September 20, 2022
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Carleton Place’s Whatever Custom Prints and Gifts defies limits with one-of-a-kind business



Store

(Photo courtesy of Michaela Pilote, Main Street Ambassador for Carleton Place)

As far as shops go, Whatever Custom Prints and Gifts in Carleton Place exists in its own category. According to the owner, Ashley Doucet, it’s more than a store–it is a bridge between the limits of people’s imagination and the custom gifts they want to give. By that logic, Doucet, says she is the chief purveyor of whatever.

The creation of whatever can present in different ways. It can be a custom-printed mug or a t-shirt, a personalized saying on a pillow or linen. But Doucet’s favourite offering is the Forever Outline collection where she prints an outline of a customer’s photo on a product. “I'll trace it so it's just an outline, and while I'm doing it, I have to have it so blown up that I get to see the little details in the picture–the way someone’s looking at something or holding hands,” she says. “It makes my heart melt.”

At its core, that’s the genesis behind Whatever Custom Prints and Gifts–it’s about capturing the meaningful and turning it into something physical. And true to its anomalous nature, the shop also started by accident. “I was working for my parents. We’ve owned a glass company for 37 years and we do glass showers, big commercial storefronts, things like that,” explains Doucet. The business took on a local job where they had to print on glass. “Someone caught on in town and was like, oh, if they could print on glass, maybe they can print on a t-shirt for me.”

Originally, Doucet’s family shut the idea down. But then more and more requests started coming in. “I started just kind of doing random little mugs here and there and when COVID-19 hit, it just blew up.”

As Doucet got busier, she and her family decided she should spin it out into her own business and Whatever Custom Prints and Gifts was born. In the first year of COVID-19, it grew based on word of mouth. “Someone would tell someone and then because we're a small town, everybody, all of a sudden knows,” says Doucet.

Part of the appeal is being able to fulfill orders on the same day. It’s one of the pillars of the business, which has grown to two staff to meet increasing demands. Doucet says she’s noticed a ramp-up in clientele recently since working with the My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program. The program aims to revitalize business communities through hands-on support and is funded with a $23.25-million Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and delivered by the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO).

When Doucet was first approached about the My Main Street program, which is run through the local Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Ambassador Michaela Pilote, she was a little hesitant. “I usually shy away from these types of meetings,” admits Doucet. “But there was something about her, and I decided I'm going to give this a shot and see what this research is all about.”

After reviewing My Main Street's in-depth market research on the demographics, interests and social media trends of Carleton Place, Doucet was excited about opportunities for the business

Pilote says Doucet thought new custom shirts would be great for her customers. However, according to the market research, the business’ average customer is 54 years old and doesn’t necessarily want to buy custom t-shirts. Pilote took it a step further. “I said, you know what? We know what the stats say. Let’s put a poll on Facebook and ask your average customer what they want.” The customers emphasized the data–they didn’t want t-shirts; they wanted engraved metal, wallets and leather. It energized Doucet.

Doucet also learned from the market research that they should be using a different social media platform for advertising. Within one week of switching from Instagram to Facebook, the business saw a spike in ad engagement and results. Pilote says that Doucet became heavily engaged with the market research​. “I would tell her something and five minutes afterwards, she would YouTube it,” she says. “She would research it, figure out how to do it and implement it within an hour.”

When Whatever Custom Prints and Gifts applied for the $10,000 My Main Street non-repayable contribution and received it, Doucet knew exactly where she wanted to funnel a portion of the funding: the GlowForge, a 3D laser printer that would drastically expand the businesses capabilities and respond to customer’s needs.

To Doucet, the funding is a dream. “When Michaela came with that, I was over the moon.”

The My Main Street market research has helped Whatever Custom Prints and Gifts focus its marketing efforts, and Doucet has a big vision for how to expand her business with help from the GlowForge. But more than vision, she says it’s action that is required. “You can have all these ideas in the world,” she says. “But if you don’t just dive right in, it’s not going to happen.”

PARTNERS

My Main Street is a partnership between the Economic Developers Council of Ontario and the Canadian Urban Institute.

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