Ashley Reynolds, 36, has always used paper planners not just as an organizational and productivity tool, but also as a vital place to record her feelings. Ultimately, though, she was never able to find one with exactly the design or features she was looking for. So when she left her job at Capital One in 2014, she decided to turn her passion into a business. The following year, she launched Richmond, Virginia-based Cloth & Paper, a company that makes planners. The business flourished during the pandemic, with revenue reaching more than $7 million in 2021. That figure represented 880 percent growth from 2018, landing Cloth & Paper at number 717 on the 2022 Inc. 5000 list. --As told to Xintian Tina Wang

I had worked in Fair Credit Reporting Act compliance with Capital One for nine years, and I wished there was more creativity in my job. When my husband, Ryan, got a new job in Raleigh, North Carolina, we relocated from our hometown, Richmond, Virginia. Then I was asking myself whether I'd want to work for another bank. While I was trying to map out my future, I went shopping for a planner. I went to Target, Staples, and Home Depot, but none of the existing planners were the way I wanted--they were very flowery, very neon, and overly girly. I just wanted a simple planner where I could prioritize scheduling. That's when it hit me that I could do a planner business.

I love paper products, especially planners. A planner is a place for me to release my feelings and keep track of the things that I'm grateful for. Jotting down my plans every day is therapeutic for me. I love what people can do with paper. That's what I wanted to share with our audience.

I put a $10,000 line of credit into the business, and Cloth & Paper was officially born in 2015 in a spare bedroom. My husband owns a business back in Richmond, so we use that space for warehousing and are officially headquartered there. 

I tried to make the first daily planner inserts on Microsoft Word, which is definitely a no-no for a graphic designer, but I don't have a design background. Surprisingly, people loved the simplicity of it. In the left column, it has a space for priorities, a to-do list, and notes. In the right column, it has a space for tasks and schedules. This prototype led to the creation of our flagship planner.

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A year after the company launched, Ryan quit his job and joined me to manage and expand it. For the first three years, we had no paid advertising. But I think Cloth & Paper stands out, because we come from a point of really helping people understand planning and productivity maximization. On our social media platforms, we include instructional videos that show viewers how best to use our products. We also launched a quarterly lifestyle subscription box last year, which come with a variety of beauty products and household items to improve your productivity and lifestyle. 

We certainly benefited from the rise of social commerce and e-commerce during the pandemic, and the business grew crazily. Revenue increased by more than 240 percent in 2020. We went from a 330-square-foot warehouse to 12,000 square feet. 

Our company grew from 10 to 40 employees, too. We have really focused on quality hires over the past few years, but the Great Resignation has been a big challenge. We created team happy hours and a monthly company huddle where we talk about everything that's going on in the business, to keep everyone engaged and happy. Still, you don't have a lot of control over employees' mental state amid a pandemic. Acknowledging their struggles is so important.

Right now, our audience is young professionals and entrepreneurs who value time blocking. We predominantly sell our products on Shopify. We also see a lot of customers buying directly from Instagram and Facebook now. That has been a growing trend over the past six months.

There are still some people who are not ready for the digitalization of calendars. We could simply press the button and release all of our products in digital form if it came to that. But in our consumer research, people ask us to keep the paper coming.