By Susan Josephs
Dominique Schurman realized just how much she loved her family’s stationery business the day her father announced his retirement. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Before you sell the company, give me a chance to work for you,’” she recalls.
Schurman’s father agreed and put his daughter to work in 1982 answering the phones. Twenty-eight years later, Schurman is CEO of the 60-year-old Schurman Retail Group, the second-largest specialty retailer in the American personal expression industry and creator of the internationally recognized Papyrus brand, distinguished by its pink hummingbird logo and known for its aesthetically sophisticated and customized stationery products. Papyrus stores are now under the Schurman Retail Group umbrella, which owns 430 stores operating under American Greetings, Carlton Cards and Paper Thread, including the 150 Papyrus stores across the country. Responsible for expanding her family’s importing wholesale business with a handful of stores into a 430 store retail network in North America has been “a labor of love,” says Schurman. “Navigating a business through a generational transition isn’t easy,” she admits. “It takes a lot of determination and tenacity. But I’ve always had a sense of purpose in what I’m trying to achieve.”
Schurman remains equally passionate about her company’s philanthropic and environmental initiatives, such as using recycled paper and partnering with Earth Share, an organization that helps companies target donations to environmental charities. “Especially because we use natural resources, we have to make our best efforts on the environmental front,” she says.
Describing her management style as “informal and interactive,” Schurman spends her days in design meetings, traveling to stores and checking in daily with all aspects of her Fairfield, Calif.-based company. Frequently the only woman at executive board meetings, she observes, “There’s still a men’s club at the most senior level of business, and I’ve had to work harder to be taken seriously. But I’ve also learned how to use being a woman to my advantage,” she says.
Raised in Berkeley, Calif., Schurman acquired a fascination for the family business by osmosis. Her German mother and Swiss father, who began importing European greeting cards in 1950, would invite their suppliers over for dinner, and Schurman spent summer vacations working in the company warehouse. “I loved the people who worked with my parents, and I always felt connected to the merchandise,” she says. “Plus, my mother is an art historian who exposed me to the study of art.”
At age 15, Schurman took a trip with her father to Israel, which “connected me to my heritage and was a powerful experience,” she says, noting her subsequent decisions to live on a kibbutz, study abroad at Tel Aviv University and maintain a business relationship established by her father with a Tel Aviv-based design studio.
An English major at UC Berkeley, Schurman never expected she would be running her family’s business. “It requires a real passion and commitment,” she says, noting the challenges involved in working long hours and raising her two sons, now 21 and 23. “It’s a misnomer that ‘you can have it all,’ but I tried to make sure that I never missed anything important in my kids’ lives.”
Though she hopes one day to travel to Africa and places “off the beaten path,” Schurman remains focused on expanding Papyrus’ international presence, developing online business opportunities, expanding the company’s philanthropic activities and ensuring the Papyrus brand stays relevant. “When the Internet started, people said that greeting cards would be finished,” she says. “Now we know that an e-mail can never replace a handwritten card.”