This is basically autocomplete on steroids for all sorts of text shortcuts. We use it both to expedite internal communications between our team as well as for quick and consistent customer service responses. 

Adobe Lightroom: My go-to for photo editing, Lightroom offers the ability to copy edits across multiple photos which is a huge time saver after a shoot. I also love the guided upright geometry tool to get everything lined up just right in a few clicks. (As a free option, Google Photos has some of these features and I actually used that for the first two years of running Paper & Pear before investing in Lightroom.)

QuickBooks Online: I use QuickBooks for accounting, expense tracking, and occasional non-Etsy invoicing for wholesale customers. Since we have employees, I also use the payroll module for payroll and payroll-related tax tracking.  

Snag It: This advanced screenshot capture and editing application is very useful for creating quick mockups and order previews for customers. It’s faster and less complicated than Photoshop for simple modifications such as adding text markup or simulating a background color. 

AutoHotkey: AutoHotkey is a keyboard macro and custom scripting utility for Windows; this tool is certainly the most technical in my list. We use it to automate repetitive tasks such as standardizing and manipulating text strings before loading them into our templates. It’s very powerful if you want to dig into it and there are a lot of examples and sample code snippets online to help get you started.

Grammarly: As a poor speller and error-prone typist, I make heavy use of this browser-based spelling and grammar checker to quickly proofread customer communications and anything else I might be typing online… like this interview. 

G Suite by Google: We use Google’s G Suite for mail, calendar, hangouts (like Zoom), and group inboxes for customer service. We also store all our files in shared folders on Google Drive. 

Spanning Backup: We use Spanning Backup, which is a G Suite add-on, to automatically back up all our Google Drive files nightly. After a short scare with some missing files, I decided I needed a proper backup tool running in the background. I have already used it to restore files that were accidentally deleted. 

As far as shipping and fulfillment, we use Etsy’s integrated shipping labels for mailing. We schedule daily pickups with USPS to collect our outgoing packages from our front porch. As we complete orders each day, we stack the filled mailers in carts next to our desks and at the end of the day, we print all of the shipping labels from Etsy.

Once we started doing 50+ orders a day, we bought a high-capacity paper cutter that could cut 300 sheets at a time. This low-tech machine has saved us hours of time cutting shipping labels. If we’ve done it right, they’ll come out in sequential order so we can easily work through the stack matching each package to its respective shipping label (and occasionally, when we don’t do it right, we all get to play a matching game).

Most days, we finish our work as a team, sitting at our kitchen table and applying shipping labels to the day’s orders while listing to some upbeat tunes and discussing important topics like what’s for dinner. 

The future of Paper & Pear

What goals do you have for your shop in the future?

I’d like to launch a standalone e-commerce website off Etsy as a secondary outlet to sell our products. I don’t have any plans to discontinue Etsy sales, but I think we’ve grown to the size where having a dedicated web presence makes sense, and it would help direct our hard-earned non-Etsy leads exclusively to our shop.

Advice for new sellers

What’s your advice for a new seller starting an Etsy shop?

I believe quality photography is hugely important to selling products, so if that is not currently your strong suit, consider online training to improve your skills and/or hire someone to help make sure your products are well-showcased in your listing photos.

Take the time to fill out all the keywords on your listings and read Etsy’s seller guides on best practices for doing this effectively. When you’re first starting out, don’t be afraid to try new things.

You may find you need to change directions as you learn from yourself and your customers and hone in on that magic combination between what sells and what you actually enjoy making.

Lastly, don’t expect instant results, it took nearly three years for me to go full-time. I am thankful for the organic pace of our growth; it has allowed us to learn and scale as each new wave of volume brings with it its own challenges and opportunities.