June 2 2008 08:56 AM

Julie Swatek, President of Scrap Your Trip, was satisfied in her corporate career of hotel management. Sure, she had sometimes thought about the excitement and challenges of owning her own business, but since she was fulfilled by her current career, she never took the entrepreneurial step. That changed, however, after the company she worked for merged with another organization, and Swatek lost her job. This sudden loss, combined with one child at home and another on the way, presented unique challenges. As a working mother of young children, Swatek knew that entering the corporate world again and still spending enough time with her children would be difficult. After realizing that only she could create her ideal work environment, in which she could have a satisfying career while still maintaining a balance for her family, she decided to launch her own business: Scrap Your Trip. Originally, this scrapbooking supply company focused solely on vacation items, hence the name. It has since expanded into weddings, sports, activities and more. In four short years, Swateks company has grown to such a level that she meets the qualifications to have her own customized packaging designed by the Postal Service containing her company logo and completed to her exact specifications.  She shares how her company managed to grow and succeed in such a short time.


Q: Lets start with the basics. What prompted you to begin Scrap Your Trip?

A: I had always thought, Im a smart person. I should be able to figure out how to make money for myself, instead of my employers. But there was no compelling reason to force that to happen. I was happy in my job, and they were flexible with respect to my schedule and my childs needs. However, when I was five and a half months pregnant with my second child, I found out my company was going through a merger, and I was losing my job. Not good no one wants to a hire a pregnant woman. So I thought, theres no time like the present. Lets see if we can figure this out.


Q: What made you think of a scrapbooking company?

A: As Im sure you know, scrapbooking has grown tremendously in popularity. But I knew I had to narrow it down because you cant be everything to all people. Plus, I knew I didnt have the time and the energy to come up with scrapbooking supplies for every possible topic. I knew I had to pick one thing and just be really good at that one thing and have more than everybody else, and that one thing was travel.


Q: What made you decide to focus initially on the travel
aspect, instead of something like weddings?

A: We love to travel, and we were actually on vacation in Utah when I really came up with the idea. I thought, this is the most beautiful place I have ever been. That environment is so awe-inspiring, so the whole idea of having scrapbook supplies specifically for travelers just came up while we were there. And thats what we really focused on for awhile. But then people started saying, This is great that you have all this travel memorabilia, but itd be great if you had other things, too.


Q: What was your first product line expansion?

A: Sports! I couldnt believe it; I didnt think that would be the answer, but thats what people wanted more of. But after that, we added weddings, which was the next big thing that everyone was looking for.


Q: Other than expanding your product line, how has your company grown?

A: Its kind of funny that you should ask that. I had someone who just came back to work for me today. She used to work for me when it was the three of us in the bedroom of my house. She came in today, and her mouth just dropped she couldnt believe how much we had changed, due to our growth. When I started the company, it was just me, and I was by myself for over a year. But four and a half years later, we have 13 employees and a 3,200 square foot building. We really did the vast majority of our growing in the last year and a half to two years. I really got better at what I was doing and started doing some advertising. Originally I didnt do much advertising at all; I was kind of under the assumption that if you build it, they will come. Everyone will tell you that its not supposed to work, but it worked for me!


Q: How did you advertise your business initially?

A: I emailed everyone I knew. I met someone who talked on the AOL message boards, so I mentioned the business to them. A tremendous amount of the growth was through word of mouth. People would say, Im so glad I found you; you have exactly what I need. Im going to tell all my friends. Ive never had to do a lot of traditional marketing because my customers do it for me.


Q. Youre now doing enough business that youre receiving customized boxes from USPS with your company logo and made to your specifications. How does that make you feel in terms of your success?

A: In all honesty, it took awhile to sink in. Im excited because its better for my business, and Im excited because of what it means for the crafts industry as a whole. I believe that other volume shippers, especially those specializing in scrapbooking, crafts, philatelic items or photography will find this new box-elope is a great design idea. I know of a lot of people that I think would sell online, but packaging is so difficult because of the nature of what we sell. Youre usually shipping 12x12 paper; if it gets bent on the way, its no good to the customer. So packaging has really been a challenge.


Q: How does the USPS box better suit your products needs?

A: Its completely flat; its 16x16, but its flat. It can expand enough so that you can put a stack of 12x12 pieces of paper in there, but the corners around it are strong enough so that if it gets dropped, it really protects the paper inside. And since its flat, it really doesnt take up a lot of space. Its a perfect thing, and its very similar to what weve been using for four years. But before, I had to manually cut the flaps off a shirt box, tape it, and so forth. So when the USPS said, Well make you a box, the first thing I said was, You will?


