17 questions with Midwest Polite of Michigan

17 questions with Midwest Polite of Michigan

1) Introduce yourself:

Midwest Polite: Hi I’m Dennis! I grew up in rural Indiana, as the youngest of a big family. I came to Michigan for school, I studied Youth Ministry at Great Lakes Christian College, and I eventually came back to the Lansing, MI area because I fell in love with it. I run a design business called Midwest Polite. I like to take the fun quirks about the Midwest and find a way to highlight that on a sticker, poster, or card.

2) What is your favorite thing about the Midwest?

MP: There’s something gorgeous about the Midwest in every season. And the people seem to have this shared sincerity, it can seem corny on the surface, but by and large, we really are that nice and we really do mean it. That tends to come with a lot of other things in common, and I can’t help but smile every time I catch someone literally say “Ope, lemme sneak right past ya.”


3) Have you traveled to any other states in the Midwest?

MP: So I grew up in Indiana, and I’ve pretty much been all over there. I’m working my way through seeing most of Michigan. I have family in Ohio, and I’ve traveled a bit there. I’ve only made a few visits to Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky, and the only time I’ve been to Iowa was to help my dad pick a car he bought online, Ha! So I’ve got about half of the region checked off, but I’d love to make some memories in every state. I’ve got family in Minnesota now, so I’ve got to get out and see them eventually.

4) When did you get started?

MP: Like a lot of folks, I ended up trying something new when everyone got stuck at home in early 2020. My third shift job was considered “essential,” and it required me to keep a close eye on all the worst news reports. So I was going into work at night, and then coming home and staying awake stressed all day. I decided to reach out and do something nice for some friends who had moved away; just choosing to do something positive. I drew up a page of designs with kind words and some local jokes, and I ordered a few sticker sheets to send out. When those arrived, and I saw my art on something that looked like a commercial product, I knew I needed to make more.

5) ​​How did you get the idea for your business?

MP: So I was looking at these first stickers I’d had printed, and the key to their appeal was summed up in the design that turned into the first one I sold. It was just a kind of nice type treatment of the word “Ope”.  It was a design I liked, it was very Midwestern, and it was about the polite way we treat each other here. I knew that reveling in Midwest-isms and poking a little fun at myself and my neighbors was super sustainable for me as a niche, and I decided to give it a shot.


6) Is this your first business?

MP: I wasn’t an entrepreneurial kid, but I had a couple brushes with commercial art when I was young (drawing the poster for a concert, things like that), and I figured out pretty quickly as a poor college student that I could enjoy making things and get paid for it. This is the first time I’ve taken the leap and actually made a business out of it, though. I feel like I got lucky, because the biggest risk I’ve had so far is getting stuck with inventory. I really like what I’m making, so even that wouldn’t be a huge loss.

7) What inspires you?

MP: I love when my art makes someone’s day. When someone finds just the right spot for a sticker, or unrolls a poster and gets the joke; and they don’t just laugh, but they actually feel seen, because yeah, they are the kind of person who treats ginger ale like medicine, even though they know that’s kind of silly. That’s what I want every design to be able to do, for at least a few people.

8) Do you have a special connection to the location you operate in?

MP: Part of what made me fall in love with Lansing was just how much of that quirky Midwest character was concentrated here. We’ve got a city-wide obsession with a convenience store’s onion dip, and if Lansing has a mascot, it’s a trio of smokestacks named Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod. That’s exactly the kind of stuff I want to make designs for!

9) What was your first setback?

MP: Well there’s the other thing where I was like a lot of other people in 2020. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, and I burned out on the thing I had specifically started to give myself and my customers joy. I went months without drawing up anything new, and I didn’t add anything to my shop for all of 2021. I basically threw away all of my momentum.


10) How did you overcome it?

MP: Part of it was just time, and rest. It helped a lot that I changed my full time job and have a lot less stress from that. But the reason I’m releasing new stickers and looking to expand my products is actually because I had friends who were big enough fans of my designs to still be asking if I was making anything new. Once I put my mind back to Midwest Polite, I found that I had plenty of ideas, just sort of waiting for me to be ready to give them another try.

11) Do you have a favorite product or thing to make?

MP: Most of what I’m selling right now are individual stickers, and I like them a lot, but my favorite thing is a sticker sheet. I love putting together three or four punches at the same joke that, when you do it right, all make each other better. Plus I can hide extra goofs in the background of a sheet; things that aren’t quite big enough to make their own item, but they make me smile.

12) What is the most recent product you’ve made?

MP: As of this interview, I’m waiting on delivery of my newest sticker design. It’s trying to embrace our windchill problem. I’ve heard from some grouchier midwesterners that they actually like the bitter cold in winter, because it, “Keeps out the rif-raf.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like it, but I do like the solidarity it breeds in folks. When I spot someone else bundled up and trying to survive below-zero windchills, the one thing I know for sure is that we’re both crazy enough to live here anyway. That feels like good common ground.


13) Will you expand your business more?

MP: I don’t particularly expect Midwest Polite to get huge or anything, but I’ve had interest from customers in getting greeting cards with my designs. It seems like a no-brainer for a company about polite interactions to sell cards. And while I’ve been working out sourcing for that, I’ve spotted a few other obvious things to expand into. If greeting cards get off the ground, sales-wise, this time I’ll be ready to keep growing.

14) How do you find new customers?

MP: It’s almost all word of mouth for me. I think I had literally one sale from advertising in 2020. That makes sense though, you can’t buy the genuine enthusiasm someone has when they get asked about the cool sticker on their laptop and they finally get to talk about it.

15) Does your business have a newsletter?

MP: I announce upcoming products and occasionally wax poetic about how I feel about a design to my mailing list. People can sign up at https://join.midwestpolite.com/email to be the first to know when something new is coming.

16) Where can people find you on social media?

MP: I post pictures of custom designs and timelapses of my drawings on Instagram under midwest_polite_co, and I’ve got a Midwest Polite Facebook Page with mostly the same content if people prefer to see it there. I get direct messages about custom commissions in both places.

17) What’s your website?

MP: People can buy products or sign up for the mailing list at midwestpolite.com.

Find out more on Midwest Polite's website or follow on Facebook and Instagram.

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