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Is change afoot at Crane?

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Some people accuse me of being reckless,”too pushy” or dangerously aggressive.  Perhaps this is so, but I suspect that remaining patient and keeping my opinions to myself are likely to lead to a most painful descent into business failure.

As one who comes from a business and financial background (over 20 years in international banking), I have found that owning my own business to be a liberating experience.  No longer do I have to put up with bureaucrats and disingenuous business managers making silly and harmful decisions to further their own careers at the expense of shareholders.   Sadly, it was far too common in my previous line of work.

Being independent and “calling your own shots” is certainly liberating, but when key  ”partners” in your business success take decisions which drastically affect the nature of your business relationship, it gives rise to concern.  Readers who follow this Blog regularly are aware that I have been particularly outspoken about the many “apparently” silly decisions  taken by Crane to restructure their operations.

I use the qualifier “apparently” because I have no idea whether the management decisions taken by Crane are “silly” or “brilliant.” As a “Muppet” there is no reason why I should have been consulted by the “Masters of the Universe,” but I know from much experience in my previous life that outside consultants rarely have anyone’s interest at heart other than the person who hires them.   In fact, the mere mention of “outside consultants” generally indicates that “something is rotten in Denmark” and that a palace coup is underway.

Sadly, my misgivings were worse than I anticipated and I am still uncertain whether Crane will be able to “right the ship” and reemerge as a positive influence on the stationery industry.   While still rather pessimistic,  I have noticed some positive signs beginning to emerge on the Crane website.

  • The silly link to Paperless Post is now down (or at least I had difficulty finding it on the Wedding Page);
  • You can now find Crane personalized holiday cards on their website rather than links to Mother and Father’s Day cards;
  • The website is beginning to look as though someone is taking the time to update it and add graphics and images that are somewhat professional.

These are very good signs that suggest that change is afoot at Crane.  I, for one, certainly hope so.  Maybe they will even get around to reinstating an affiliate program and help its dealers promote the Crane line.  That would be nice.

Richard May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Crane and the Thanksgiving Meal

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

One dear reader of the Guild News asked how I could possibly write so much about the “good and the bad” in the stationery industry.  The answer is quite simple:  I have a lot of free time to write while holding for a Crane customer service (that’s an oxymoron) representative to pick up the phone.

Getting in touch with a Crane customer service representative is fast becoming more difficult than talking to Adobe customer support.   After 20 minutes or so you generally will be able to speak to Adobe’s customer service representative in India or the Philippines, but it usually takes longer to reach a customer service rep at Crane who are located in the same time zone.

Now I don’t know how others feel, but I refuse  to remain on hold for more than 2 minutes to buy anything before I hang-up.   I am terribly sad to report that “waits” of between 20 to 30 minutes are now the norm at Crane rather than the exception.    Effectively, dealers are now subsidizing Crane’s gross inefficiency by allocating phone expense and staff time to simply hold for overworked and/or poorly trained customer service representatives to deal with Crane orders.

While this may be great for Crane’s expense controls, DeFalco & Co. have effectively  pushed the expense burden onto Crane’s dealers.   I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Crane customer service reps give priority to online Paperless Post orders rather than Crane’s dealers.   If you are not upset, you should be.

Editor’s Note:   Confidentially, I have been informed that DeFalco’s management style within Crane is referred to “DeFalco’s Folly,”  but sadly these megalomaniac bullies are rarely outed until it is too late!

Guild readers may be surprised to know that the “Good News” is that I have been invited to the Crane Thanksgiving Dinner which they celebrate annually in Plymouth (MA).  I requested dark meat on the enclosed reply card set:

Crane for Thanksgiving

The “Bad News” is that I will be served a drumstick:  A Crane drumstick!

P.S. Still on hold (listening to Lizzie and the Spin Doctors) and patiently waiting  for William Arthur’s Holiday Albums to support their sale’s promotion that began August 1.  Go figure.

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Jamie Ostrow Dazzles Once Again

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

I rarely let people talk for themselves, since I have succumbed to that dreadful habit of talking before listening.  I planned to do so once again when reintroducing Jamie Ostrow to stationers and consumers who hunger for contemporary design, but I was left speechless at the beauty of her new albums (Bar & Bat Mitzvah, Social Stationery and two Wedding albums).   Wow!! – is the only word that describes these stunning designs.   I leave it Jamie to explain herself:

Most of you have landed on this webpage because you are familiar with Jamie Ostrow from having stationery or invitations or holiday cards designed and printed by us Perhaps you visited our store on Madison Avenue in New York City which we had for 15 years or today you shop in a store that carries our products, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with our work please indulge me and allow me to tell you who we are, what we do and what we think.

