Your Name: Leslie Berhanu
Business Name: Polka Dot Print Shop
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Family? Pets? Hobbies? Etc.
My husband and I have been married for almost 10 years and we have 4 curly haired kiddos, all born within 5 years. At one point we had 3 kiddos under 3 years old. Yikes! We are all living our best life in Southern Texas, enjoying life one day at a time.
Tell us about your business. How did you start your business and why? What do you do? Would you go back and do anything differently?
I started my business shortly after becoming a stay at home mom. My first baby was an excellent sleeper. She took 2, 2 hour naps and was sleeping 12-13 hours a night consistently by the time she was 12 weeks old. I had lots of extra time on my hands, and honestly, I found myself bored! So, I needed a hobby.
I designed a baby book to keep up with my own baby’s first year and decided to sell it on Etsy, just as a hobby. I never anticipated the overwhelming response that my books received. Within a few months, my Etsy business exploded and after the first year, that hobby turned into a full time job. We knew that eventually I would go back to my full time job as an English teacher. However, this little business changed my path and has allowed me to be a stay at home for the last 7.5 years.
Over the years, I’ve expanded this business to go beyond the baby book. We’re now offering a full range of modern keepsake books documenting pregnancy, baby’s first year, the toddler years and the school years. Between putting in print orders, designing new covers, managing inventory, running social media, hand assembling orders and shipping packages, keeping this business going is a huge task!
Has it been a smooth road? Have you encountered struggles that you could share?
Initially, I was printing each and every order on my own. I had 4 heavy duty printers running at least 12 hours a day just to keep up with the orders. The constant running back and forth between printers to make sure none had run out of paper or ink was exhausting. I knew I needed to make the switch to a commercial printer, but I had a hard time finding one that would take me seriously. I was receiving quotes for $20-25 a book just to print the pages! Eventually, I did connect with a few printers, but those relationships didn’t work for various reasons… primarily due to poor quality. After a few failed partnerships with commercial print companies, I finally found my current family run printer and have been with them for 4 years. If I hadn’t found a commercial printer, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up and would have closed my business years ago.
Another thing we struggled with was transitioning over to hardcover books that couldn’t be personalized. We were the very first shop on Etsy offering personalized, spiral bound baby books. However, in order to grow my business, the transition to a hardcover book that could be mass produced was necessary. Personally, I’ve always loved the quality of a hardcover over the softcover, but it took a lot of convincing to get all of my customers on board.
What do enjoy the most about what you do? What do you enjoy the least?
I love the fact that I am my own boss. I set my hours and make all of the major decisions. My least favorite part of the job is binding books. I’m still not at the point where I want to outsource the printing AND binding, so I spend many late night hours poking holes in pages and binding everything together. Eventually we’ll be able to outsource that, but for now, it’s all me.
What inspires you?
My husband and kids are my biggest inspirations.
What is your farewell piece of advice for someone interested in starting their own business?
My biggest piece of advice is to find something you love doing so that work doesn’t feel like work. Put all of your effort and energy into getting your business started, don’t be afraid to ask other business owners for help and advice, don’t get discouraged when something goes wrong (because something will always go wrong at some point). Your hard work will eventually pay off!
What is your favorite Candy Bar?
I’m the kind of girl that doesn’t discriminate against candy bars!
What is your favorite Childhood Memory?
I grew up in the country… lots of land, houses weren’t directly on top of each other. Summer evenings were spent exploring the neighborhood with friends, playing hide and seek and staying out until it was time to go to bed. When the sun went down, we knew it was time to head home.
You are a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be?