In 2009, after 20 years in the picture framing business, entrepreneur Steven Kalter decided to redirect his focus to making and selling his own products. He began with a familiar product, wall décor, painting and framing his own abstract art on the side of his custom framing business. It wasn’t long before he closed the frame shop!
However, art sales started to dwindle, so by 2011, Kalter switched to making oversized vintage postcard reproductions and Yourtown Memories was born! He brought it to The Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market to gain experience with getting a new product introduced to the gift and home industry. It had some success, and was even picked up by a national catalog company, but it wasn’t long before he moved on to bigger and better ideas, creating his own line of beach decor called Shore Elements.
From his garage, Kalter made panels out of driftwood, glass shadow-boxed shells, coral prints, and more. He even had to hire some help! Shore Elements eclipsed Yourtown Memories by far, but it still didn't produce enough demand to be a permanently sustainable business. He continued to search for that unique, handmade product that would be the next big, sensational hit!
Vintage Dictionary Art was first developed alongside Shore Elements in January 2013. Kalter knew the look of fresh, modern prints on old dictionary paper was gaining popularity, but wanted to present it as a ready to hang product instead of just a piece of paper. First, he resorted to his framing expertise, making sophisticated, vintage frames for each page. But it was too expensive for retailers to buy in bulk and customers didn’t seem interested. Much to Kalter’s satisfaction, framing was not going to be part of this business! Next, he went to work perfecting a mounting method and hanging system that didn’t need a frame at all. Discovering just the right combination of methods to do this took trial and error before the first page was permanently mounted without wrinkles or tears. Finally, by the summer of 2013, Vintage Dictionary Art was ready for its first test run with shoppers!
To do this, Kalter took Vintage Dictionary Art on vacation to Seattle, Washington, planning a two week trip to visit some friends and sell his new product from a booth at the Fremont Sunday Market. The reception was so overwhelming that two weeks turned into seven months! All he had time to do in between markets was make more Vintage Dictionary Art. His friends pitched in to help and even offered up their garages for manufacturing space.
Kalter really knew he was onto something special, so he filed for his first patent right away and made plans to go wholesale. Then in January 2014, Vintage Dictionary Art came home from vacation and went straight to The Atlanta Gift & Home Furnishings Market. Orders came in by the dozens and help had to be hired right away! Vintage Dictionary Art rented its first warehouse, a 1,200 square foot facility with a small office and space for production and a small inventory. Orders were cranked out as fast as possible with hardly any time left over to keep in touch with customers. The first rep offer was accepted in April covering Ohio and Kentucky. Production methods were re-evaluated and updated for maximum efficiency, anticipating future growth. Display boxes were redesigned to fit better in stores and look more vintage. In June, Vintage Dictionary Art printed its very first catalog with almost 300 designs total. The July market was hugely successful and led to rep relationships in New England and Dallas which escalated sales right away. More help had to be hired!
By October, it was apparent that Vintage Dictionary Art needed a bigger warehouse. Luckily, there was one just around the corner in the same industrial mart, making the move as seamless as possible. This one was 2,000 square feet and surely would be enough space. Everything was reorganized for efficiency – inventory was filled, displays were updated, packing stations were prepped and ready to go.
At the last minute, just before the 2015 winter market season, a rep group based in Atlanta was added, making December 2014 the busiest Vintage Dictionary Art had ever been! The catalog needed to be redesigned and distributed to all the sales reps. A new website was launched to offer online ordering for customers. Shows in Atlanta, Dallas, and Las Vegas meant hiring even more staff to handle the sales volume that came in. Larger, more industrial shelves were purchased to hold higher levels of inventory and new equipment was implemented to speed up production. Planning ahead paid off and sales doubled!
By May, the rest of the country was assigned to rep groups with teams in Seattle, Denver, Midwest, and West Coast, and Vintage Dictionary Art had outgrown its warehouse yet again! Another move, this time to a 4,500 square foot warehouse, took place just before the summer 2015 market season. Vintage Dictionary Art was barely moved in when orders from the markets came in! Just to keep things interesting, Kalter made the move to expand Vintage Dictionary Art by adding greeting cards based on the dictionary pages at the same time. Samples were rushed to the showrooms with the hope of positive feedback. Although it was a soft launch, stores showed interest which led to an expansion of designs in January 2016.
By fall 2015, Vintage Dictionary Art had also outgrown its website. It needed a more user-friendly interface that handled higher traffic and adapted to the increasing use of mobile devices. September’s launch of the new site was warmly welcomed and eased the ordering process for its ipad and mobile customers.
In 2016, Vintage Dictionary Art continues to focus on perfecting its branding, sales offers, customer service, and rep relationships in order to ensure that growth continues to improve as rapidly as it has since it first began. Kalter is always thinking of new product extensions to keep Vintage Dictionary Art fresh and innovative. Thank you to everyone who has made it a success!!!