Jen Adrion and Omar Noory were not looking to start a business together. The two had been dating and liked to travel. They searched everywhere for a map to adorn their wall to pin and remember their travels. After an exhaustive search that turned up nothing worthwhile, they decided to make one. It would be a fun, modern and beautiful world map that would look spectacular on their wall.
Both hold degrees from Columbus College of Art & Design and knew each other while they went to school. They both love graphic design and once they decided to make their own world map, they worked collaboratively, complementing each other’s skillset− one person starting, the other taking over, and repeating that process until the map was finished.
Printing the map was a bit more difficult. Most printers printed runs of 500 or more, quite a bit more of an investment than the two maps they wanted to print to hang in each of their homes. They happened upon a shop that would print a run of 50. They each put $250 into an account to pay for the prints. Then they had to figure out what to do with the other 48.
“We used an old domain name Omar had sitting around doing nothing, TheseAreThings.com, and put up a one-page site with a crappy Paypal button,” says Adrion. Once the site was finished, she wrote to Grace Booney, founder of the popular website DesignSponge.com and told her about “this little thing we made that you and your followers might like.” Noory was familiar with a user-submitted website, NOTCOT.com, and submitted their maps.
Once the posts went up, their run of 48 maps sold out immediately. “Our first sale went to someone in South Africa,” Adrion says. Their inbox was flooded with requests to reprint the map and the design whirled around the blogworld.
The pair found themselves with a business. These Are Things was making sales and buyers wanted more.
In the beginning, they were doing everything. Adrion had moved into Noory’s apartment and an office took the place of the dining room. They each had a desk from West Elm and a chair from Zuo Modern, a couple of pieces of equipment, maps, and lots of packaging materials. As they sold more orders, packaging orders, shipping through the Post Office, and dealing with customer emails was beginning to take up much of their time.
“I googled ‘fulfillment center, Columbus, Ohio’ and found a place right there in our neighborhood that handles everything,” Adrion says. “They have saved our lives and gave us our apartment back.”
Inquiry Systems receives their prints, handles all the orders, and packages and ships everything.
Pretty quickly from their start in February 2010, the business was beginning to be a second full-time job. Adrion was used to being an entrepreneur, as she had been an adjunct instructor for CCAD and run a freelance business. She was able to focus solely on These Are Things during summer 2010. Adrion and Noory kept their expenses to a minimum and saved as much money as they could. They have taken no loans and have no debt, saving and paying cash for what they need.
In October 2010, Noory was able to leave his full-time job. Being his own boss was an adjustment for him, but he loves it.
“I love being free to set my own schedule,” he says, adding that there are some days you don’t feel creative and that it’s nice to be able to take a break when you want.
They both enjoy having their office in their home because it is so accessible and they are able to work any time of day. Most of the time they are working.
“There is no such thing as passive income,” Noory says. “It takes so much work.”
They thought selling something online would be easy, but they deal with tons of product and thousands of people. Customer service is a big part of online selling.
Most of their business experience has been learned as they go and as issues come up. They have found Alison Chapman of Igloo Letterpress to be a great resource and have asked others doing similar work for advice. The Internet has been a great resource that allows them to connect with anyone. They have also attended the National Stationary Show in New York to ask others for advice, and have found most everyone loves to help and share experiences and knowledge.
They have also found wonderful advice from the monthly meetings that the Columbus Society of Communicating Arts puts on. The group gets speakers every month− professionals who have made it themselves, to give talks and answer questions.
“Every time, I feel like they are speaking straight to us,” Noory says.
The These Are Things product line is currently finding its focus. Now, instead of making things they like, they take a hard look at whether a new product idea has marketability and will sell.
“Our income is very variable,” Adrion says. “It’s a roller coaster ride. Before, if I needed money, I would go out and get more freelance clients. This is very different and you never know if something is going to sell or how long it will take.”
Their No. 1 rule −if it’s not something they would hang on their wall, they won’t make it− has served them well lately and has made them more selective about which of their ideas (from a very full list) make it into production.
Soon, you will be able to find cute notebooks made from misprints, a new run of Columbus neighborhoods maps, more city maps, and more “Haters gonna hate” merchandise.
These Are Things also has a Holiday Printing Party in conjunction with Igloo Letterpress coming up on Dec. 2.
In the next year, they hope to get all of the business operations that don’t have to do with designing outsourced to others. They would like to stick to a release schedule and also hope to introduce more fine art and fancier things to their line.
One of their goals has become an achievement: they will have world maps of a few cities −Chicago, Manhattan, Washington DC, and Los Angeles− featured in the Land of Nod holiday catalog in December.
Adrion says this was “a dream come true.” It is a wonderful achievement and will add to Columbus’s reputation for having great designers and creative people working here.
Noory and Adrion say they love working and living in Columbus, as the culture and abundance of things to do makes it a great place for an art business. The cost of living allows them to take more risks and to make this business their only source of income.
Do you know of, have, or work in a creative workspace and would like to be featured in this series? If so, contact Anne Evans.