The Stationers Guild

Archive for July, 2010

Real Card updates Bar & Bat Mitzvah Collection

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I have just been advised that Real Cards Studio will be releasing updates of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah Collection at the end of this month.

Real Cards’  new designs feature a large circle letterpress printed in 3 colors with a fun new type treatment, a new pocket folder with space for two invitations –  perfect for the twins celebrations, a pretty new square pocket folder in a larger size, a delectable new paper and foil and emboss combo that looks almost edible, an updated pocket folder with an incredibly cool custom illustrated portrait of the mitzvah-ee, and for the fashionista: our first pattern-printed pocket folder with matching diecut envelope that is to-die-for! 

This Seattle-based company is now run by lead designer Heather van Breda and features styles that dazzle and printed on quality paper that will make your Bar & Bat Mitzvah guest sit up and take notice.

Thérèse Saint Clair is delighted to carry Real Card Studio’s delightful and trendy invitations.

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If you want traffic, claim your business on Google

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

As most of you are no doubt aware, I have written extensively on how important it is to claim your business on Google.  This service is FREE and THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVERTISING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS INVESTMENT YOU CAN MAKE!   Google has just made it more so, by eliminating other “local” search directories from search queries that contain a local qualifier.   For instance, if one is looking for “wedding invitations Omaha” on Google you will no longer be able to find directories such as local.com or YELP search rersults.  With one deft stroke, Google has killed the competition for local search directories that have been piggy-backing for free on their search network.

Here is what you need to do:

  1. If you have not claimed your business on Google, do so immediately.  It is simple, FREE and the most valuable investment you can make.  Just click on the hyperlink and do it now.  It takes about 15 minutes.
  2. If your store is listed on Google, make sure you spruce it up with photographs and other goodies.  Post a couple of videos of your store  on YouTube and have it linked to your local listing.  YouTube is owned by Google and they love to see you playing the game.
  3. Visit getlisted.org and see how you rank for local search.  It is FREE and simple and I would certainly follow the hyperlinks and get listed on these five local search registeries.

Over the next couple of months, I will be rolling out a few inexpensive and easy business strategies to position your business for online search.

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Walmart State of Mind: Greeting Cards

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Almost a year ago, I recall exchanging email correspondence with a gentleman who worked for a well-known greeting card company and was responsible for one large big-box store account.    He had recently been laid off as part of a corporate downsizing exercise and lamented that it is “tough to compete when Walmart is selling a similar greeting card at $0.46.”

Now, I have not corroborated his story with a visit to Walmart to check out their pricing, but I suspect that the pricing is not too far off.    Target is selling greeting cards at under a dollar and offers promotional discounts if you buy three or more cards from over 600 cards offered at their stores.

Not much is known about the greeting card industry as a whole and what little information we have available comes from American Greetings, which is a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol: AM).   I would like to quote a few excerpts from American Greetings 2009 Annual Report:

  • Competition:  “The greeting card and gift wrap industries are intensely competitive. Competitive factors include quality, design, customer service and terms, which may include payments and other concessions to retail customers under long term agreements  (my emphasis).   There are an estimated 3,000 greeting card publishers in the United States, ranging from small family-run organizations to major corporations. In general, however, the greeting card business is extremely concentrated .  . .  The market for consumer photofinishing and digital imaging services is highly competitive and still emerging. The major competitors in the consumer photofinishing and digital imaging market are Kodak, Snapfish and Shutterfly.  There are no significant proprietary or other barriers to entry into the digital or
    consumer photofinishing industry
    (my emphasis).”
  • Concentration:   We rely on a few mass-market retail customers for a significant portion of our sales.    Approximately 55% of the North American Social Expression Products segment’s revenue . . . was attributable to its top five customers, and approximately 40% of the International Social Expression Products segment’s revenue . . . was attributable to its top three customers.   The loss of sales to one of our large customers could materially and adversely affect our business,results of operations and financial condition.” (Author’s note: Walmart accounted for roughly 16% of total revenue).
  • Relative Share Price Performance:    Using 2004 as a benchmark index of $100.  The share relative price of American Greetings is $18 vs. the S & P 400 (composite stock index) of $80.  In other words, the overall value of American Greetings shares fell by 82% vs. an average of 20% for the leading 400 non-financial stocks on the New York Stock Exchange.   This is four times worse than the S & P composite!