I decided to go into this business when I realized that what the personalized stationery and invitation world was missing was good contemporary design. Everything was dated or boring (or both!) I knew that I could create colorful exciting designs that would be simple, sophisticated and elegant but fit in, in today’s modern world.

For the past 30 years I have remained true to this goal. Our designs continue to be fresh without being contrived or ever over done. Our designs are as timely as they are classic, incorporating the “in” colors and styles of the seasons with designs that are ageless.

This is not the site for flowers and flourishes – All our products are crisp and clean – relying on the use of typography as the focus of the design. This, along with our use of color and texture in both paper and ink are what make Jamie Ostrow stationery and invitations stand out from the rest.

No one has ever received a Jamie Ostrow invitation that popped – up, dropped – out or otherwise made you think “how gauche”. Nothing over-the-top – just understated, pleasing to the eye and always in good taste.

I would have included a few images to accompany this article, but I hardly know where to start.  I suggest you take a look at Jamie’s website and see for yourself why that edgy New York contemporary design is so refreshing and unique.   From my perspective, it’s the difference between “grown-up” stationery and wallpaper.

In a world where most designers are chasing the Walmart model of creative obsolesce, it is reassuring to see a few true designers and craftspeople that refuse to compromise on the integrity of their vision and art.  Welcome back Jamie!

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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Boatman Geller: Integrity is Not a Lost Art

Friday, August 16th, 2013

I realize that the premise of “reality TV” is to humiliate and demean your colleague or fellow competitor to insure maximum audience interest, but I much prefer the softer edges of humanity where lending a hand is more important than one-upmanship.

Selling fine stationery and custom invitations is not a me business – it is a we business – where a dealer works with the vendor to deliver the end user a highly customized product. The relationship between a dealer and his or her vendor requires a level of confidence and trust that is gradually disappearing as vendors now prefer to deal with the end user directly.   Sadly, online dealers seem incapable of handling their own staff let alone build a “relationship” with a buyer.

Boatman Geller

As such, it was a breath of fresh air to receive an email from Greg Geller of Boatman Geller.   Clearly, these are people that understand what relationships are all about.

We are a brand that does not sell direct to the end user, nor place our brand in private sales events – like One Kings Lane, Joss & Main, Zulily, Groupon, Gilt Groupe and many more. These kinds of activities undermine you, the retailer and like I have said for years, we view you as a partner in business.

Integrity is a tough sell in today’s stationery market.    Building and sustaining relationships to promote your brand is more than looking into the crystal ball of an Excel spreadsheet.    Stationery dealers across the United States should rise and clap their hands at the integrity and decency with which Boatman Geller conducts their business.

I know the choice has not been easy, but we appreciate your friendship and hope you have a wildly successful holiday season.

Richard May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild.

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Shawn Rabideau at Kramer Drive

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

As I reported last May, Kramer Drive had the good fortune to hook up with Shawn Rabideau to develop a beautiful suite of approximately 16 invitation designs complete with table and menu cards, thank you notes and a reply card set.

For those not familiar with Shawn Rabideau, he is probably one of the foremost event planners in the United States orchestrating one-of-a-kind intimate dinners, weddings and large corporate events.  While you may not be able to afford Shawn to plan your “intimate” party for 500, you can certainly get the benefit of Shawn’s impeccable taste and vision with the Shawn Rabideau invitation suite from Kramer Drive.

Internet images fail to do justice to the explosion of Rabideau colors that are carefully orchestrated to embrace all elements of the invitation suite.    Some may find these designs great for weddings, while others may opt for a Bar Mitzvah or special occasion, but all of his lovely designs are beautifully and efficiently captured by the good folks at Kramer Drive in their latest Album release.

Rabideau and Kramer are a marriage made in heaven and we are thrilled to be carrying this delightful paper outcome of his stunning creativity.

When you see stationery and invitations of this quality and design, it makes you proud to be in the stationery industry and to be able to share these great designs with our clients.

It’s a pleasure to work with young, fun and creative people who actually care about service quality.   We love to do business with Kramer Drive.

Well done!

