Maria Gossard overcame significant health obstacles to develop her business featuring beautiful paper, stunning designs and artisanal printing done with close attention to the customer’s vision.
In the beginning…
Maria Gossard grew up surrounded by her extended family in Cyprus. Her English mother and Greek Cypriot father loved growing things and they raised much of their own food on their farm on the Mediterranean coast. “We worked hard and we played hard”.
One of Maria’s aunts was an amazing seamstress. “She would allow me two scraps, so I could do dresses for my dolls”. After Maria learned how to sew, she decided, “I’m going to design clothes for me, not because I couldn’t go buy them, but because I found those more interesting. It was an art form”.
When did Maria come to the U.S.?
One of six children, Maria was conscious of the fact that American universities were half the price of English ones. Consequently, she enrolled at Bob Jones University in South Carolina as a biology major with the intention of pursuing her lifelong love of the ocean by becoming a marine biologist.
One night, friends invited her to go to the Art Department. Despite her limited exposure to art classes, “I just fell in love. I never knew that you could have a career in art”. Her “Greek grandfather was a carpenter. He was also a sculptor, but not for a living,” so she grew up thinking “art is what you do on the side”.
“I started doing research and talking to other art majors, ‘How are you going to make a living with this?’” After many conversations with her father, she switched her major to Art & Design. “I took off. It became effortless for me”.
Did Maria continue with Art & Design after she graduated?
After graduation, Maria secured a visa to remain in the U.S. for two years of practical training. She got a position as a “rendering artist with a leading design firm in Washington, D.C., which specialized in palatial residences throughout the Middle East”. Her goal was “to learn as much as I can, but I’m heading back”.
The job was very competitive with a cutthroat atmosphere; 60 to 80 hour weeks were the norm. “Reps visiting from top manufacturers would say, ‘we can cut the tension with a knife’. It was probably the toughest time of my life, but that’s where I learned; where my game was elevated”.
Did Maria remain in that environment?
A year before Maria intended to return to Cyprus, she met her husband, Paul. “He was my kismet”. LexisNexis recruited Paul to come to Dayton, Ohio. “The money was really good, but who lives in Dayton, Ohio? We agreed to try it out for a year. And that was 29 years ago”.
While Maria raised their four children, she freelanced as a designer specializing in interior and product design. “I would design products for the home and garden, then I would sell the ideas to other companies”. Her friend, the owner of Terra Cotta, a store in Columbus, saw some garden markers Maria made for her own garden and offered to sell them. Inspired by that success, “I went to a show with them and a big company said, ‘we’ll give you a $250,000 opening order’”. She quickly discovered “they dangle this carrot in front of you, then they justify stealing the product from you eventually after the first order, having the product mass-produced overseas, and putting you out of business”.
“In this big fish eat the smaller fish kind of world, I learned fast that anything new in the market is yours for one season”. Accordingly, Maria decided just to sell her ideas as prototypes. “That kind of kept me happy for a few years while the kids were growing up”.
How did Maria get into the printing business?
Maria’s printer decided to retire and approached her to take over their downtown Dayton business-to-business operation, Think Printing. Maria and Paul decided to buy it. “We revamped it, modernized it, turned a 30% profit the first year and then, the big crash happened in 2008”.
Despite the economic downturn and changes in the business landscape, Maria pressed on. But, “after a few years, I got really sick with Lyme disease”.
How did Lyme affect Maria?
“I was misdiagnosed for 10 years, so I kept losing quality of life. Intuitively, I knew something was very wrong. I felt like I was dying from the inside. I couldn’t even get out of bed. I couldn’t walk from my bedroom to my kitchen. I forgot my purpose. The disease kind of rapes you of every energy and every positive thinking”.
“You go to a complete place of helplessness and hopelessness; helplessness is one thing, but hopelessness is a really dark place. But when your brain isn’t working anymore, you’re in this constant brain fog and your body aches, it’s beyond depression; it’s really, really dark. I could no longer participate in my life. I went from being a producer to being a survivor”.
Fortunately Maria’s office manager, Jeff Firestone, had already joined the business. He “became my right hand, very organized, very great work ethic, good with machinery. He actually was able to run it for me. He was amazing”.
Did Maria recover?
Finally Maria found doctors who diagnosed her Lyme disease; recovery took five years. “That time in my life was a time of fasting, praying, seeking just God’s healing. God had my complete attention. He actually showed me things in me that had to change, so it was a spiritual and physical healing”.
