Maine Coast Cards ~ Our Little Company!

In the early 1990’s my wife Jen and I thought it might be a good idea to develop a notecard line featuring some of my Maine paintings.  I was a new artist; excited about the endless potential paintings I could paint featuring our surroundings along the coast of Maine.  Jen had been successful in launching a salad dressing business in our prior life and we both have a bit of entrepreneurial spirit in us.  At the time, there really wasn’t anything like it, reproduced paintings of the coast of Maine on notecards.  We thought it might fill a niche.


Well, next thing we knew we were on our way to check out printing companies.  We knew the net profit per card would be small so in order to get the cost per card down we had to produce in quantity.  We also wanted to support a Maine business, not to mention the name of our company would be Maine Coast Cards.

Notecards are small in size (5 x 7) but when you produce 60,000 of them in a run, on huge presses, all of a sudden you have pallets stacked with boxes that will fill up closets and take up significant office space!  We weren’t thinking small but we weren’t quite ready for what we had created!  LOL. It was exciting to think of all the possibilities!

We started the business with just 6 images of Maine scenes that I had painted. We started driving up and down Route 1 (more east and west if you look at a map) along the coast of Maine stopping in every small town and gift shop we could find.  I would park and wait in the car while Jen would run in with her little bag of cards and try to sell our “line” of cards to the shop owner.  I would give her the thumbs up as she went in, wishing her luck and when she came out she’d give me the thumbs up, or down, depending on how it all went. 

Usually the shop owners were very friendly.  Most greeted her warmly. Even though we weren’t Mainers, we were selling a Maine product and they liked that.  Jen was never pushy, always smiling and excited about my art, the cards and being able to offer the store owners something new.  However, there was a gift store in the Scarborough area (to remain unnamed) where Jen walked in and in no-time the door flew open and Jen was almost being booted out by a lady with a scowl on her face!  How dare she cold call her!  No appointment!  Jen is already small in stature but she felt even smaller!  LOL.  We still look back and laugh at that experience. I can picture it like it was yesterday. 

Jen secured quite a few small accounts, lots of quaint gift shops up and down the coast.  The card business was fun and it was a nice way to familiarize people with my art.  But we had thousands of cards.  We started thinking bigger and signed up for a big trade show in Portland, Maine.  We bought a booth in the new products section and when the time came we went with our measly notecard line and two limited edition prints and opened our booth for business.  We were somewhat mortified when we looked around at all of the elaborate booth set-ups.  People put huge effort and significant money into their displays and we looked like real newbies! 

I think the starkness of our booth and Jen’s friendly face worked in our favor because we landed the big LL Bean account!  LL Bean; the largest outdoor sporting goods/clothing/furniture retail store in the state of Maine and a must-stop for everyone traveling to Maine.  They are known internationally for their quality Maine products and they wanted our little line of notecards! 

We went home totally jazzed, had more notecards printed immediately, and loaded thousands more notecards in many more boxes into our house.  Business was good.  LL Bean asked us to produce a line of postcards with my images as well, which we did. 

After I started painting for MBNA full-time, I was producing fewer Maine scenes.  We realized that in order to keep all of the shop owners and LL Bean happy we would have to produce more notecards with new images on a regular basis, which meant printing thousands of new cards every year.  We decided to gradually phase out the business.  To this day we continue to sell out our inventory.  We have a good friend that is representing us and selling them on Etsy online

Jen helped Maine gallery owners get their own line of notecards started and the concept lives on. 

It was a great entrepreneurial experience!  We did it together and we learned a great deal.  It has been fun looking back on our little venture.

Here are just a few of the notecards from our collection.

Everybody Wants a Piece of the Pie!

One day not too long ago, a friend said to me regarding a beautiful photograph he had taken “I’ll sell you my photograph for you to paint if you give me half of what you sell the painting for”.  I know that he was kidding but I found it most humorous and somewhat depressing, as his humor was somewhat based on reality.  Sometimes it seems like everyone wants a piece of the pie!

My response to my good friend was “After I pay the gallery half the price of my painting and then you get half of the half, and  then I pay half of my quarter that’s left to taxes, what should I do with all the money that’s leftover?  Should I put it all in the bank so I can get 0 to 1% interest a year?  Some banks want to actually charge you interest and fees for the service of holding onto your money. Should I put it in the stock market and try to time it right between the bubbles?  Some would like to raise the capital gains rate to the regular much higher tax rates in which case, why should I put all of the left over money  in a much riskier investment?    What should I do with ALL the leftovers?  Maybe I’ll reinvest it in the business???

Anyway, you can tell it’s that time of year, tax season.  For someone who has an art degree and an accounting degree, I always find the transition between painting and year end taxes interesting.

As I prepare to load the latest edition of TurboTax - Home and Business, I am reflecting back on where all of the money went in 2011. Fortunately, I use Quicken accounting software to keep track of income and expenses. Running a few reports quickly reveals where it all went: all those $40 canvases and their frames, the $40 brushes, $35 tubes of cadmium paint, the high price of turpentine to clean brushes, professional photography, the webmaster, the monthly web fee, the high speed cable fee and on and on.  Not to mention healthcare costs for us self-employed, that just went up 25% this year after going up 25% last year!

Framing costs are kind of interesting to me.  When I frame my paintings and galleries take half of the total sale, I’m only getting back half of the price of the frame.

Mix in non-business expenses like a 20% tip on dining out after the local Williamsburg restaurants charge you a 10% food tax, the ever increasing price of gas, the 5% sales tax we pay on retail items, the ever increasing cost of leisurely sports like golf and the money my golfing buddies take from me every time I play, and I realize I better get back to work!

I just finished a portrait painting last week.  Today I’m hoping to finish my Schedule C, Schedule A and B, Schedule D, Form 4562, Form 8889, Form 8949 Home Office, Form 1040 and then move on to my Virginia tax return!

There are way too many slices being cut out of one pie. Death and taxes are guaranteed in life and you have to work hard just to keep a few pieces of your own pie! 

Now that I’ve used the left side of my brain, I can’t wait to use the right side of my brain and get back to painting!!!!!

Building UP inventory in a DOWN art market!

With the economy in the doldrums, galleries hurting and our country worried about a huge national debt and budget deficit, I suddenly have found my plain old white walled bedroom turned art studio is now my own gallery of sorts.  When clients or interested parties used to ask to see my studio, I had to somewhat embarrassingly say that “there is nothing to see. It’s just a bedroom turned studio.  All my paintings are sold.”  I had high aspirations of finishing off our attic, with a vaulted ceiling, ceiling fans, skylights and a nice antique wooden easel to work on.  Maybe ship models on stands, photographs framed of far away places and favorite paintings on the walls. 

There are many parallels to draw with me as a small business owner to big business and the economy.  We’re lean and mean, not hiring, building up inventory and waiting to pull out of a bad recession.  My walls are covered with paintings ready to go when those high end galleries start calling and there is a run on “Beebes”!  In the meantime, I will look on the bright side and tell myself that I now have a studio where I can show my work to those people whom are interested.  I can look around and enjoy the places that I found worthy of painting.  My work environment has come to life, turning a negative into a positive. 

I count my blessings everyday that I can work at home; keep up with the news and watch the golf channel on my big screen 13”TV; monitor the market in my mini-Command Center on my laptop; and look out the window and watch the golfers go by. 

On the other hand, all things considered, a sterile white walled studio sounds pretty good right about now!