The purpose of this analysis is not to throw cold water on American Greetings or their management, but merely to point out the extremely difficult competitive environment in which the second largest company operates.   With such a concentration in sales, it is inevitable that they succumb to cutting margins to retain volume.   At a price point of a dollar a card, it is difficult to see how an  independent retailer can make money.  In the case of American Greetings, their overall revenue has been stagnant at just under $1.7 billion and I suspect corporate headquarters would be a lot happier if the company were private and sales were half the present volume and far less concentrated.

Implications for Independent Stationers

  • With greeting card displays now occupying nearly every square foot of “usable” space in supermarkets, pharmacies, box-stores, car washes, Starbucks, delis and most every store that hangs an “OPEN” sign, it is reasonable to say that we have an oversupply of greeting cards.    While one might have the “best” supply of handpicked greeting cards in the neighborhood, market-pricing has  been set so low that  most consumers are no longer willing to pay $3.95 or $4.95 a card – regardless of the quality.    People that wouldn’t bat an eyelash at spending $10,000 or more to buy a Lexus rather than an Audi often go apoplectic when they see a handmade card by an accomplished artist priced at $10 or so.  In effect, the mass retailers have set the bar so low that the value of the greeting card has become diminished in the eyes of the consumer
  • While each independent stationer faces a different set of competitive circumstances, I believe that market conditions suggest the following rational behavior (one or more may apply):
    • Conduct an informal survey of stores selling greeting cards within a 3 and 10 block radius.  If you have five or more stores selling greeting cards within a three block radius and 20 or more within a ten block radius, I would recommend disengaging (reducing exposure and concentrating on unique lines).
    • Avoid carrying lines at sold to mass-distribution retailers and box stores.  Pricing has already been compromised and you are at a competitive disadvantage.
    • Avoid lines where the retail price is quoted on the bar code.  This is normally done for mass-marketing retailers.  If you would like to carry a particular line that pre-prices their cards, suggest a discount of 10% to 20% off the keystone wholesale price.   
    • Buy or create greeting card lines from local artists that are unique to your store or unique greeting cards that are sold on a far more exclusive basis (Constance Kay springs to mind).    This is a good way to support and encourage independent artists and build community spirit.
  • It strikes me that greeting card companies (based in the United States) with a heavy concentration of revenue to mass-retailers will inevitably destroy their businesses since pricing pressures will not allow them to maintain the necessary margins to produce a quality product that warrants a “brand” premium. 

The greeting card industry is changing, but there are still informed consumers who believe that a well-designed greeting card printed on beautiful paper sends a useful and personal message.   It is far better to create a following with this knowledgeable clientele than duke-it-out with the mass-retailers.  

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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Walmart State of Mind: How is your State mood?

Monday, July 19th, 2010

In my recent post entitled Walmart State of Mind, I stated that Walmart accounted for over 50% of the state’s total retail sales in seven states.   Several readers were shocked by this information and requested more detail.  Happy to oblige:

States where over 50% of total retail sales are Walmart

Oklahoma – 66.8%
Arkansas – 64.7%
Kansas – 57.5%
South Dakota – 52.4%
North Dakota – 51.5%
Nebraska – 50.6%
Louisiana – 50.4%

States with 40% to 50% by Walmart

Indiana – 45.9%
Iowa – 45.6%
New Mexico – 45.6%
Missouri – 45.1%
Utah – 41.8%
Arizona – 40.0%

Several states have imposed serious zoning constraints on Walmart; however, the list of “affected” states is substantial.  Draw your own conclusions, but I suspect that Mom-and-Pop retailing is probably not doing too well on Walmart’s playing field.   There is always a tradeoff when it comes to competitive pricing and convenience.  Could this tradeoff be the loss of a “sense of community,”  meaningful employment opportunities, entrepreneurship and even hope?    I certainly hope not, but if you think “big” is good and Walmart’s retail sales growth are good for our society, then the 13 states listed above might be places where you wish to retire.  

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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Walmart State of Mind: The Big Picture

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

For many years I was addicted to the “talking heads” on CNBC, the financial news network that is currently owned by General Electric.   The CNBC “news” formula is to bring in “experts” to share their reaction to late breaking financial and industry news.  Many consider their comments self-serving and manipulative, but others consider CNBC useful in making sound investment decisions. 

