Keeping Stationery Relevant: Make it Personal
I was drawn to a recent article in Stationery Trends Magazine by editor Sarah Schwartz soliciting ideas from magazine subscribers on ideas to keep stationery relevant. This is a topic that has preoccupied me for several years and I have written about it extensively on the Stationers Guild Blog. While many fine suggestions and ideas surfaced in the article, I consider most of the suggestions to be wishful thinking with little coherent basis for taking collective action to save the stationery industry. This may seem a bit harsh, but stationery will continue to fade into oblivion until we honestly face the enemy and take action.
The enemy is apathy, indifference, getting mad rather than taking action, and the widespread belief that somehow people will eventually see the benefit of written correspondence. I am reminded by that bumper sticker, “Don’t get mad, get even!” To do so, each and everyone of us who has a stake in the stationery industry should step up to the plate and take action (sorry for the baseball analogy). The time for wringing our hands is over. The time for celebrating bad taste and shoddy designs is over. The time for tolerating bad etiquette is over. It’s in our hands to change the industry if we act responsibly and take decisive action. Waiting for someone else to take the lead is simply wishful thinking.
When I say that the enemy is apathy, what do I mean? Apathy is a storefront owner who does not have a website, a Facebook and a Twitter account and does not post blog articles at least three times a week. Apathy is a storefront owner who still advertises in the Yellow Pages. Apathy is a storefront owner who has not claimed their business on Google, Yahoo and Bing. Apathy is a storefront owner with a website who has not asked for advice on how to optimize their site for local search. Apathy is a storefront owner who does not insist that all vendors whose lines they represent should have an affiliate program. I could go on, but unless store owners are willing to quickly engage in Internet marketing, the battle is largely lost.
Vendors too are running scared and, indeed, the stakes couldn’t be higher. The Stationers Guild has long argued that once the “experienced” storefront stationer disappears there will be no one left to explain their products and the ultimate battle for brand awareness will be determined by price. Brand awareness on the Internet is determined by advertising – not the slick ad in Martha Stewart Weddings, but by thousands of independent bloggers, social media experts and affiliate websites that have been created solely for the purpose of earning “click revenue” for directing uninformed consumers to an online website. How ironic is it that Wedding Paper Divas is “Numero Uno” for “wedding invitations” and they don’t even print a scrap of paper. Not only that, many of our own vendors sell to Wedding Paper Divas and FineStationery.com simply out of fear that they may be missing market share. There is one sure economic fact: Unlimited supply of product distributed through unlimited distribution channels will certainly destroy the industry.
Unless leaders in the industry take clear and compelling action on how they intend to distribute their product, the battle is lost. This is one case where you can’t “have your cake and eat it too.” Similarly, storefront dealers must engage the Internet and develop an alternative voice to the insipid sales pitches from online retailers and their parasitic mouth-pieces. All is not lost, but it soon will be unless we decide to make this battle personal.
Richard W. May
Founding Member Stationers Guild