“I’m still recovering. Every now and then I’ll get this burst, ‘I’m actually thinking, I’m actually producing again!’ It’s going to be two years that I’m completely Lyme disease free. Big difference, because my brain started working again. Lyme disease changes your life. I’m to the point that I cannot take a day for granted; every day is a gift”.
Why did Maria move the print shop to Cross Pointe Shopping Centre in Centerville, Ohio?
Think Printing DMS was struggling due to the economy and competition from big online printing companies. When Maria’s son, Thomas, got married, “I realized how limited Dayton was in high-end specialized papers for invitations. There was no one in town doing engraving or letterpress. I thought ‘Okay, I’m going to take one more chance with the business before I decide to throw in the towel’”.
Relocating to Cross Pointe Shopping Centre in Centerville, Ohio allowed Maria to expand her market to individual consumers. “Immediately the reception and the climate and the whole direction was very strongly a positive ‘yes’”.
After a year in the new location, “we were just completely busting at the seams”. She hesitated to move, however, because she had a 5-year lease.
“I said, ‘Oh Lord, it would be so nice if I had a table to sit down with clients when they come in, especially brides, since we were doing more and more weddings, and space to showcase our work’”. A week later, the owners of Cross Pointe asked Maria to relocate since the daycare center next door needed more space.
How did this move affect Maria’s business?
Maria officially launched Maria Gossard Designs in March 2016 with an expanded, trendsetting team. Jeff now works part-time, as he is back in school. Roger Owsley, a nationally recognized designer, leads the graphic division. Maria added an experienced silkscreen printer, Bobby Trimbach, to offer items such as golden edges silkscreened on invitations, and limited edition posters for bands and artists around the country. A retired pressman, Mark Bundy, runs the recently acquired letterpress machines. “I’m proud of our fleet of Chandler & Price Co. manual letterpresses from the late 1800’s, 1909 and 1912”.
How did Maria learn to operate a business?
When Maria was at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to continue or close, a client encouraged her to checkout Women in Business Networking. She did and decided to commit to their two-year Bridges to Success Mentoring Program, which required periodic training and monthly meetings with different mentors – CEOs or business owners.
“In that two-year process, I realized how much I still had to learn and how I had to grow as a person, because our success in the business world reflects our personal growth. And the 10 years that I had been so sick, I didn’t grow as a person. I shrank as a person”.
She invested in educational, entrepreneurial and leadership materials, and workshops with coaches like DaniJohnson.com. “I’m very involved with the mentoring program in the city and now I’m a mentor myself”.
What is Maria’s vision for the business?
“Our dream is to bring to Dayton an elevated printing service that only exclusive neighborhoods in bigger cities have and help put our city on the map. It’s all about educating our community and serving them with products” so they don’t wish that they lived in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. “Instead they’ll say, ‘I got this done in Dayton, Ohio’”.
- Ask: “Why do you want to do what you want to do? What’s the purpose? What is your goal? Who is your mentor? Do you understand all the ins and outs?”
- Understand: “entrepreneurs burn their relationships faster than anyone else, because it’s very stressful”.
- “You can’t be all things. When you start a business, you cannot be the lawyer; you cannot be the accountant; you cannot be the networker, the one that sells, and the producer. You need a team…nobody can do all those things well”.
- Avoid thinking: “I want it to happen fast; and if it doesn’t happen fast, I’m a failure. Nothing good in life happened overnight”.
- “Having a supportive family is very important, too, and being honest with them, up front. ‘I’m going on this journey and it could be painful at times, it will definitely be stressful at times; is that okay with you?’”
- “Always having that teachable spirit. I have to remind myself, I might be able to learn from this person or, if it was criticism, what can we learn from this experience? How can we tackle it better next time?”
- “At the end of the day, can I sleep tonight, because the way I handled all my relationships, my projects, my peers, my clients, was honorable? That to me has far more value than anything else”.
“God has given me the opportunity to tap into my entire life experience and utilize everything I’ve been learning to actually be able to say I am having the best time of my life”.
To learn more about Maria Gossard Designs go to the website at: mariagossarddesigns.com
You can also find Invitations, fine paper, printing and design by Maria Gossard Design on the wedding planning website, the knot, at https://www.theknot.com/marketplace/maria-gossard-designs-centerville-oh-1064055, and on ETSY at https://www.mariagossarddesigns.com/etsy/