Sheila P. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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Keeping up to date with Crane: Online

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

It’s hard to know what is going on at Crane these days as management seems hunkered down in their bunker fending off criticism of their management style or lack thereof.   Fortunately, I do not have to sit on hold for 20 minutes like my wife trying to talk to a customer service representative to track down a wedding order, but the lack of communication is deafening.

A couple of days ago – like other Crane bricks-and-mortar dealers – I  received some lovely marketing propaganda to promote the Crane brand this summer.   While this is colorful and useful promotional material, I am at a loss to know how to use it.   Presumably, I could take the file down to Kinko’s and blow it up into a poster that I could put in the window or on a billboard in front of the store.  If I were industrious and wanted to send out a mailer, I could use one of the images to promote Crane’s holiday card sale.

Sadly, I am reluctant to use Crane’s images to promote the Crane name because we are simply driving our clients to Crane’s website and not our store.

Other stationers feel that I am short-sighted for not subscribing to the “abundance theory”  but I don’t like to be played by the house when all the cards are stacked against me.   Since nobody at Crane seems to know what is going on – or at least cares to share that information with its dealers – I decided to visit  Crane’s website  to stay informed.

Found below is a very brief summary of what I discovered:

  • Crane and Paperless Post (‘PP”) are clearly enjoying a great honeymoon given the prominence given to PP on Crane’s wedding page.     Conclusion:  Not sure that I would want to direct any clients to the Crane wedding page to do an online search.
  • William Arthur products will have a new home on Crane by September 1 and both sites are now integrated as of July 15th.
  • Crane’s personalized holiday card link doesn’t work (the sleigh) unless you are buying Father’s Day or Mother’s Day gifts.  (Suggestion to Crane:  With the Crane name you should be selling Montblanc and not Cross pens on your website)
  • If you are looking for William Arthur letterpress wedding invitations, you can still find them on Wedding Paper Divas for 20% off.

There is much more, but I think any sane person gets the picture:    There is “something rotten in Denmark.”

As I am trying to become a kinder person and Crane is clearly suffering,  I offer these heart-felt suggestions:

  • Reinstate your affiliate program(s);
  • Dump the paperless tiger;
  • Does Paper Divas really make sense as it is owned by Shutterfly?
  • Act like the prestigious brand you are! You have far more credibility and market clout than your consultants and venture capitalists give you credit for.

It’s nearly the same advice that I give to countless other vendors who want us to merchandise their “great” product at our store (and online):

QUOTE

As much as we like your cards, we must take a pass.

The issue is quite simple, we simply are not prepared to invest the time and money to merchandise a product to a very sophisticated audience that is sold online (your Etsy Store).

Being everywhere means that your card (regardless of how cute, meaningful or salable) is simply a commodity.  We long ago decided to channel our limited personal and financial resources into delivering products that are “unique” to our clients.

I trust you understand our position.

UNQUOTE

It’s all about image. Crane is not a reclamation project. Act like the 400 lb gorilla you are and not a chimpanzee.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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Felix Doolittle at the NSS

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Some 10 years ago at the National Stationery Show, we “discovered” Felix Fu – aka Felix Doolittle.   Discovered is probably the wrong word to use, as Mr. Fu was already well known among artists for producing elegant yet playful designs for custom stationery and wedding invitations.  It was a great surprise to re-discover Mr. Fu and his stunning Felix Doolittle line at this year’s National Stationery Show.

When we first met him,there was very little commercial about Mr. Fu and I suspect that he hasn’t changed much.  When we were first introduced, he was creating custom designs for a limited number of clients.  I still fondly recall a beautiful box of stationery consisting of 3 unique but compatible designs featuring a fox at the bottom of the card and a matching motif on the envelope flap.  Our last box was sold to a Greenwich family that lived on Fox Lane.  How appropriate.

Felix Doolittle Stationery

Mr. Fu is back in full force selling his delightful  motif stationery and paper products through a recently launched Felix Doolittle website.  Found below is a cute recipe card and recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

I had a lengthy conversation with Mr. Fu and several family representatives of his company on how to encourage the distribution of his  great designs through brick and mortar retailers.  Clearly, this is something he is thinking about and I am hopeful that in the very near future we will be able to develop a strategy to make his beautiful work available to a wider audience.  I can assure you, the internet doesn’t do his product justice.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

PS.  I am pleased to announce that the Fox motif will soon make a reappearance.

