Michael Baum, 21, is a senior at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., majoring in economics…
Valerie Harb, who formerly designed printed marketing materials for small businesses, offered a job-related gift to a friend. When the woman casually discussed budgeting for a son’s bar mitzvah party, Harb offered to take care of the invitations.
What had been a tedious process for her friend became an act of enjoyment for Harb. She loved designing how the invitations would fit in with the theme of the party.
“From that point on, four years ago, I knew the kind of work I wanted to do,” says Harb, who isn’t Jewish but has learned about Jewish event customs and consults with a tutor to check the Hebrew lettering she is asked to use.
In her Farmington Hills home, she designs and forms place cards, name tags for favors, small signage and other paper products to decorate and distinguish each party. She is among a group of paper product specialists providing creative, customized services to party hosts.
“I’m a one-woman show, and I like interacting with clients,” she says of her business, Valerie Harb Graphic Design Services. “I’ve bought computer products, printers, die-cut machines, photo reproduction materials and more. Every project teaches me something new.”
Harb treats every party as a special commitment, and she recalls a bat mitzvah held at the College for Creative Studies among the most innovative. The teen was devoted to creativity so Harb followed through with materials for stations devoted to different aspects of that interest.
The sign-in board, for example, asked each guest to write a haiku. The board was framed in bamboo to connect to the geographical area associated with that poetry style. The reception cards were fun bookmarks.
“I put my name on the backs of invitations so that’s one way prospective customers find me,” Harb says. “People who have used my services also pass along my name.”
Harb does not charge for the first meeting with each potential client. She wants to give them ideas of what is available according to the budgets presented.
“I was always a creative person,” Harb says. “When I meet with clients, I want to use my creativity to meet their specialized needs.
“I prepare designs to suit what they tell me. I email five designs and they can mix and match according to what they like. I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed.”
Harb, who had lots of support from her husband in establishing her business, began making a profit in the middle of her second year.
“My goal for all my clients is to see faces light up when products are picked up,” Harb says. “I want the products to be exactly what they wanted them to be so these parts of any party planning are not stressful for customers.”
Franci Hirsch is another business owner working out of her home to help clients plan for innovative paper products that personalize and enhance parties. She provides an extra service by wrapping favors for everyone and packaging gifts given to out-of-towners.
“I try to work with anything that can have special printing, including save-the-date cards, napkins, menus, even yarmulkes,” she says. “I don’t make them, but I help shop different vendors.”
Hirsch, who lives and works in her West Bloomfield home, began her business two years ago. The Paper Press emerged after she enjoyed planning her own daughter’s bat mitzvah.
Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, Hirsch worked in public relations and broadcasting, other fields requiring fresh approaches. Creativity has always has attracted her.
When she was working on the b’nai mitzvot of twins, Hirsch suggested a black-and-white color scheme because the siblings couldn’t agree on any colors.
“It all turned out very crisp and cool,” she says. “I used clear invitations with black and silver print, and that worked out well. For other parties, a popular theme has become using monograms on whatever can have an imprint.”
Among her services is printing addresses on invitation envelopes in the style and color that will match the invitations. Aside from parties, she also works on personalized stationery.
Hirsch does a lot of web surfing to find new products and design approaches as she learns about the interests of her clients. She offers checklists for a more organized planning experience, which also gets them thinking about items that might not have come to their attention earlier.
“Whatever I offer is discounted,” she says. “I pass savings along to the clients as I work with different vendors.”
Hirsch, a Temple Israel member, volunteers her time with the Friendship Circle and Thread, a group of women exploring different topics. She also has met clients through these activities.
“I walk people through the entire process of planning their printed goods,” says Hirsch, whose business became profitable after six months.
Hirsch advises allowing plenty of time to plan. Getting ready early reduces pressure and allows for more thinking through of what forms party items will take.
Susan Siegal and Terri Trepeck introduce customized paper products at their retail boutique in Franklin. Event Bliss came from a partnership that started more than three years ago.
“We offer invitations, place cards, blow-up photos, note pads — anything printed,” says Siegal, a longtime party planner teaming with a longtime invitations specialist. “I would go to Terri for invitations, and we decided we could combine services to build our customer base.”
Siegal tells customers lower prices for individual items can be found more readily through a professional planner and can make up for the cost of hiring a planner. Going to a store with merchandise, she says, gives clients firsthand experience with products and allows extensive browsing.
“I try to be very creative about invitations because that’s the first impression of a party a guest experiences,” Trepeck says.
Whether balloons, banners or other large party decorations, the enhancements often are scouted to fall in line with personalized paper products that individualize each celebration. One party, with a world travel theme, had centerpieces of large balloons coordinated with placemats designed to show world maps.
“It’s more difficult to enjoy an event if you have to think about all the details,” Siegal says. “We take care of that.”
Siegal, active in Congregation Shaarey Zedek, and Trepeck, active in Temple Israel, often introduce their services by volunteering to help plan community activities, such as Send a Kid to Tamarack Camps.
Putting their imagination to work is central to each party they help supply — and getting to know their customers takes priority in whatever they do.
A kitchen shower had custom invitations attached to pans mailed in boxes. Spoons held coordinated place cards. The centerpiece, a mixing bowl holding cupcakes, had customized boxes decorated to carry the party theme home with the tasty treat.
For a dinner party celebration for Trepeck’s dad’s 75th birthday, the two chose black and gold as the color decor for napkins, menu cards and table runners, among other items.
“We thought the color scheme would be masculine and elegant,” Trepeck says.
The two have one test for knowing they’ve been successful.
“We want the people holding parties to walk into the events feeling like guests,” Siegal says. “They all must be able to fully enjoy the occasions they have planned.”
Suzanne Chessler Contributing Writer
Find Valerie Harb Graphic Design on Facebook or call (248) 417-8138. Find the Paper Press on Facebook or call
(248) 568-1739. Find Event Bliss on Facebook or call (248) 862-6741.