ASTANA – Some businesses are prospering no matter the crises and circumstances. One such small business owner spoke about her handmade notepad workshop that makes a profit even during economic uncertainty. In an interview with The Astana Times 23-year old Saule Smailova, architect by occupation and founder of BLOCKmeNOT, mentioned some key points of successfully running a small business.
“BLOCKmeNOT, based out of Almaty, is a workshop that makes handmade notebooks and sketchbooks from eco-leather. The main principles of each BLOCKmeNOT pad are quality, practicality and style,” she said.
The personalised approach and a bit of her soul in each of her works make it hard to overlook.
“We make them from environmentally-friendly materials, exquisitely executed and personalised, and we put a piece of our souls in each strainer, because we believe that BLOCKmeNOT should please its master every day! We design individual pads together with our clients, taking into account all requests. You may order a personalised notebook with your name engraved on each page, or request an unusual lining inside, divide it into sections or columns. Our notebooks are versatile tools for the creative people and the businessmen. You may combine sketch paper parts and drawing papers and that will give you one BLOCKmeNOT for both planning tasks, jotting down important ideas or creating masterpieces.”
How it all began
Smailova explained that the idea to open her own notepad business came to her while she was a student and her own preferences helped her identify clients’ desires.
“In the last eight years of studying and working, I needed an ideal sketchbook and a notepad that would be of high quality, practical and stylish. I needed a notepad which could become a part of my image and would be a convenient tool both at work and in my creativity sessions. So I designed and made my first sketchbooks and notepads myself,” she said.
To add to her success, she uses her inner world to influence things that she can change like her creations, instead of things that can’t be changed.
“Designing is the process if expressing one’s emotions and reactions to the surrounding reality. I want make this world beautiful, interesting and more convenient. Designing gives me the opportunity to share this creativity with others.”
Timing is always a hard thing to predict in Smailova’s line of work and it doubles the challenge, because each work is custom.
“The estimated time of finishing a pad mostly depends on the complexity of the order and its content. We once had on order we were making for one and a-half months. The client was in a different country and wanted to make a gift to his grandfather in Kazakhstan. We thought out every detail of the case and the notebook and picked up a special material and paper accessories. During the time that we were making it, we even became friends with the client. We cut the paper and patterns and sew the notebooks all by hand. The design is executed in electronic form, such as the page name and engraving on the cover, for instance. We have two assistants in our line of work: a printer and a guillotine paper cutter,” she said.
Her team currently has a workshop, but not an office, although Smailova is planning to open a small showroom for her creations in the future.
“Instagram is our virtual office and most sales are generated through social media,” she said.
With the rise of social media that helps promote small businesses for free, the legitimate question to ask would be, is paid advertising still necessary?
“From our experience, I think that doing business is possible without paid advertising. To promote our business, we organised various competitions and sometimes offered interesting exchange options when we liked someone’s product or service online; we tell our audiences about companies in social networks. Our customers tell their friends about our website or post photos of our notepads and tag us. I think that at the moment Instagram is the main source of orders, although I myself never ordered or bought anything via social media. I need to see things, touch them and feel them. So when customers want to see our products we meet them to show our product and discuss the design and other details,” she said.
For now, their notepads can be found at the concept store Experimentarium in Dostyk Plaza in Almaty and in Seven Life Store in the capital.
Handling the pressure of economic challenges
Smailova noted the universal nature of her product.
“Our notepads are good gifts for such occasions like March 8 (International Women’s Day, widely celebrated in Kazakhstan), Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day), the New Year and birthdays, so the crisis didn’t affect us too much, as all these holidays are celebrated no matter the circumstances and even during crises. Also people prefer useful, personalised and interesting gifts to knickknacks that would not be used. Because we don’t use local material to make our notepads and we buy the supply in foreign currency, the cost of our notebooks increased almost by 25 percent. However we try not to raise prices too much, so that our notebooks will be easily available.
“Though we live in the world of gadgets, there are still many people who prefer to write notes on paper. By the way, I am one of them. Since our pads can be a diary and notebook, a sketchbook, a book of recipes, a photo album, a collection of poems, a book of ideas, a travelling magazine or just an album for drawing, this is why people of various professions or really anyone could be our client as long as they can write or draw,” said Smailova.