Q: What requirements did you have to meet in order to have customized packaging designed for you?

A: You have to bring in a certain level of revenue and be able to accept large quantities of the product at one time. So I probably wouldnt have been able to do it when it was just me and two others in the bedroom of my house! But if you meet these requirements, its a great opportunity. You tell the Postal Service your specifications, and theyll work with you to create a box that meets all of your needs specific to the product that you are shipping. This is so perfect for my business, since I ship things, such as paper, that are easily damaged. The customized box helps prevent that damage from occurring.


Q: How long did it take USPS to complete the process?

A: We started talking about it back in March of 2006, and the prototype was finished in time for the Parcel Shipping & Distribution Forum, which was in September of that same year. They made up 500 prototypes because I wanted to try them to make sure they work.


Q: Is the Postal Service the main carrier you use?

A: Yes, I give the vast majority of my business to them. I am actually the largest Priority Mail shipper in the city of Orlando. One major reason we use them is because of the box; because of Priority Mail, it is a free box, which definitely helps keep my costs down. Another main reason is our customers. One day, after having a really bad time of it I had two packages that had been lost in the mail I called some of my customers and asked if they wanted me to switch to UPS. The overwhelming response was, No, please stick with the Postal Service.


Q: What were their reasons?

A: A lot of it has to do with Internet commerce it has really opened up opportunities in rural America. If you think about these people, they might have a Target or a Michaels or some sort of craft store, but its an hour away. And thats all they have to choose from. But now with the explosion of Internet commerce, they have access to anything that people in metropolitan areas can get. So in these rural areas, the mail carrier is the one who comes to the door. Its not UPS, its not FedEx; its your letter carrier. So a lot of my customers in rural America say, Please, dont switch to UPS; we like the U.S. Mail.


Q: Do they also think that USPS is just more convenient all around? 

A: Yes. For a lot of the other carriers, they require a signature on delivery, but a lot of my customers are at work. So you come home, and theres a slip taped to your door saying that theyll try to deliver it again, or youll have to pick it up. And thats a hassle. But because many of these people have a great working relationship with their mail carriers, they know that it can be delivered even if theyre not home.


Q: How do you handle being a business whose customer satisfaction depends largely on things that are out of your control shipping, timely delivery, etc.?

A: Luckily, we honestly dont have that many challenges. Maybe we do, and weve just learned to think of it as part of the business. Packages are lost we replace them. Packages are damaged we replace them. I will say this; I dont get the same customer service from my suppliers that I give to my own. With respect to my suppliers, Im just like any other recipient; Ive had packages damaged or lost, and when I call the customer service department, they basically say, What do you want me to do about it? Thats not how we work here; I literally bend over backwards for my customers. If something is damaged in transit, I take responsibility for it. And that is why I choose my shipping partners very, very carefully, because if packages are constantly damaged in transit, its costing me money.


Q: How many of your packages are usually damaged in transit?

A: Honestly, not a lot. Its utterly amazing to me that for the volume of business we have and the number of items we send out, we really get very few things that are damaged. And its because of the specially designed USPS packaging we use.


Q: Im sure that translates into increased customer satisfaction.

A: Yes, because even though I replace it if its lost or damaged, its still a hassle. They probably have the layout on the table, waiting for a piece. So even though I fixed the problem, its still a problem, which is why we seek to minimize them as much as possible.


Q: What do you think is the key to successful b2c business?

A: Customer service. You have to take care of your customers. I think too many businesses worry about their bottom line and neglect their customers. It is utterly amazing to me the lack of customer service in our society. And even if I only did mediocre customer service, itd still be better than anyone else. But I dont do mediocre customer service; I do phenomenal customer service. I have a very personal relationship with my customers, even though I dont know them. For example, we ship free to the military all over the world because they are stationed somewhere where I am sure there are no scrapbook stores. We had an order come in one time, and the person was stationed in Iraq. We got a little carried away, and in addition to their order, we sent this huge care package four boxes worth. We went and got junk food and other things they needed, like food and games, and we got the nicest letter from them thanking us. Thats the kind of company that we are. If you take care of your customers, the bottom line will take care of itself. And thats why I love the Postal Service; they take care of me.