This Bootstrapping Stationery Company Stays One Step Ahead With a Scalable Workforce—and Lots of Inventory

Bloomin—a Boulder, Colorado–based paper manufacturer—is helping to create a more sustainable future.

(Photo: Courtesy Bloomin; illustration: Jessica De Jesus)

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Sep 21, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Bekah Wright is a Los Angeles–based journalist who specializes in travel, entertainment, and lifestyle.

Centuries ago, Native Americans used bark, seeds, and flower petals to make paper. Since 1995, Bloomin—a Boulder, Colorado–based paper manufacturer—has revived this concept to help create a more sustainable future. The company’s goal: supplying a paper product that not only is earth-friendly but, when planted, beautifies the earth. The journey has taken Bloomin from a side gig for founders Don R. Martin and Tom Noyes to a business that has dozens of employees.

While many entrepreneurs aim to fund their start-ups with outside capital, Martin and Noyes financed Bloomin with their own money because they were confident that they had the experience to make the company successful. “I followed the same advice I give new business owners today: Learn the industry from the inside out on someone else’s nickel,” Martin says. When Bloomin launched, he had racked up years working at a greeting card company, learning to navigate the paper manufacturing process, trade shows, and customer base growth.

Another lesson Martin learned was one that many successful small business owners also face: how to deal with unexpected demand. One day, interested in communicating environmental initiatives, beer giant Molson Coors came calling and ordered millions of seeded paper coasters to package with its 12-packs. For a small company like Bloomin, onetime projects on that scale are an enormous logistical undertaking.

Bloomin’s solution for such challenges is to have a nimble workforce that allows it to expand from its usual 30 full-time employees to a staff of 50, which includes part-time workers. This allows for multiple, round-the-clock shifts when needed. One place Bloomin has turned to meet its rapid staffing needs is Employment Link. “It’s a very inclusive program where differently abled individuals are trained in basic job skills for a work environment,” Martin says. “Not only are these adult Down syndrome staff personally fulfilled by the work—they also create a team atmosphere for all the employees.”

(Photo: Courtesy Bloomin)

Another way Bloomin stays responsive to spikes in customer demand is thinking big in terms of inventory. “In the past, we were reluctant to invest in inventory, making the mistake of not having enough confidence that this is a sustainable product,” Martin says. “As a result, we might have missed some opportunities for really big projects.” Keeping that lesson in mind, Bloomin stocks inventory aggressively at its 12,000-square-foot headquarters, ensuring that there are always enough materials to meet whatever demands might come its way. In other words, planning optimistically for high demand and rapid growth can pay off.

Having a large inventory of product is only useful if it gets to distributors and customers on time and in good condition. Here’s where UPS is a valuable partner for Bloomin. UPS works with the company to calculate and execute on its logistics needs, ensuring distributors in Asia and Europe have plenty of inventory, and it also supplies the company with “intuitive” computers, printers, and technology. “The UPS WorldShip system integrates with our invoicing, eliminating redundancy with data entry,” Martin says. This system empowers Bloomin’s entire team, not just its shipping manager, by giving all employees the capability to get shipping quotes for customers in a timely way. “UPS understood our challenges, which has allowed us to grow,” Martin says.

(Photo: Courtesy Bloomin)

In addition to working with UPS to stay organized, Martin voraciously studies and emulates the strong environmental and social corporate cultures practiced by companies such as Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s. Where does he hope this will lead Bloomin? Right back to beautifying the earth. “Everyone we touch, we want to be a steward for earth-friendly products and processes,” he says. It looks like Bloomin is well on its way to planting those seeds.