Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Mary Bruno, owner of Bruno Press, located in Saint Joseph, MN, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I run a small letterpress print shop in St. Joseph, Minnesota. I have a line of irreverent greeting cards that got me started, and now I also have posters, prints, and everything else that can be printed on. I host private print parties for groups and businesses to come and learn about letterpress and print a poster. I am always trying to teach about the craft of letterpress so that I can do my part to preserve this craft and keep it going long after I am gone. I love collaborating with other artists, writers, and businesses; I believe that rising tides raise all ships. I am very connected with the local colleges as I have taken interns for almost ten years and love to teach my craft to young people, not just the creative part of it but the business side of it too.
I think that the cards are the main attraction. They are funny and sort of anti-Hallmark, but since the pandemic, I have reached a WAY bigger audience as I started "Quarantine Storytime" right at the beginning of the shutdown, reading kid's books over lunch. That really went viral, and I had lots more eyeballs on my website. I started printing posters that also reached a WIDE audience, and I have not stopped. In the last three years, I have been able also to put my money where my mouth is as far as supporting the things I believe in. I printed a Governor Walz quote poster over the pandemic. I donated almost $1000 to the local food shelf getting food to families that could not work. I then printed an Amanda Gorman poster and donated almost $1K to The College of Saint Benedict Multi-Cultural Center. I most recently printed a poster of hope for the people of Myanmar. A friend of mine lived and worked there for the last five years and got to send almost $1K there too! That makes me so proud and showcases the integrity of my brand. I want to continue to grow that part of my business.
Tell us about yourself
I inherited my letterpress printshop from my father when he passed away suddenly in 2003. I grew up in his shop carving linoleum blocks and setting type. It is his legacy that brought me back to Minnesota in 2004 to start my own business. I took his presses and type and started a greeting card line and began selling retail and wholesale, and it took off. After that, I began creating custom posters and fine art prints. I have taught all over the world and spoke about my story of legacy. I have connected with printers around the globe and want to continue to do so.
Sharing the process of what I do on social media as well as teaching about the craft here in the shop means so much to me, and I find that people really want to learn about it. Being in the print shop every day is what gets me out of bed every day, and creating prints that connect people and get the message into the hands of the people is what the power of the press is all about. I have become the director of Tourism for the small rural town I live in, and a lot of that is promoting all of the businesses in the area. It is great to continue to connect with people in all the ways that I can.
I love to visit printers around the world. I have printed in Sweden, France, Argentina, and Uruguay. Every print shop, no matter how different, is the same. I can learn from other printers and share what I know with them. I still have so many places to see! my love of travel is one of the biggest perks of small business owners. I work all the time and long hours, but I can also take off to do things when I want, and that is a big priority.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
A few of my biggest accomplishments are the giant projects I have completed. The biggest was letterpress printing the Rule of Saint Benedict as a scroll with Artist in Residence at Saint John's University. That project took almost a year to complete and is the most beautiful work I have ever done. It was epic and is now a part of history.
I am proud of my internship program; I have college kids all year round that I invest a lot of time and effort into. Watching them grow and learn and become confident in what they know is a very important part of the Bruno Press legacy I have started. These young people become close personal friends and go on to do great things and always stay in touch and come back!
I am proud of my skills and work ethic and my pride in teaching and sharing what I know with the world's people.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Being tied to something that only works when I work, being there all the time, and missing out on a lot because I have to be there making the business go. It is hard to say no to people. I try every year to get better at staying in my lane and not trying to be everything for everyone. I am getting better every passing year, but I do struggle with it.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Keep your eye on your own bobber. I know that is easier said than done, but the quickest way to start to drag myself down is to compare myself to others in my business.
- Figure out your brand and dig into it. Always tell your story and show integrity.
- Have trusted mentors that you can turn to when things get really hard, and don't be afraid to be vulnerable with them.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I am an old-school letterpress printer. I fall more in love with letterpress printing, letterpress people, and the whole letterpress process with every passing day. I live to carve lino blocks and set type, talk smart, to meet people who used to be printers, to teach people who want to be printers, and to connect to people who don't know shit about printing, all while creating in some way. Most of my days in the shop consist of drinking coffee, thinking of hilarious things to print on pretty cards, playing with typography, and organizing my thoughts, shop, and desktop. I love the way the ink smells, the way the type feels, and the way the sun shines across my press in mid-afternoon.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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