Getting the Message
Liwanag Ojala wasn’t looking to leave the top job at CobornsDelivers, the New Hope–headquartered online grocer formerly known as SimonDelivers. But she had a secret love. Throughout her careers as an attorney and a company president, Ojala has harbored an abiding love of paper and graphic design. She squirrels away other people’s wedding invitations in her basement when the calligraphy, paper, or colors catch her eye, and she enjoys the old-fashioned art of writing letters on nice paper.
In early 2009, a friend introduced her to Jean Taylor, president and CEO of Mankato-based printing giant Taylor Corporation. Jean Taylor had incubated a new online stationery venture, and she was seeking a leader to run it. This summer, Ojala became president of Pear Tree Greetings, guiding the company as it moves from start-up to competitive player in the Web-based stationery industry.
Pear Tree is striving to compete with the likes of Shutterfly, Snapfish, Tiny Prints, and Kodak Gallery by offering cards and personal stationery at an affordable price. The company touts itself as a customer-centric and creative service for busy people who like eye-catching stationery and the ability to personalize the designs.
Up and running since September 2008, Pear Tree has beaten Taylor Corporation and Ojala’s first-year expectations. (Privately owned Taylor doesn’t reveal its financial numbers.) The company did a solid holiday business. Ojala now aims to grow in other segments like baby and graduation announcements.
A key to Pear Tree’s initial success is its differentiation. Of the firm’s seven employees, three are professionally trained designers, and they put together a smartly edited selection of singular designs. The idea is simplicity. “The customer does not always need 642 choices for baby announcements. She might only have 30 minutes to make it while the baby is napping,” says Ojala, who moved to Mankato with her husband and two young children. “Some Web sites give the customer way too many choices. We want to give them great choices and make it easy.” And, Ojala says, the company offers distinctive products like recipe cards for a customer’s signature dishes and “mommy cards” for arranging play dates.
Customers can e-mail Ojala directly about their experience, the stationery they made, or thoughts about new products. “One of the things I loved about Simon Delivers was the business was very interactive with customers,” she says. “That’s what I like about this business, too.”