1canoe2, a Letterpress Success
In today’s technologically advanced world, operating a business out of a barn and working with century-old equipment might seem more like taking a step back than forging ahead. But for business partners and friends Beth Snyder, Carrie Shryock and Karen Shryock, this “old-fashioned” kind of thinking has not only helped them develop their letterpress business, 1canoe2, but it also continues to be their ticket to success.
Although 1canoe2 officially launched in 2009, the origin of the name has much older roots. “I think we met for the first time in fifth or sixth grade while in our school district’s gifted program,” Carrie Shryock says, referring to Snyder. Over time it was their passion for drawing that solidified the friendship. Well that, and canoe trips and campfires along Missouri streams where they dreamed about their futures. Those fondly remembered adventures with “one canoe, two girls” became 1canoe2 down the road.
After attending the University of Missouri, where Snyder graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Shryock a degree in nutrition (she later went on to get certified in K-12 art education), they parted ways but kept in touch. It was while Snyder was living in Nashville that she first experienced letterpressing, which Wikipedia defines as: “a technique of relief printing using a printing press. A worker composes and locks moveable type into the bed of a press, inks it and presses paper against it to transfer the ink from the type which creates an impression on the paper.” Snyder’s fiancé (now husband) bought her a small tabletop letterpress so she could print her wedding invitations. Pleased with the results, Snyder contacted Shryock, who was living in Colorado at the time, and suggested her friend create some designs to try on the machine.
“I’ve always loved business,” Snyder says. “I thought, other artists are making money doing business, so we can make this work.”
Before long, they opened an Etsy shop (online marketplace) to sell their creations. “It wasn’t like we sat down and had this big business plan discussion,” Shryock says. “We put things in our Etsy shop, and they got noticed, and from there it just kind of snowballed.”
Building the business
Eventually, Snyder and Shryock both moved back to the Columbia area, where, in 2009, they purchased their first full-sized press. “We drove all the way to Iowa and brought it back,” says Snyder, who adds that the cast-iron machines can be difficult to find because they are often sold for scrap. Over time, they bought two more and placed them in the Shryock family’s Red Maze Barn east of Columbia.
Learning how to operate the antiquated machines was their next challenge. Although several “old-time” printers offer advice on the Internet, the process is extremely time consuming, so the women acquired most of their education through trial and error. “Every color goes on separately,” Snyder says. “It takes about an hour to set it up and then an hour to clean after every color.” Consequently, a multi-colored project can easily require several hours in prep time, not counting the time necessary to run the prints. In addition, because the machines are no longer manufactured, it is almost impossible to get them serviced. “We’ve spent a lot of time bending over the press and saying, ‘Why is this happening?’”
Shryock’s sister-in-law Karen Shyrock joined the team in 2010. With a teaching and administration background, Karen took over communications and special projects, which allowed the other two more time to concentrate on design, product development and the future of the business. By 2011, the three partners knew additional changes were in order if they wanted to keep moving forward. First and foremost, the presses needed a new home. Every fall, when the corn maze was in full swing, the presses were pushed farther back in the barn, which was no easy task. So when Carrie’s parents offered an old mule barn that had been in the family for generations, the three women jumped at the chance and moved the presses into the lower level. That same year, they also attended their first National Stationery Show.
“The business really exploded when we started going to the National Stationary Show in New York City,” Snyder says. Practically overnight they were receiving orders from significant players in the industry, such as Anthropologie, Paper Source, Papyrus and Uncommon Goods. By 2012, both Snyder, who was working part time as creative marketing director for the Columbia Business Times, and Carrie Shryock, who was teaching with the Columbia School District, were able to quit their day jobs. In June 2013, after renovating the rest of the barn — insulating the walls, installing plumbing and replacing the roof — 1canoe2 moved into its new, permanent location in the hayloft above the presses.
Today 1canoe2 offers a wide selection of gifts and stationery items, including greeting cards, calendars, notepads, recipe cards and boxes and more. With their business growing in leaps and bounds, the partners only letterpress their limited-edition art prints, which are signed by them. Other products, which they still design, such as their popular greeting cards, are outsourced to other companies. Currently, their products are sold in 700 stores in practically every state in the nation, as well as internationally in Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Taiwan and the United Kingdom, as well as through online sites such as Uncommon Goods. Their products have also been featured on the Today Show.
Snyder feels determination is one of the main reasons their company has been so successful. “Carrie and I are really passionate about what we do, and people seem to like our stuff,” she says. “Bit by bit, we just kept going because we really wanted to do this full time.” But she also believes they stand out in the crowded stationery industry, not simply because their process is unique but because of what they represent.
“A lot of our customers are from California and New York,” she says. “They are fascinated by the barn, and they like the fact that we are real people.”
Karen says she appreciates the way everyone works together for the good of the company. “We’ve always talked about how we are so successful because we are a great team, and that includes everybody on our staff. We get to use the things that we feel we are gifted at or that we excel in to be most useful to the business.”
Shipping Manager Zach Graham, who came on board in 2012, agrees. “I’ve done a little bit of everything,” he says of his previous work experience, from retail to standup comedy. “This job is perfect because it’s a little bit of everything, too.”
The same is true about Creative Marketing Director Haley Arndt, who, with a double major in graphic design and strategic communications, joined the company in 2013. Originally an intern with the company — an opportunity 1canoe2 provides for students attending MU, Stephens College and William Woods University — Arndt enjoys the relaxed atmosphere that makes her feel at home. “I come from a really small town on a farm,” she says. “It’s a really good fit for me.”
Snyder is extremely satisfied with the direction the company is heading. “I’m really proud of the fact that we have a stable business that we can employee really cool, really talented, wonderful people,” she says. “I love coming to work because of the people here.”
The freedom to set their own hours has also been a boom to Snyder and Karen, who are married and raising young children. In fact, Karen can’t imagine working anywhere else. “Getting to spend time with Carrie and Beth and doing all these wonderful things we are able to do together is the greatest benefit of this job,” she says.
Snyder is looking forward to another successful year. “My big dream,” she says, “is that we can continue to do this for a long time.” But perhaps her long-time friend and partner, Carrie Shryock, sums up the feelings of all three women best.
“We want to offer great products to our customers, but we also want to connect with our customers, not just be a company, but have a company that our personalities show through,” she says. “It’s been really fun to see it grow. If you had told me a year ago that we would have this studio in the barn, be in all the stores we are in and have all these employees, I would have thought that was crazy.”