We’re an enterprising bunch at Learning Pool and in this interview I chat to my colleague, Leanne Doohan, who runs an award winning wedding stationery business in her spare time with her graphic designer husband, Henry.
1. Tell me a bit about your business, Leanne.
Creative Invites was set up in 2005 by a lady in Downings, Co. Donegal. I bought the business in early 2009 and it is now run from my home in Buncrana, Co. Donegal.
We supply handmade and letterpress wedding stationery to couples throughout Ireland and further afield.
The main items of stationery that we provide are wedding invitations and ceremony booklets but we also make reception accessories such as table plans, place names and table numbers.
2. What are the main marketing activities you do?
As a small business we don’t have much money to spend on marketing so the term ‘marketing on a shoe string’ definitely applies to us!
We focus a lot on getting referrals from past customers.
There is a lot of competition in the Irish wedding industry so brides-to-be really welcome a referral from someone as it helps them to narrow down the choice.
As well as asking customers to refer us to family, friends and work colleagues who are getting married, we also encourage them to leave a review on our Facebook page.
I personally love to see these as they are 100% genuine – you can never be too sure about testimonials on a website!
Also, every item of stationery that we create is a piece of direct marketing literature as it is going directly into the homes of potential customers.
We include our website address on the back of all our stationery – subtle enough so it’s not intrusive but if someone wants to know who created the stationery, they’ll see our details there.
Our online presence is very important to us. When I first took over Creative Invites I placed ads in glossy wedding magazines. I was very excited and proud to see our products and logo in these magazines but I quickly realised that I was among the few people that did see it – brides do the majority of their wedding planning online so that is where we need to be.
Creative Invites doesn’t have a showroom or a shop – we treat our website as our shop. It has images, descriptions and pricing information for all our products and we send samples to people who want to see the products ‘in the flesh’.
In 2010, Creative Invites was a finalist in The Realex Payments Irish Web Awards. We were nominated in two categories: (1) Best SME/Small Business Website, and (2) Best Facebook Page for a Business or Organisation. Our website made it through to the shortlist stage.
But our Facebook page got through another round of judging and was among the final seven contenders along with top brands including Meteor and Oxegen!
It was a bit overwhelming to be honest but good to be recognised on such a large scale.
We advertise on online wedding forums but other than that we don’t spend a lot on advertising.
3. I imagine most of your business is from new customers, not repeat customers?!
In general, our customers have never planned a wedding before or never bought wedding stationery before. They spend a lot of time researching potential wedding suppliers and we really need to stand out in this search – hence the importance of referrals and a good online presence.
Even when they do make contact with us, a lot of time is spent communicating with prospects before they buy. We try to reduce this by providing as much information as possible on our website and our FAQs section really does include questions that we get asked very frequently!
But brides are so lovely to deal with as they are at such a happy time in their lives and are very appreciative of any advice and tips that we can give them, be that stationery-related or not!
4. What awards have you won?
Aside from getting to the finals of the Realex awards, Creative Invites has won ‘Stationer of the Year’ with the wedding forum www.realweddings.ie in 2009 and 2010.
These awards were open to every wedding supplier in Ireland and the real beauty about the competition was that suppliers did not nominate themselves, nor did they pay to enter.
Nominations were made entirely by satisfied newly-weds across the country and we are so grateful to our past customers that went to the effort of recommending Creative Invites.
5. How important have these awards been for your business?
As mentioned, there is so much choice for couples getting married so it is brilliant to have something that makes us stand out from the crowd.
The awards have also been great for free publicity in local newspapers. Some papers gave our awards stories almost a full page of coverage – we couldn’t pay for that kind of advertising!
6. What’s next for Creative Invites?
Irish retailer Fergal Quinn says ‘Listen to what your customers are saying, but listen more carefully to the people that aren’t your customers yet.’
Customers’ needs and wants are changing and competition is increasing. This keeps me on my toes and means that I am always thinking ahead to see how we can be innovative and improve on what we do.
We keep a close eye on emerging wedding trends and are always looking to add new quality products to our offering.
The latest of these is letterpress wedding stationery which we launched earlier this year.
Our handmade stationery is still as popular as ever, but as one of only a handful of letterpress stationery suppliers in Ireland, it’s nice to be able to offer something ‘different’.