Article on Buffalo Business First

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I know that not everyone is a subscriber to Buffalo Business First (if you are into the business world, you should be though).

This is the text portion of the article written by Dan Miner from Aug 2018.

Janna Willoughby-Lohr was nursing her first son in the middle of the night early in 2016 – just a few months after quitting her job to focus full-time on Papercraft Miracles – when she made a rare find.

An internet posting tagged with "#papermaking" advertised affordable, used equipment that would allow her to make homemade paper. As Vernon Lohr slept on his mother, she typed out an excited email asking if the equipment was available.

A few days later, her husband, Bryan Lohr, flew to Indiana and hauled the equipment back to the 1888 Niagara St. building they own in Black Rock (with ground floor space leased to several tenants). The modern iteration of Papercraft Miracles was born.

"Everything took off," Willoughby-Lohr said. "It went crazy from there."

But it took a long time for the 36-year-old to be prepared for that moment. Willoughby-Lohr graduated from Buffalo's Hutchinson Technical High School in 2000. She wanted to be a writer, but soon decided she needed something more tangible, and started taking extensive art electives at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

But she also detected an issue with her passion.

"I went to my advisor and said I want to make art and I don't want to be broke. How do I do that?" Willoughby-Lohr said recently in her first-floor office, while second son Thurgood (8 months old) explored the space.

The solution was a hybrid major combining business with art, meaning that she took classes in social work, accounting, business law and managerial finance. Her thesis project involved the creation of the business – which she named Papercraft Miracles – along with three-year projections and a rudimentary Angelfire website.

Willoughby-Lohr moved back to Buffalo where she did occasional art projects. She served as the assistant manager of a Kwik Fill on Delaware Avenue from 2005 to 2010, until she was hired at an Amherst-based online jewelry retailer called Bodycandy. But following maternity leave in 2015, Willoughby-Lohr found herself deeply dissatisfied with the job.

"My husband finally said, 'Just don't go back to work. Who cares?'" Willoughby-Lohr remembered. She paused for a minute, then added, "I couldn't do this without him."

Willoughby-Lohr spent a few months reorganizing her brand, planning for the business and trying to figure out how she was going to afford new equipment for making paper. That's when she saw the ad.

Now with two young children, Willoughby-Lohr fits the vast demand for her products into a tight schedule, with a significant amount of help from her friends and family. She can make paper out of almost anything, and the margins are significant since she mostly works with recycled material. She started out just hoping to afford her own health insurance – she does a lot better than $500 a month now.

Papercraft Miracles accepts some wholesale orders but the bulk of its business is from custom orders. For instance, one couple had her make wedding invitations out of their old college newspaper, where they'd met. She has done paper flowers for entire weddings, and also made paper from recycled flowers used at weddings. She sells paper with basil seeds in it, which will sprout if watered.

Papercraft Miracles recently became one of the winners of the Ignite Buffalo competition, part of Facebook's Community Boost program. The company won a $25,000 grant, which Willoughby-Lore will use to outsource some marketing and to hire her first employee later this year.

The future of the company will become more clear in the coming years, as Willoughby-Lohr's children get older and she can reclaim more time to focus on her business. She said she could see the company becoming a significant brand.

"People need to touch things and feel things with their hands," she said. "It's gotten to the point where the world is so digitized that people are just starving for it."


Janna Willoughby-Lohr