Custom invitation, stationery business growing through referrals, partnershipsSmall Business Week 2013
Forever is a long time, but it's a goal Melissa Miller sets for herself every time she creates a new piece of handmade wedding stationery or other custom-printed designs.
Owner of the aptly named Made to Keep, a small graphic design firm in Harrisburg, Miller strives to produce personalized items that her clients will want to save to remember their special events.
"It's definitely a niche and completely different from other graphic design," said Miller, one of the area's leaders in custom wedding invitations and related materials. "It's not boring, it's not static."
The 28-year-old Hampden Township resident got her start creating custom greeting cards while still in college.
"I was in awe with these stores," Miller said, referring to boutique retailers such as Details in Rittenhouse Square.
She sold some cards in Philadelphia and thought retail would be the route to go.
But with one-of-a-kind designs and strong local demand for her invitations and other stationery products, Miller opted to focus more on client-driven work and hold off on plans for a retail store.
"I've always had a yearning to own a store, to say, 'This is mine,'" Miller said. "I've always seen myself with a cute little store."
She said she feels a retail component would further legitimize her business — an online store is in the works — but she is staying plenty busy in the meantime growing business connections and piling up the referrals.
Last year, Miller hired a part-time office manager to help her with billing. At the beginning of this year, she leased a small office space from her primary printer, David A. Smith Printing Inc., on South 22nd Street.
"Having Melissa here on our campus creates a mutually beneficial scenario," said Matthew Smith, president of DAS, who rented her an adjacent space to display samples and meet with clients. "She allows us to further expand our design and creative reach to new prospects and existing customers. At the same time, she benefits from having access to our production staff as well as control over her projects as they make their way through the production process."
The partnership with DAS and neighboring Peck's Laser Arts — a custom printing, cutting and engraving company — has opened new doors for Miller and allowed her to expand her package offerings. Among those products are custom phone cases, wine glasses and T-shirts.
"We're all working together," she said.
And while 60 to 70 percent of her business is weddings, Miller is increasingly adding to her workload with corporate invitations and stationery, as well as other graphic design requests, including logo redesigns.
"She's easy to work with and she definitely is cognizant of deadlines," said Sheila Flickinger, finance director for the Pennsylvania House Republican Campaign Committee, who has used Made to Keep in the last few years for fundraiser invitations and also signs for events.
The HRCC holds several high-dollar events each year. Having something that catches the eye of potential attendees and donors is key, Flickinger said, especially with candidates running for so many different state offices every election cycle.
"I'm willing to spend the money. I think it comes back in spades," she said. "You have to be able to follow through with it, and that's what she's been able to do."
It's not uncommon for her to have 1,000 to 2,000 invitations printed up.
"I do all of the fundraisers, and I rely on her," Flickinger said.
Made to Keep also has developed a local following for baby and bridal shower invitations, as well as bar and bat mitzvahs and birthdays.
"Word of mouth is a main cause of this increase, because more and more people hear that I offer a custom niche product, completely catered to them, which will only continue to increase over the next year," Miller said.
Her business already has doubled this year. She is working with nearly 40 brides getting married this year.
Miller said she believes the creative suite at DAS and continued growth will ultimately lead to the retail dream.
"I've always been one to put myself out there," she said.
Her vision is a small downtown storefront, maybe somewhere like Camp Hill, where she sells "funky" little stationery items — magnets, pens and paper clips, for example — that coincide with her designs.
"I think this is my stepping stone," she said. "Since 2006, when I walked in (those stores) with my greeting cards, I knew I wanted to have my own business."
About Melissa Miller
Melissa Miller started Made to Keep in 2006.
The Harrisburg graphic design firm, known for its custom wedding stationary, is largely a home-based business. Miller has a creative suite at 724 S. 22nd St. that she uses for client appointments and to display her samples.
The Hampden Township resident employs a part-time office manager as well as part-time help with the construction of her handmade products.
She earned a bachelor's degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Philadelphia in 2006. During her time in Philadelphia, she completed design work for the Wharton Small Business Development Center and Social Philly.
After college, she worked in the design department at Capital BlueCross. She also worked for The Patriot-News.
Miller, a graduate of Susquehanna Township High School, is a native of Baltimore.
She also does design work for both David A. Smith Printing Inc. and Peck's Laser Arts. All three businesses are on South 22nd Street.