NEW LONDON -- Unity Stamp Co. of New London has defied the odds by opening and grow-ing a business in the midst of the worst recession in recent memory.
Angela and Chris Magnuson started their company in 2008 and did more business in the first three months of 2009 than they did all last year. The firm designs and manufactures rubber stamps and handles for the stamps
The Magnusons started out in 2003 with a home business cutting custom-made blocks for stamp companies.
"We decided there was a way to do it better," said Angela, the company's chief creative offi-cer, and they developed a new system of handles for stamps.
Before their system, stamps fell into two categories, they said. There were stamps mounted on cling foam that would stick on acrylic blocks for use and the stamps mounted on wood block handles.
The Unity handles can accommodate either type of stamp. Stamps mounted on thin wood bases can be used alone or slide into the Unity handles. Stamps on cling foam can be positioned on the other side, which has an acrylic block in the center. The versatile handles come in four sizes.
The company name Unity was inspired by the handles. Chris, the chief executive officer, came up with the idea because the handles unite two parts of the stamping world.
The Magnusons said they thought their handles would be the company's big product, but the business quickly grew beyond that.
The company works with 13 designers and releases new designs every month. Many other companies have two major releases a year, Angela said.
Unity has two Kit of the Month programs. One is an Internet-based mail order program. The other program, started just recently, provides a kit each month for sale in retail stores only.
"The stores are ecstatic about it," Angela said. "They love things people can only get in stores."
The number of mail order kits sent each month is an indicator of the company's growth -- 25 in May 2008, 200 in November 2008, 400 in January 2009 and more than 1,100 in June 2009.
The company's kits are all manufactured and packaged in its building at 100 Central Ave. W. near downtown New London.
The kits of the month include an 8½-by-11 sheet of red rubber with as many as two dozen dif-ferent stamps on them. The image is imprinted on a magnesium plate and the designs are "cooked" into the rubber, which is heated and then placed under 28 tons of pressure for 10 minutes.
Once cool, the stamps are placed on cling foam backing and put into a state-of-the-art cutting machine for pre-cutting. A technician scans the image into the cutter, and it cuts a perfect out-line around each stamp on the sheet.
The company also markets individual stamps and smaller sets, which can be sold mounted or unmounted.
"We decided to go green with the packaging," Chris said. A company in Minneapolis makes the brown paperboard packaging using 70 percent recycled material in a factory powered by 100 percent wind power.
"Everything we're trying to do is eco-friendly," he said, "and that really helps us in the busi-ness."
The company purchases its raw materials from U.S. manufacturers, too, he said.
Unity markets its products all over the world. "Australia is huge," Chris said. "They love American stuff." Their products are also popular in Europe and Japan.
The company was recently asked to develop a line of stamps featuring camels and palm trees for sale in Dubai.
Some large crafting chains are starting to take notice of Unity's products, which could help the business grow even faster, he said.
When they decided to expand the business, Angela said, she learned a lot about stamping very quickly. She is a crafter and a scrapbooker, but she had not done that much with stamping or greeting cards before. She found artists and designers who have helped her create a style for the company's stamps that customers have called timeless.
The Magnusons went to their first trade show in early 2008, and told people there that their first orders would be shipped on May 1. They were pleased with the positive response to their ideas. In November 2008, they moved into their current building with four employees. Now, they have 13 workers, including their original employees.
Angela said she could admit that in the beginning, "we were flying by the seat of our pants, but we had some great handles," she said. Now, she's hoping to continue to expand the com-pany's product line, possibly into scrapbooking kits.
"The building of it is so much fun," she said.