Some weeks ago, I was listening to a program in which CNBC was analysing Walmart’s (or Wal-Mart) retail sales and how a same-store-sale’s increase of 3.2% augured well for the retail industry.  Well, I work in the retail industry and, quite frankly, Walmart’s same-store sales don’t strike me as a useful barometer of how well or how poorly the retail industry is doing.   Since Walmart represents  a disproportionately large percentage of total retail sales, does it necessarily follow that all retail sales increased in the same proportion or did Walmart’s  “good” performance occur at the expense of local competition? 

I, therefore, decided to do a bit of research and have now decided we all need to adopt a ”Walmart State of Mind” if we truly want  to see where this is all heading.  (Think Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind if you want to hum along). Trust me, it ain’t pretty.

Most people know that Walmart is the largest retailer in the world with 2009 sales of over $300 billion and close to two million employees.    Wal-Mart’s sales are four times larger than the second-place retailer, Kroger.  Even more, if you combine the sales of the retailers rated two through six (Kroger, Target, Walgreen, The Home Depot and Costco) this total only barely exceeds Wal-Mart’s total sales ($305 billion for Wal-Mart vs. $319 billion for the group).

While big and successful, Walmart has attracted a number of detractors ranging from criticism of their employment practices, third-world sourcing, the environment and the devastating impact on local businesses and the communities they serve. Stacy Mitchell’s Big-Box Swindle is perhaps the most disturbing analysis of how “Big Box” stores impact community life.

What is less well known is how Walmart’s scorched earth retail marketing strategies have permanently altered the economic and social landscape of many states in the United States.   For instance, in seven states Walmart accounts for more than 50% of retail sales.    In fact, in many states Walmart has managed to get tax breaks and incentives from State and Local governments to open stores to the detriment of many local businesses.

In a University of Illinois (“UIC”) study evaluating the opening of a Wal-Mart store in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood in 2006 concluded that it “has not increased retail activity or employment opportunities in the years since. Researchers found that stores near Wal-Mart were more likely to go out of business, eliminating the equivalent of about 300 full-time jobs – about as many as Wal-Mart initially added to the area.”  UIC researcher David Merriman concludes that “‘What we’re seeing here is that placing a Wal-Mart in an urban setting is basically a wash in terms of sales revenue for the city and jobs for local residents.”  There are even more alarming details of the economic consequences of big box stores from other resources.

This Blog Post  is not an exposé of Walmart, whose “issues” are addressed by people far more competent that I am.   A Walmart State of Mind addresses a far more fundamental question for independent storefront retailers:  What must an independent storeowner do to survive and, hopefully, make a decent living with the dramatic changes that are occurring in today’s market place?  

The question becomes significant for stationers when you learn that Walmart is selling individual greeting cards for $0.46.  Furthermore, seemingly every store in town, from the local car wash to the grocery store, is selling identical greeting cards to the ones whose lines you have nurtured for the last 10 years or so.  What to do?

There are many other examples where the joy of running your own business has now been superceded by the frustration of running faster to just to make ends meet.  This is not good for your piece-of-mind, health or economic well-being.    Short of closing our businesses is there anything we can do?    In the next series of articles we will seek to examine several concrete strategies to avoid getting into a Walmart State of Mind.  Some of these strategies may not be immediately “good” for your pocketbook, but they will focus your mind.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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Atomic Greetings: One step forward two steps back

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I just learned that Atomic Greetings (strange name!) now allows users to customize a greeting card with a digital recording or video recording that is opened through a digital code that is embedded in a standard “100% paper” greeting card.    Clearly, the techies have outdone themselves with this silly greeting card concept which, in my estimation, is the equivalent of sending an email text message by boat.  This is too funny for words.  Please see the instructional video below if you receive an Atomic Greetings card:

I quote from the introduction of Atomic Greetings new “cutting edge in greeting card technology – augmented reality. Augmented Reality or as we prefer to call it, Enhanced Vision Xperience (EVX), is one of the technologies that allows you to send an audio/video message with our cards. Our patent-pending greeting cards are the world’s first 100% paper greeting card that allows you to record and send not only an audio message but video as well! Just think how easier it is when you say “I Love You!” or sing it, or do a little dance… and just think about how great it would be to receive a card and see your friend or loved one speaking or singing to you! Not only does an Atomic Greetings card do so much more than old cards – they do it for the for the same price as the musical cards you see in stores AND they work on both Macs and Windows without any software downloads to your computer’s hard-drive required! Atomic Greetings truly allow you to show someone that you really care.”

I didn’t realize I needed “augmented reality,” but I suppose that the people who watch 3-D TV might find greeting cards from Atomic Greetings an interesting addition to their augmented digital experience.  I just hope the cards don’t blow up in your face.

