Branding Lesson: Going from Writer to Business Maven
Starting a successful business is about more than hard work—it’s also about timing. Here’s the story of how one woman in the far northeast corner of the U.S. turned her weekly newspaper column into a retail store through the power of branding.
Kristen Andresen started working for the Bangor Daily News before her 1997 graduation from the University of Maine as a copy editor and freelancer. When a full-time feature writing position opened up, she was fortunate enough to land it.
A year later, Andresen and her editor were looking for ways to jazz up the weekend style section. “One weekend it kind of hit me that in Maine, shopping is more than just buying things—it’s a form of recreation,” Andresen says. “And getting the best deal, whether on fishing gear or designer jeans, is sport.” In other places, people brag about how much they spend on things. In Maine, Andresen says, people brag about how little they pay. Andresen’s shopping alter ego, ShopGirl, was born.
“My mission was to entertain people first and let them in on the best deals second,” said Andresen. There are many shopping columns out there in the world that focus on the products. ShopGirl focused on stories. There were a whole cast of characters in Andresen’s columns, including her now husband, Jason Lainsbury. “I wasn’t afraid to make fun of myself,” Andresen says. “There was never any pretense that I was the Anna Wintour of Bangor, Maine.”
From ShopGirl to Maine Maven
The idea for Maine Maven, which is sort of ShopGirl 2.0, came about when Andresen and her husband were driving back to Bangor from Quebec City. “Jason and I were talking about how great it would be to have a website that would be like the Daily Candy of Maine,” she says. Because of her job with the Bangor Daily News, she had literally been everywhere in Maine and knew about things and products that other people didn’t. “I wanted to find a way to let people in on everything that’s worth seeing and doing in Maine in a way that wasn’t long-winded.” At the time, Andresen had too much going on in her personal and professional life, and Maine Maven was moved to the back burner.
It wasn’t until 2008 when Andresen had quit the Bangor Daily News, given up her ShopGirl column, and started a new job at the public affairs office of the University of Maine that the idea for Maine Maven took root. “I found that I missed certain parts of my newspaper job, namely going out on the road, meeting great people, and discovering new things,” she says.
She brought up Maine Maven at brunch with some friends and they hashed out ideas on napkins and decided to get to work. “My friend, Shawn Rice, went home and did some illustrations, Jason got to work designing a kick-ass website, bending Blogger to his will, and I started writing.”
Be Your Brand
Even though we’ve morphed from a blog to a retail shop, the brand has remained intact, in part because the shop, like the blog, has been built around stories.
Branding was at the forefront from the get-go. Andresen knew exactly what she wanted Maine Maven’s focus to be: the best of Maine with a contemporary twist. The blog has a very specific aesthetic and voice.
Andresen attributes the success of the brand to the strength and consistency of her product, including the writing and imagery on the blog, the quality of merchandise they carry in their new store, and the manner in which they promote their shop. “Even though we’ve morphed from a blog to a retail shop, the brand has remained intact, in part because the shop, like the blog, has been built around stories,” Andresen says. “We know the people who make the products we sell and we love sharing their stories with our customers.”
Andresen also concedes that good timing had a lot to do with the success of Maine Maven’s storefront. “We had a little extra money in the bank, I was on maternity leave, and Jason and I spent a lot of time dreaming about what we could do next,” she says. When the ideal space became available—a little space that was part of a hardware store in Orono where the couple first met—they knew it was time to take their brand to the next level.
Jason runs the shop and handles every detail of the Maine Maven business with the couple’s son, Parker, in tow. Andresen still works full time at the University of Maine while tackling some freelancing for Inside Arts, a national magazine for the performing arts industry, as well as Down East magazine.
Andresen and her husband’s goal is to grow Maine Maven slowly and sustainably, while making sure Parker is their number one priority and they don’t end up burning out. “So many businesses get into trouble by expanding too quickly,” she says. “It’s important to us to build strong relationships with our vendors and customers, to continue to provide the level of quality that we’re know for, and to balance all of the things that are going on in our lives.”