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Lisa Blinn to Lead Design at Crane

Friday, March 8th, 2013

In a spate of recent announcements by Crane & Co., Lisa Blinn, “formerly Vice President of Design for William Arthur, and its accompanying brands, including Vera Wang Fine Stationery, has expanded her role within our company and will also be leading design for Crane.”

This is very good news for Crane as Lisa is one of the tested and true design professionals in the stationery industry. I have personally known Lisa for over 10 years and have found both her and her creative design team to be leaders and innovators in fashion stationery design. More importantly, she is a “good” person who will go the extra mile to help stationers create a custom design that distinguishes fine stationery from the dreary templates currently found online.

Lisa’s ability to “think outside the box”  is sure to bring a breath of fresh air in Dalton and North Adams. Hopefully, her “can do” attitude will be replicated throughout the Crane organization which until recently seemed more focused on internal reorganization than producing fine stationery.

With Lisa, Crane has an inspiring leader with great instinct and passion for design.   More importantly she brings real knowledge and expertise of fine stationery which appears to have been taken a backseat to Crane’s emphasis on “brand-building.”  With Crane’s name and production capabilities, this should be a marriage made in heaven.  All of us in the industry certainly hope so.

Best success to all!

Richard W. May

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Wedding Invitation Suggestions from William Arthur

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Therese Saint Clair has put together an interesting video collage of some of William Arthur’s latest wedding invitation designs.  From understated elegance to beautifully engraved invitations, William Arthur has put together an exciting collection of wedding paper samples to help you get started on creating your own unique wedding invitation.

If you are looking for wedding invitation in the New York metropolitan area, schedule an appointment at Therese Saint Clair in downtown Greenwich, CT and let their experienced staff walk you through the numerous design and printing options available from William Arthur.

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Vera Wang: Where fashion and wedding stationery meet

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Vera Wang is undoubtedly an icon in the haute couture industry. Her modern designs and her distinctive sense of style have long elevated the bar for wedding dresses and women’s vogue. A number of years back, Vera turned her eye to wedding invitations and high-quality stationery. Coupling with William Arthur, Vera announced her very own collection of stationery which features components from the fashion business, her very own unique oyster-colored cardstock and even a specially created envelope.

Vera Wang Wedding Invitation

A few months ago, Vera entirely revamped On Weddings, her special wedding invitation album. Her completely new styles features 35 one of a kind wedding stationery trousseaus, offering a lot more colors along with an wonderful variety fanciful styles and Vera’s focus on more traditional styles. Vera Wang On Weddings reflects the vintage yet modern and complex aesthetic which has made Vera Wang a fashion icon.

Vera Wang Wedding Invitation

Found here are a few of the stimulating innovative features you’ll find in Vera’s new On Weddings launch:

  • Painted Edge – New to Vera Wang On Weddings, Vera Wang shall be supplying heavy-weight card stock with custom-painted edges, in a wide selection of ink colors. A real statement of luxury, this painted edge design and style is engraved in Lapis and Gold. The monogrammed wreath offers a nod to tradition, while exposing a fancy sensibility.
  • Garden Lace Folder – This spectacular design is inspired by both Vera Wang’s Ready-to-Wear and wedding collections. A whimsical garden of flowers together with a fine mesh of laser-cut wide lace cut away to disclose a delightful collection of background hues. From Raspberry, Peony and Saffron to Grass, Lapis and Indigo, this imaginative and tactile invitation talks to the refined detailing within Vera Wang’s collections.
  • Letterpressed Heart – Daring and fashionable, the terminology and wording for this enchanting invitation is set within the clutches of an over-sized heart. The fun cross-hatching on this design accentuates the tactile characteristics of letterpress printing, as the peony ink gives an obvious femininity.
  • Gold Border -This stunning design comes with a wide band of gold foil on the card edge and the envelope flap. The font style is at once dramatic and sophisticated. Displayed engraved, this fashionable invitation will definitely astound.
  • Black Paper – Last fall, Vera Wang enraptured the fashion world with her Spring 2012 selection of black wedding dresses. Here, the identical drama and allure is mirrored on paper. Gorgeously customized in an exclusive calligraphic typeface, this invitation marries heart and elegance.

We strongly encourage going to a stationery shop in your area to view Vera Wang’s On Weddings personally. If this isn’t practical, see Vera on the web and I’m sure you will agree that this new release is rather distinctive.

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