Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:04 pm
Whitefish Bay native Elizabeth Rees is a third-generation member of her family’s printing business, Kubin-Nicholson Corp., which is headquartered on Milwaukee’s west side. She’s also the founder of popular removable wallpaper startup Chasing Paper, which she established in New York in 2013 and moved to Milwaukee last year. The company’s modern designs, printed at Kubin-Nicholson, come in 2-foot by 4-foot pieces at $30 each. Chasing Paper has gained traction among apartment dwellers, as well as homeowners decorating transitional rooms such as nurseries.
How did you come up with the idea of removable wallpaper?
“It really just came out of a personal need. I was doing a project for a friend in New York at the time who runs a very successful company called Birchbox. They were in some transitional work offices and they needed something because they were presenting to investors and editors. We created these wraps to cover their beams.
“When I really started looking into the category, I found that there was very low design printed on an inexpensive material like vinyl. And then there was very high end. There wasn’t really anything in the middle.”
How many designs do you have?
“Currently, it’s around the 120 mark, which is where we try to keep it. We’re working on a lot of product extensions for 2019. We want to get more into other products that are for your walls and wallpaper-adjacent.”
How did you get in the door at big retailers like Pottery Barn Kids?
“We’ve been really lucky. Removable wallpaper’s so big right now, and also we worked so hard those first couple of years. They actually reached out to us. I think large companies find that small businesses have great stories (that resonate with consumers).
“Obviously we’ve had a lot of people do copycat stuff and the buyers at those places know where those originated and want to go to the source.
“We’ve doubled revenue year-over-year every year. This year we might do a little bit more than that.”
What have you learned about entrepreneurship?
“I think the big takeaway is … it’s really easy to get caught up in what everybody else is doing and looking at other companies, whether it’s in your category or outside your category.
“Before I started Chasing Paper, I was working on it for six or nine months. The great advice I got was, ‘Nobody’s bought it until they give you their credit card.’”
Why did you decide to move the company from New York to Milwaukee?
“About 18 months ago I recognized that there was an inflection point where we were overselling our sales goals and doing really well. I needed to hire more people and get a bigger studio space and in New York it was going to be a real uphill battle and I felt coming to Milwaukee, I could employ more Midwestern people.
“Just really in the last five to 10 years, it’s incredible the change and shift that’s happened here. I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to create jobs for young, creative people in the city.
“With retail being down and the consumer experience being so much online, a lot of people, myself included, crave that IRL experience. We have a studio base that we’re calling Third Branch Creative Studio down in Walker’s Point (at 133 W. Pittsburgh Ave.). We want to be a resource for the community.”