Have you had it with the corporate world, but lack entrepreneurial experience? If that’s the case, you may want to talk with Maggie Mae Sharp, a self-styled, award-winning lady cowboy poet and successful designer of the “Dear Sweet Memories” greeting cards – the first in a series of 29 different lines including, “Wildflowers”, “Auntie Mae”, “Everyday Divinity” and many more.
After just over a year as an incorporated business, Sharp is already fulfilling follow-up orders from shop-owners around the country who have found a ready audience for her sometimes saucy, sometimes sweet social expressions. Here in Colorado Springs, Maggie’s Quill cards are sold through C.J. Kard and area “boutique” card and specialty shops. “I don’t want to become a grocery store product,” she said.
But don’t be fooled by the nostalgic themes – Maggie Mae Sharp is one quick-witted, modern woman with a flair for storytelling. Her sole family inheritance was a “huge box of family photos” which she decided to put to good use. It is those photos, Sharp says, that have enabled her to start Maggie’s Quill, Inc., a company that just celebrated its first anniversary in January 2001.
Today, Maggie’s Quill, Inc. distributes cards to more than one-hundred outlets in Colorado and is opening the California market. “Our reps are just getting started, but early orders are already coming in,” she notes, at a much faster rate than even in Colorado.” In order to keep costs down, Sharp and her three part-time employees do as much work as possible in-house.
Before following her dream of writing and designing greeting cards, Sharp spent 30 years writing poetry about the West before, as she says, “I became brave enough to perform in public in Elko, Nevada without suffering imminent heart failure.” Today, as a former recipient of the Will Rogers Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Advancement of Contemporary Cowboy Skills”(presented by the Academy of Western Artists in 1996), Sharp approaches life and business philosophically with gusto and flair.
My first cards were designed to help people – often women – who suffered from low self-esteem. “Desperate loneliness and comfortable solitude – the difference between the two is self-esteem.”
Sharp wrote this message, perhaps based on her own bittersweet experiences, including life as a Mail Order Bride (she qualifies that she did get to know and occasionally see her intended, a Nevada rancher who had advertised in Western Horseman Magazine before marrying). In her personal biography she said that she does not recommend purchasing a husband by mail, however, as ‘it’s costly to return them if they annoy you.’
An admirer of Maggie Englebright, a well-known greeting card designer, Sharp says that the business of designing and selling greeting cards agrees with her. The Black Forest resident, who resists the label “home-based business” prefers to call her operation a “Domestic Empire.” The business is housed in a 4,200 square foot structure, connected to her home. All creative work, shipping and receiving is currently handled out of that location, although Sharp that says she may have to eventually find larger warehouse space in Colorado Springs.
An office manager for many years (to pay the bills), Sharp developed a range of business skills which have proven valuable as her business expands. “I am a hands-on person and want to do my own writing, design, marketing and business analysis.” She test-marketed her concepts for a year and-a-half before going into actual production, and hired a former Current employee, now a direct marketing consultant, to help grow her business.
Today Sharp’s prolific portfolio consists of more than 500 cards/messages – geared to every occasion. “I haven’t produced a holiday line – there are so many already out there,” she said. “But I did design cards that can be used for multiple occasions – from Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, to birthdays…. to words of encouragement and for sad times.”
“At first, we actually glued on photo corners to achieve that “old-timey” look, but as it turned out, no one really cared if the corners were real or graphically-produced,” she said. In the Dear Sweet Memories marketing brochure (designed by owner, Sharp), 4 X 5 ½” black and white cards (requiring just one stamp), features 150 nostalgic, unstaged photos and short messages. “My photos are real – and not “arranged” like so many modern card photos.”
Among her best sellers are two very different cards. One features two nuns; under the photo the card reads, “While at Catholic Academy, we received an excellent [B+] education, and we learned the value of di(s)cipline [misspelled]. But most of all…we learned to love the taste of soap.” Her other best-seller has sold briskly following September 11th. From her “spirit-lifting” collection, the message under a young girl’s photo, seated at a table with hands folded, says, “I’ve said my very best prayers…”And I said them all for you.”
Sharp’s plans for the future include the addition of an Everyday Divinity series and a humorous line featuring simple black and white photos. “People like the intimacy of our cards,” she said. “There’s not a lot of white space you have to fill with your own handwriting.” She also points out the fun, if slightly sarcastic “Auntie Mae” line, which takes aim at the male gender. One of her most exciting new series will feature “Teddy”, a stuffed bear given to Sharp by a friend who was dying of leukemia. “I decided that bear had a message to tell,” she said. Unlike previous lines, the Teddy line will be full-color and will depict its star in a variety of costumes.
Growth comes at a cost, and Maggie’s Quill, Inc. sought angel funding after Sharp’s own funds were tapped out. “I initially approached three banks – all of which wanted collateral before they’d finance a loan for an intellectual property type of business,” Sharp said. “SBA had the same requirements. Eventually, I just decided to ask someone who believed in my concept and knows how much work I’d already done on my own, to become a major investor.”
Beyond successful greeting card marketing, Maggie Mae Sharp wants to reach out to help those –especially women— who may be afraid to follow their dreams. “I recently ordered a book from Victoriana magazine entitled, “The Business of Bliss,” she said. “It tells the stories of 30-40 women who have started businesses, describing their dreams, how they got their funding, and how they’ve fared in the marketplace. It has been very inspiring to me to read about all those entrepreneurs.”
“Someday when we do expand,” she reflects, “I’d like to hire women who want to re-enter the workforce and help them build self-esteem. Maggie’s Quill could teach them marketable skills – and we’d be a team, all wearing the same company tee-shirts and not worried about competing with each other.” This comes from the same woman who created a card with the message, “First find your passion…then follow it to the end of your own rainbow.”