Ask the Retailer: Athena Cauley-Yu, Meticulous Ink

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What inspired you to work in the stationery industry/retail?


I’ve always loved making things, drawing, painting, and crafting. At university I found myself using the print studio for practical reasons, as hardly anyone else used the studio there was plenty of space for making. After university I found a job working at a private stationery company in London. I really found my passion there, in being able to talk to people and create unique things from scratch. I loved the process of speaking with a client and extracting their ideas, designing something that fits, then physically creating it and seeing it through to the final physical item.


Your CV in a nutshell.


2003-2006 - University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, studying Arts & Media.


2006-2008 - CK Press/Walton Street Stationery Company. I was working as a print consultant and print finisher. I would discuss client projects and quality check them, doing all the hand-finishing jobs like scoring and folding, ribbon tying, and lining envelopes. I looked after the lovely shop too, organising the multitude of stationery bits and bobs.


2008-2010 - Mount Street Printers. I was head-hunted by Mount Street to work in their larger print company. Here I was trained in stationery design so would speak to customers, take their orders, create the design, then also do the finishing. I loved the process of seeing the order through from start to finish.


January 2010 - I began the business plan for my own project, Meticulous Ink. Over the next few months there were many changes, tweaks and amendments to get it perfect. I put in my life savings, secured a small family loan, three credit cards and a business loan to get the company going.


September 2010 - I collected the keys to the shop on Walcot Street in Bath.


October 2010 - We opened our doors on the 23rd. It was a beautiful day!


2010-2018 - I’ve worked insanely hard every single day in a place I adore, doing what I absolutely love.


Tell us about your company, service etc


Meticulous Ink has four main areas, the principal one being our bespoke printing. We offer utterly bespoke design and print, meaning clients can choose the exact weight, colour, texture and thickness of paper, the print method, shape and size. The list is endless! We don’t like to work from templates as we love to create new and unusual print projects.


We have a retail store in the beautiful city of Bath, stocking our own-brand stationery alongside our favourite paper goods and calligraphy supplies. This is also where we do all our printing, so customers can visit and see how the magic happens! Our store was featured in the Small Business Focus section of the Stationery Matters Spring/Summer issue last year!


We are stocked wholesale in a number of different stores across the UK and the world, and we collaborate with other companies to make unique stationery sets.


Our workshops in hand lettering and calligraphy are very popular. We hold them at our store in Bath, as well as across the South West, and in London. We teach private workshops too, for businesses and private parties. These are always really fun and give us the opportunity to share our enthusiasm about stationery and writing.


Describe your role.


Owner, manager, problem solver, delegator, stationery designer, print consultant, book keeper, print finisher, calligrapher, paper and stationery geek, enthusiast, optimist and Christmas party planner.


What’s in store for the next 12 months?


We are concentrating on making our website wonderfully full of all our favourite stationery and paper goods, as well as getting lots more examples of our bespoke projects up, too. We’re now offering brush lettering workshops alongside our beginner and advanced copperplate calligraphy workshops, which are as popular as ever. Most exciting for the recent festive season was my appearance on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas teaching her how to make a pop-up Christmas card! It’s been great fun making examples of pop-ups. Now we are in the New Year we’re concentrating on improving the bespoke printing service and gearing up for the wedding season.


How is your company facing some of the challenges presented by the current retail climate?


I think keeping flexible and branching out into new avenues is really important. The popularity of our workshops has really surprised us, so we’re now offering lots more dates at our store so that we can continue to spread the love of writing and stationery. Plus our website was a little neglected for a while, and I think the online presence is becoming more and more important. I also like to keep my focus on the independent shop, remembering the biggest difference that a small shop can offer a customer is the experience in store. Getting to know your regulars and remembering them, knowing what they like and giving them value when they visit is crucial for keeping on top of the competition.


How has the industry changed in the last 10 years?


People are a lot more interested in what we are doing, and are still amazed that we use our beautiful 1960s printing presses to produce the majority of the work in store. The style of design has certainly changed, with people preferring something more homely, crafted, and rustic. The huge popularity of calligraphy and hand lettering has been wonderful, too. I think people like the thought that they can create something beautiful themselves.


What are you proudest of in your career so far?


I’m proud of having the company and the shop, and that I’ve been able to support four wonderful employees. I’m proud of having been on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas. I’m really proud of designing a book cover with Mr B’s. There have been so many really great moments and I love that I still get to do this everyday.


How do you see analogue and digital working together in retail over the coming years?


We use a perfect combination of digital and analogue on our bespoke and retail work. Our card and stationery designs are a combination of digital typesetting and analogue illustration and calligraphy.


All designs are completed on the computer, then we create a polymer plate that fits into the 1960s Original Heidelberg printing press. These machines print all our own brand stationery and bespoke projects. For us the appeal of the analogue letterpress print method is the texture - creating something 3D from a 2D sheet. The two go hand in hand in our business and I think digital methods are essential to keeping analogue alive.


Do you have a favourite Pantone?


Today my favourite Pantone colour is 332U, (a bright mint) though it does change depending on my mood!

Credit: Pantone
Credit: Pantone
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