A sweet deal: New Landis storefront latest stepping stone for stationery, gifting franchise

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 29, 2023

LANDIS — The latest edition of Sweetest Beginnings, a stationery and gifting franchise 15 years in the making, is a Central Avenue storefront in Landis. Owner Susan McRae explained that God guided her through everything from a hospital bed to her current gift shop showroom.

Since its establishment, Sweetest Beginnings has been in numerous locations as the company evolved and adapted to external circumstances.

The company started in 2007 when McRae was on bed rest with her twins, Abigail and Ethan.

“I hate to be still, and I couldn’t leave my room, so I was pretty bored,” McRae said.

“I bought stationery that I could break apart and figure out how to put it together.”

McRae taught herself about stationery design and realized she was pretty good at it, and more importantly, she liked doing it. The former elementary school teacher decided that she could make it her livelihood. Working from home, McRae remained focused on honing her stationery craft, but as business was picking up, she realized she would need some office space.

“We got an office in downtown Concord,” McRae said. “It was a beautiful space where we did everything from weddings to birthdays to baby showers. Weddings were our biggest. The weddings are what kept us successful.”

While they were in that space, McRae conceived the idea of the Sweet Pack.

“We would work with vendors we knew who made things,” McRae said. “We would get items from them at wholesale cost, put the basket together and sell it for what we put into it to get those vendors’ names out. We called it the Sweet Pack for Sweetest Beginnings. I have had that little name forever.”

They were in that space for about four years. Then, in 2015, McRae got a message that she attributes to God. It was just one word – house.

“I didn’t know what it meant, but that was the only word I got,” McRae said. “I told my husband, Will, I don’t know what it is, but I feel God is leading me to a house.”

Five months later, McRae had a providential guest at a bridal meeting, who turned out to be a commercial banker.

“She hands me her card, and I put it in my bag,” McRae said. “I didn’t look at the card the first time, but when I pulled it out, I saw that it said a commercial banker on it. I thought, ok, God, good one.”

Within months, the couple owned a house on Union Street in Concord that would become their store.

“It was a residential property, but it was next to a gas station, across from a church, so we had to propose to the city that this would be a good commercial spot,” McRae said.

There was a garage in the back that the McRaes converted into a photography studio, and for a while, the small business owners enjoyed success at the Union Street location.

“The year before COVID, we noticed stationery was going down,” McRae said. “We were like, hmm, this could be an issue, so we introduced the gift shop.”

The gift shop was based on the Sweet Pack concept.

“Instead of having boxes already made, we let people come in and build their own Sweet Packs,” McRae said.

McRae indicated that it would just be a little side thing, but it would prove to be so much more after a global pandemic turned the world upside down.

“We focused on our website and getting everything on there for the gift shop,” McRae said. “When COVID hit, the website saved us.”

Thanks to a U-shaped driveway at the property, the McRaes could offer a pick-up service. Since people wanted to get out of their homes, McRae’s business gave them an outlet.

The small business owner did not rest on her laurels. She organized Sweetest Beginnings themed Tupperware-style Facebook parties.

“There were days I wouldn’t go to sleep until 3 a.m.,” McRae said. “You don’t think about it. You just keep going. Every day is different, so you have to stay focused on what is the next thing.”

Before ever moving to Landis, McRae saw an opportunity in Kannapolis emerge.

“After COVID, that was the time that Kannapolis was presented to us,” McRae said. “It was a small space, but with it being a second store, we didn’t necessarily want it to be anything huge. People love that little space.”

However, that experience revealed to McRae that they were missing foot traffic at the Union Street space.

“We talked about selling it because it would be one less thing we had to worry about,” McRae said. “That way, we could just focus on growing foot traffic.”

Selling the Union Street home worked out fortuitously for the McRaes.

“Our neighbor’s friend bought it without us even having to list it,” McRae said. “Just one more God step.”

So, the business was temporarily reduced to just the Kannapolis space.

“We knew we needed to be bigger, so we started looking, but nothing seemed open,” McRae said. “In July (2022), Landis Mayor Meredith Smith and Willowbrook Grounds owner Torrie Jarrett, on the same day, started texting me about this space opening up … I came and looked at it, and as soon as I got here, I had the vision. You know you see it and are like, this is amazing.”

The Landis location officially opened in October 2022. McRae splits her time between Landis and Kannapolis, but she cherishes the interactions that come from inquisitive customers at the Landis space.

“We have boxes and baskets,” McRae said. “If they pick it out and want a basket, we will put it together for them with tissue paper, and they leave with a ready-made gift. That is one of the things we love the most is being able to help someone find something unique and put it together like that.”

McRae quickly acknowledges that none of the steps in her journey would have happened if she had not put her faith in God and followed his prompting.

“It’s definitely a path of being led and to the unknown,” McRae said. “It’s ok to follow and see where His path leads.”

Sweetest Beginnings is located at 113 S. Central Ave. in Landis. It is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. every day except Sunday.