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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Baltimore Stationery Store Closes

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Simply Noted, a stationery store located in Belvedere Square in Northeast Baltimore, is closing at the end of the month.  The Baltimore Sun reports that  ”Owner Melissa Taylor is being forced to shut down after the dip in the economy caused her sales to plummet more than 60 percent. Many of the vendors she works with are selling to consumers directly online. Engaged couples weren’t spending as much on wedding invitations as they once did.”

It is evident that the competitive environment has changed dramatically for storefront stationers.   Often seen as a bastion of good taste and expertise, many experienced stationers are now desperately trying to stay afloat as vendors have flooded the market with product using every available distribution channel.  In effect, there is simply too much product (mostly cheap and poorly-designed invitations and stationery) chasing clients with far less disposable income.  Stationery stores are caught in the middle of this economic tsunami and I fear that we will lose many more experienced stationers until equilibrium is restored.

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Village Stationery: A sign of the times?

Friday, July 16th, 2010

It is with deep regret that I learned that Village Stationery of Omaha, Nebraska is closing its doors after some 35 years at the same location in Countryside Village near 87th and Pacific Streets.   Louise Rasmussen, a former teacher who bought the shop with her husband, Wayne, five years ago, claims that the Internet and a depressed economy have caused sales to plummet.  Louise is quoted in the article as saying “people are doing it all online.” She views the handwritten note as a tangible piece of history that  is rapidly disappearing from our society.

Stationery employee Judith Brodnicki is quoted as saying that “handwriting, in and of itself, is a technical skill, the foundation of literacy.  But it’s also become a way to make something incredibly personal. It’s unlike a phone call. A letter pretty much sits there and waits for you.”

Annabelle Stefanski, co-president of the Invitation & Stationery Alliance and who is quoted in the Omaha World-Hearld article agrees with Judith, but believes ”people are now cautiously optimistic, and things (for the industry) are certainly looking much better.”

As a stationer, I lament the closing of any stationery store, particularly one that has been so closely integrated into their community.  One needs only to look back over the number birthday parties, weddings and birth announcements, retirement parties, anniversaries and sympathy acknowledgements that have passed through Village Stationery.   When a store with rich community links and memories disappears from the town landscape we are much the poorer as a society.   Village Stationery – you will be missed.  I join other stationers in wishing the Rasmussen family well and I do hope that Village Stationery’s employees find meaningful jobs.

Richard W. May
Founding Member Stationers Guild.

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Vera Wang and William Arthur: A Marriage Made in Heaven

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

This year at the National Stationery Show (“NSS”) I had a sneak preview of the new Vera Wang Folio Collection that will be released this Fall (sometime in October is the planned release date).  While many of the final sample invitations and stationery are still in the production phase, the Vera Wang Folio Collection will consist of four folios:  Wedding Accents, Invitations, Writing Papers and Design Elements.  From what I saw, we are all in for a big treat with this vibrant and feature-rich collection that captures Vera’s distinctive style.

Meghan Carey

Meghan Carey and Vera Wang Gown

Meghan Carey, the enthusiastic “Lead Designer for Vera Wang Fine Papers” walked me through the new Vera Wang Folio Collection.  As you may recall, I had a lengthy conversation with Meghan and Lisa Blinn of William Arthur regarding Vera’s Wang’s On Weddings that was released at the 2009 National Stationery Show.  It is clear that William Arthur and Vera Vang have spared no effort to produce invitations and stationery that capture Vera’s elegant style and passion for expression.  This is a welcome relief for many of us in the  industry who often see “brand names” attached to generic papers and formula designs with little thought of creating something distinctive and beautiful.  Clearly, Vera Wang and William Arthur have a symbiotic relationship which, in my estimation, define how “branding” should be done in the stationery industry.

Without going into too many details – which I plan to cover when the Folio Collection is released –  Vera’s new collection will introduce five new paper colors with offerings from the invitation to wedding reception coasters.  In addition, there will be a wider selection of paper sizes and formats, 14 new patterns in a new digital palette and much more design flexibility overall.  One of the features I felt was most clever was a detachable reply card (perforated) that works well for corporate events.

Vera Wang and William Arthur seems to be a marriage made in heaven.  Vera’s bold and contemporary fabric designs have been faithfully reproduced on paper by William Arthur’s talented designers.  We are very much looking forward to the release of Vera’s Folio collection later this fall.

Sheila P. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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