Bound to Succeed
Sitting at her desk in her Vineyard Haven workshop, Jenni Bick explains the attraction of a handmade book. "I believe a handmade book is actually a remedy to the high tech world we live in. It is entirely different to put words down on paper with a pen rather than typing on the computer. Also, I, along with everyone else, have hundreds of photos of my three children on my computer. But to pick 25 favorite photos and put them in a handmade photo album to place on my coffee table is something old-fashioned and something we can trust. I certainly do not invite my guests over to my computer to show them my photos, but an album on the table is perfect."
Eighteen years ago, when Ms. Bick began making one artist book at a time at her kitchen table, she could never have imagined that her creative passion would turn out to be the business it is today. What many Vineyarders may not realize is that Ms. Bick's store in Vineyard Haven, Jennibick.com, is just a drop in the bucket.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Ms. Bick began this business 18 years ago while she and her husband, Robby, operated a bookstore in Washington, D.C. Ms. Bick was pregnant at the time and wanted to stay at home, but didn't want to sacrifice generating an income. She started creating what she refers to as "artist books, funky unusual pieces with blank pages."
Eight years later Ms. Bick launched her website, jennibick.com, when she realized the need for one. She sold her books at craft fairs, and decided it would advantageous to add a website to her business card to create a broader market for her products. She timed the website launch just as Internet usage was starting to boom.
"People were becoming more comfortable with using the Internet, people were becoming less afraid to order online, and things like digital pictures made it really easy to show my one-of-a-kind work," Ms. Bick says. "The web gives me the opportunity to sell to the entire world. The website is my business, and my store in Vineyard Haven is for fun."
Her mother-in-law, author and activist Barbara Bick, owned a vacation home in Vineyard Haven, which the couple visited every summer. In 1996, when their bookstore closed in D.C., they decided to move to Martha's Vineyard. Mr. Bick became a manager at Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven.
With her success at selling her products at craft fairs, Ms. Bick eventually moved her kitchen table workspace to a garage workshop where she created journals, photo albums, guest books, and blank-page books. Six years ago she moved her business - her warehouse, workshop, and office - to its location on State Road in Vineyard Haven, which has space for shipping, customer service, art, and personalization employees.
Much has changed. Ms. Bick finds herself being an administrator in charge of the creative and marketing side of the business while her husband handles the bookkeeping. What started out as 90 percent of Ms. Bick's work and 10 percent imported products has reversed. Although she still originates designs, she now passes them on to her employees to produce.
Although products are imported, they are still personalized. The company's specialty is embossing leather books, and there are few companies in the country that have equipment that compares to hers.
The time it takes to make each book varies, says Ms. Bick, but there are parameters. "Since it is a formula, done with repetition, a typical book takes one and a half hours to make, start to finish, without any preparation done, although all of the ingredients are ready to use," she says.
Having dealt with all sorts of binderies over the years, Ms. Bick admits that her products "cost 100 times more than a photo album you can purchase at the Christmas Tree Shop. But it's worth 100 times more. Our priority is making sure the book people are putting their memories in is going to last as long as the memories are worth. My priority is to make sure the book is worth the time and trouble that was put into it." She smiles and says, "And they have to be pretty."
The future may remain uncertain, but for now, Ms. Bick is happy that her business has continued to grow: "Whatever the initial goal was, I got there already, but I'm not done yet. What's next? I don't know."
Freelance writer Dena Ventura is a Vineyard Haven resident.