Artist of the Week - theBird+theBeard
Edited for content and clarity by Shannon Parris.
We have some greeting card makers to introduce today! Jessica and Karl Schaefer are the Pittsburgh-based husband and wife team behind theBird+theBeard. You can find them online at thebirdandthebeard.com, and make sure you’re following along with our Artist of the Week series on Facebook and Instagram!
Shannon Parris: Hi, Jessica! Please introduce yourself and your business.
Jessica Schaefer: Hello! So, I am a Pittsburgh native and graduate of Edinboro University’s Graphic Design program. My husband Karl is originally from rural Cincinnati, majored in Latin, and is a bit of a computer nerd. On the weekends, we hang out with Karl's son, who I refer to online only as G.
My free time is filled with yoga, reading, and music. Karl is a former ultra-marathoner, currently coming out of his running retirement and the handyman of our household.
theBird+theBeard has been my full time job for the past 4 years. I started theBirdand+theBeard with Karl shortly after our wedding, for which I designed the all the stationery. We got married in 2012, in a Southside restaurant called the Library. Its cozy, book-lined walls inspired designs centered around libraries and books, thus a library-themed stationery business was born. In 2013, we launched a line of chemistry-themed greeting cards based on the Periodic Table of the Elements and have since expanded our academic themes to include BASIC computer programming, binary code, and math equations.
Our cards have been featured on several international blogs including Huffington Post and can be found in independent stationery shops across the United States and Canada. Our wedding products have been featured on BuzzFeed, and various local and national wedding blogs.
SP: Do you have an “elevator pitch” that you use to sum up your business when people ask what you do?
JS: We create geeky greeting cards and wedding invitations based on the Periodic Table, math, computer programming, and library ephemera.
SP: Where does the name for your business come from?
JS: I was trying to think of something that referred to us, without using our names or limiting where the business might grow.
Random people had started calling Karl the Beard. For example, he was running a lot of marathons and ultramarathons when we first started dating. People would shout things like "Hey, Beard!" when he ran by.
The Beard was the one thing that stuck out for me about Karl, and after playing around with a few other phrases, I liked the alliteration of theBird+theBeard, Bird being British slang for woman.
SP: That's a great story! How do you and Karl divide up the business responsibilities?
JS: I do all of the actual making. He's great with building things and home renovations, but not so much with delicate paper. He has a great eye for design, though, so in the early stages of sketching things out we collaborate. As a software engineer, he is also the brains behind the computer programming cards and a lot of the math puns. He is also wonderful with merchandising a booth. I'm a 2d design person, he can bring a 3d display to life.
SP: How long have you been a maker?
JS: As far as making something without trying to monetize it, I guess my whole life. I wanted to be an animator in elementary school. I later believed that would be too monotonous and discovered graphic design, which at the time was mostly print - posters, book covers, album covers, that's what inspired me in high school. I was always doing crafts as well - making Christmas ornaments, various types of jewelry, etc.
SP: Very interesting! Making is a lifestyle. I really believe that. What made you decide to apply to your first market?
JS: It seemed like the next logical step in the business. Our first IMI was I Made It New in Southside Works, in 2014. We already had a year of wholesale under our belt and wanted some local exposure. We had attended an IMI mixer shortly beforehand and met a lot people.
SP: Oh that's very interesting, starting with wholesale. Can you talk a little about that journey? I feel like that's the opposite of most people's experience.
JS: We began selling the same literary designs we used for our wedding on Etsy in 2012. I had made several sales within the first month. I was thinking that greeting cards were going to be our big breakout, I just needed to think of what kind of design/line I wanted.
We were celebrating my birthday in January 2013 and starting playing around with the Periodic Table and what we could spell while drinking some wine. One of the first phrases I remember, and this is the one that made it click - like ok, we really have something with this line - was BaCK ThAt AsS UP.
We came up with maybe a dozen phrases, listed the cards on Etsy, and a San Francisco blogger, Mighty Girl, featured that card on a Valentine's Day list. Sales exploded for that card and several of our other valentines, and we had steady business ever since.
We got into wholesale because at the time, we were traveling a good bit with Karl's job, and I looked up how to make a linesheet and researched stationery/gift shops in the cities we were traveling to. I started emailing them and walking in with samples.
SP: Oh nice! How was the received? Were you nervous?
JS: Yes, I was nervous, but also, being in different cities where no one knew me (and would never see me again) took a lot of pressure off. I would say, if we reached out to half a dozen shops on a trip, we'd have at least one of them place an order for cards.Getting rejected was fine, as long as we were also getting positive feedback and having shops place orders.
SP: Do you prefer wholesale or markets?
JS: Well, they are completely different. I like them both. I like wholesale because it's one large order, compared to a bunch of customers each buying one card. I can print to order and there's a sense of accomplishment packing up and shipping so much inventory.
On the other hand, unless it's a local shop, wholesale is pretty impersonal compared to selling at a market. I've had great conversations with customers and other vendors, and markets are a great way to build relationships and to see what the public is truly interested in. It helps direct where you might want a line to expand.
SP: What does a member of your target audience look like?
JS: A young professional in tech, science, library science. I say young professional because I'm also encompassing our wedding stationery in that statement. At a market, or solely thinking about greeting cards, our audience isn't necessarily young. Oh, teachers, too!
SP: How do you go about reaching the appropriate audience?
JS: Testing out SEO terms online and following social media accounts in relevant fields. We follow a lot of book bloggers, chemistry bloggers, university departments, etc.
As for markets, and I think this may have been more true when we were starting out - our best shows would be downtown or on the East End, where Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh students were more likely to be.
SP: What is your favorite thing about being a part of the I Made It! Market community?
JS: Up until this past holiday season, I would have said the IMI community is welcoming, helpful, supportive, and a great resource for anything you might need to grow your business - references, help finding a source for materials, great collaboration between makers, etc. However, when I needed some extra help this holiday season due to pneumonia, I could not believe how truly generous the IMI community was - well above and beyond professional friendliness and helpfulness. I've made some great friends over the past few years for sure. I honestly don't think I've ever felt such genuine concern and helpfulness from friends or "coworkers."
Don’t forget to check out Jessica and Karl's work at thebirdandthebeard.com - you can save 10% on your purchase made between Apr 8, 2018—Apr 15, 2018 with the coupon code IMIAPRIL2018.